Scenario Planning


GLISA’s scenario planning approach describes plausible future events and has actors respond to them. The goal is to account for uncertainty by developing a framework to plan for potentially disastrous disruptions, rather than only focusing on specific, likely outcomes. When focusing only on likely events, actors discount other high-risk scenarios. Planning for multiple plausible futures, including extremes, can increase the robustness of their management practices and preparedness for climate change impacts.


Scenario planning is a method to manage uncertainty, especially high-risk events. Scenario planning has been used by the U.S. military, the energy sector, and NASA (Cann, 2010; Cornelius et al., 2005). GLISA’s scenario planning experience includes partnerships with the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), Tribes, watershed constituents, and the U.S. military. Our partnership with Isle Royale National Park integrated climate information into NPS’s scenario planning approach for evaluating potential impacts on the wolf and moose populations (Fisichelli et al. 2013). Important to this approach was the formal consideration of competing management priorities, so that climate scenarios were explored to manage, strategically, NPS’s mission. GLISA’s current scenario planning approach was adapted from this NPS work.


GLISA’s scenario planning approach begins with the lead practitioner, who determines the desired goals of the scenario development process, including the scenario planning workshop. The lead practitioner then works with participating stakeholders to identify management concerns or vulnerabilities they wish to evaluate, based on the outlined goals. This information is communicated to GLISA, who then develops baseline climate scenarios tailored to the group’s goals and concerns, taking into account any data needs that are expressed. These climate scenarios provide the foundation for the workshop exercises, where the stakeholders collaborate to build out the scenarios to incorporate management concerns, disruptive weather events, impacts, and subsequent management actions or recommendations. After the workshop, stakeholders can use their expertise to inform and explore the possible adaptation and mitigation efforts to the scenarios.

 Expectations of the lead practitioner  Expectations of GLISA
  • Identify the desired goals of workshop and scenario development.
  • Recruit relevant stakeholders for the scenario planning workshop.
    • GLISA will not engage directly with any stakeholder participants, beyond the lead practitioner, prior to the workshop.
  • Identify key management concerns and/or vulnerabilities that could include exposure and/or sensitivity to disruptive events.
  • Relay management concerns and any specific data requirements to GLISA for the development of base climate scenarios.
  • Facilitate conversations with the lead practitioner to collect information about the problem(s) they are trying to solve.
  • Take an inventory of their data needs.
  • Develop base climate scenarios and background information.
 Expectations of the lead practitioner  Expectations of GLISA
  • Convene all relevant stakeholders and prepare for and facilitate a climate scenario workshop (1⁄2 to full day). 
    • The primary facilitator should ideally be someone that all participants are familiar with and trust.
    • Provide suitable accommodations for workshop attendees to break-out into groups for the scenario planning exercises.
    • Secure the necessary AV equipment for presentations.
    • Provide refreshments or meals for longer workshops.
  • Provide workbook and printed materials.
  • Present overview of scenario planning process and desired outcomes
  • Facilitate scenario planning exercises with break-out groups.
 Expectations of the lead practitioner  Expectations of GLISA
  • Goals determined by project leads at the start of the project
  • Document and share workshop outcomes and lessons learned.
  • Assess and implement management decisions/recommendations.
  • Distribute post-workshop surveys.
  • Follow up with lead practitioner to ensure that all GLISA deliverables have been met. 
  • Review any write-ups or summaries from the project for accuracy of climate information.


Lead practitioners can gather input from the workshop participants to summarize the key lessons learned from the workshop experience and the management/adaptation outcomes that were identified. The participants can then take the scenarios and information gleaned from the workshop back to their organizations’ leadership, who are capable of making impactful decisions, in order to make management recommendations and implement adaptation actions in their planning.


In fall 2018, GLISA applied our approach to a Michigan Army National Guard installation at the Fort Custer Training Center (FCTC) in Battle Creek, MI. Per Department of Defense requirements, installations must implement an Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan (INRMP) with regular updates, and the National Guard leadership wanted to incorporate climate change and adaptation into their next IMRMP update.

In October 2018, GLISA led a scenario planning workshop that guided natural resource managers through a process of learning about local climate trends and future projections. Attendees then identified weather and/or climate events that challenge their management of specific natural resources (i.e. invasive species, high-quality natural areas, etc.). This scenario planning exercise identified management goals, mapped environmental hazards to these goals, and prioritized threats. The participants used the scenarios to identify priority management concerns and make management recommendations by group, including increasing variability and flexibility of prescribed burn programs, buffering wetlands, storing water in times of stress, and re-imagining road networks to avoid vulnerable resources.


Cann, Anne. 2010. Scenario‐Based Strategic Planning in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Program. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Institute for Water Resources. 

Cornelius, P., A. Van de Putte, et al. 2005. Three Decades of Scenario Planning in Shell. California Management Review 48(1) 92-109

Fisichelli, N., C. Hawkins-Hoffman, L. Welling, L. Briley, and R. Rood. 2013. Using climate change scenarios to explore management at Isle Royale National Park: January 2013 workshop report. Natural Resource Report NPS/ NRSS/CCRP/NRR—2013/714. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.