Environment Institute

Thinking about the future in decision making and planning processes is critical. In this article we look at one of the best tools to do this: Scenario planning.


Thinking about the future reveals many questions

When we think about how our own lives will change in the future, it is full of uncertainties. Missed or taken opportunities. Unexpected offers. Then turning of the years brings with it new challenges and benefits.

But when we think about how a city will develop, it is the tale of all of its inhabitants. How will they live? Where will they work? And how will they get there?

These are a few of the more obvious questions related to urban development. The answers are a mixing pot of an individual’s choices. They are choices based on many things including:

  • values
  • needs
  • wants
  • the region’s economic development
  • migration rates
  • policy decisions.

When we put all these factors together, the future starts becoming uncertain.

“The more likely future isn’t.” – Herman Kahn

This quote (1967) summarises the challenges of considering the future. When we forecast for the ‘most likely’ future, we know that the future won’t turn out to be the ‘most likely’. A memo by Lin Wells (of the Pentagon) in 2000 to Donald Rumsfeld summarised the challenges of prediction in regards to defence planning. He concluded with,

‘All of which is to say that I’m not sure what 2010 will look like, but I’m sure that it will be very little like we expect, so we should plan accordingly.’

But how do we plan ‘accordingly’?

In the Intelligent Water Decisions Research Group, we use several methods for attacking challenges to infrastructure or strategic planning.

For infrastructure problems, we look to develop robust or adaptive systems. Those systems must be capable of reaching their performance requirement under various future conditions. An example is the article here by Jeff Newman on the optimisation of water systems.

For broader strategic challenges we help by developing exploratory scenarios. We see how they can be integrated into scenario planning approaches.

Exploratory scenarios begin with the question, what could happen? The exploration of the future is based on two things. The first is a consideration of the main drivers of a system. The second is plotting out various coherent timelines for each driver. We use the latter to create diverse, and creative but plausible futures of a system.

Scenario plannning: Adelaide’s five cities of 2050

We recently developed and delivered a scenario process with members of South Australia’s State Mitigation Advisory Group. This group advises cabinet on a range of natural and man-made hazards. The process involved a series of workshops. It was developed andfacilitated by members of IWDG. We developed five scenarios for Greater Adelaide in 2050.

The scenarios mapped out various drivers and how they would interact. They showed how risk would change over the next 35 years. See a recent article in Fire Australia on some of the work.

How the scenarios worked

The scenarios were built on two questions. The first was how effective mitigation policies would be. The second was how resilient the community would be. Framing the exploration of the future on these questions allowed the scenarios to focus on the policy responses available to government.

The process used an integrated model that we developed with our colleagues in the Netherlands, RIKS. The model allowed five stories of the future to be translated to quantitative inputs. Using this model, we also explored how various land uses and developments progressed over the time period. It considered how these developments would  impact on future risk. (You can learn more about this by reading my previous article, which was on the importance of including exposure in risk assessments).

The importance of considering the future in decision making and planning processes is critical. Scenario planning is a great tool to use for considering the strategic challenges faced by governments and private companies. The process is valuable because it brings stakeholders together in complex decision-making environments. Yet it also the parties involved to build trust and consensus.

To explore how a scenario planning process could help you in your work, please contact me at graeme.riddell@adelaide.edu.au.

This article was written by Graeme Riddell and was originally published in Intelligent Water Decisions.

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dronesThe University of Adelaide’s Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility (URAF) invites you to join them for an information session and networking opportunity.

Title: Drones, the University and Beyond
When: 3pm, Friday October 7, 2016
Where: Room 313/314, Level 3, The Braggs

This event is an opportunity to obtain a deeper insight into some of the URAF’s current projects, as well as an understanding of the regulations and compliance matters associated with the use of drones throughout the University.

The event will be followed by food, drinks and a relaxed opportunity to chat to team members and University staff and students, about this evolving technology.

Recent technological advancements have rapidly broadened the potential range of applications for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems). Subsequently, the use of this technology has grown in popularity across a broad range of study areas and practices.

The URAF provides the organisational infrastructure, as well as the technical and legislative knowledge base concerning the use of drones, for a wide range of environmental and agricultural applications. Additionally, the Facility holds and manages the University of Adelaide’s Operator’s Certificate for full compliance with Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) guidelines and regulations. Consequently, all drone-associated activities within the University must be run via engagement with the URAF.

Click here to view the pdf version.

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timber illegal

Seizure of illegally harvested Madagascan Rosewood

The Environment Institute’s Dr Eleanor Dormontt has been featured in the latest edition of New Scientist, sharing her insights into the illegal timber trade.

The New Scientist article delves into the promises of new technologies, such as DNA analysis, to hamper the illegal wildlife and timber trade. Dr Eleanor Dormontt speaks about the barriers to employing these potential game-changing technologies.

In particular, combatting illegal trafficking crimes requires cooperation between all interested parties to set reliable protocols and standards for efficient flow of research material.

Dr Eleanor Dormontt, along with Professor Andy Lowe, recently published a paper on using the genetic profiling of trees to convict timber thieves. You can learn more about their ground-breaking research by listening to this podcast.

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The next Sprigg Symposium will be presented by Dr Laurie Menviel, DECRA Fellow from the University of New South Wales. She will present a seminar entitled “The role of ocean circulation changes as a climate driver during the last glacial period” Title: The role of ocean circulation changes as a climate driver during the last glacial […]

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Professor Bronwyn Gillanders has been recognised for her extraordinary contributions to fish and fisheries sciences. Prof Gillanders was awarded the K Radway Allen Award, the highest award granted by the Australian Society for Fish Biology (ASFB). She is the first South Australian and first woman to receive this prestigious award. The award was presented at a joint […]

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Dr Susannah Eliot, board member at the Environment Institute, has been awarded an honourary doctorate from the University of Adelaide. Dr Eliot, who already holds a PhD in cell biology from Macquarie University, has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to science communication. Dr Eliott joined the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) as founding CEO in 2005 […]

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The University of Adelaide will work with South Australian food manufacturer Spring Gully Foods to investigate potential sources of food colourings among Australian native plants. The project has been awarded an Innovations Connections Grant of $25,000, under the Australian Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme. Innovation Connections encourages and assists small and medium businesses to access knowledge, engage […]

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The Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) AusPlots Facility has recently celebrated a significant milestone, having completed its 500th plot in the rangelands. The AusPlots Facility, which is based at the University of Adelaide, is a surveillance monitoring program that undertakes assessments of ecosystems across the country. Since 2009, they have been collecting data, making measurements and […]

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A seven-year, $45.7 million centre will investigate the beginning of Australia’s unique biodiversity and Indigenous heritage, while inspiring Australian children to engage with science. The Australia Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage will bring together 20 institutions and museums worldwide to unlock the history of Australia, Papua New Guinea and […]

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The Environment Institute Annual Report 2015 is hot off the press. Catch up on all the hard-hitting research taking place at the institute by reading the eight research stories featured in this report.   The Environment Institute brings together leading scientists and researchers in fields of biodiversity, conservation, marine biology, landscapes, climate, water and genetics. Take some […]

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