Lessons from scenario applications in practice
Applying scenarios to metropolitan issues
Martijn van Vliet (chief economist of the City of Amsterdam) is one of the initiators of the AMA scenarios and has been involved in developing enlarged and detailed versions. Van Vliet is a strong proponent of applying this planning method, which is used in the business world, to social issues in an urban context.
Gaining insight into new developments and thinking through the consequences
For Van Vliet, scenario planning has two great strengths. On the one hand, the method helps to identify and indicate new external developments. On the other hand, it helps you to think through the ultimate consequences of developments that are already known. This is because there are uncertainties regarding both new and existing developments, and scenarios help you to think through the possible consequences.
Scenarios reveal friction points
The AMA scenarios are often used to look for opportunities, for example to strengthen the economy. At least as important, however, is the role that the AMA scenarios play in identifying friction points. Even in economically favourable scenarios such as Global Giants or European Renewal, there are many potential friction points. The detailed version of the AMA scenarios in the field of inclusivity is highly relevant in this context. In the detailed version, for example, it becomes clear that in these two scenarios there is a battle for space, and as a consequence – especially in the city of Amsterdam – real estate prices rise sharply. For many people, access to affordable housing will therefore be very limited, putting the diversity of the city under pressure and threatening economic resilience in the longer term.
Insight into multiple plausible transition paths
The AMA scenarios have also been translated into two of the Board’s urban challenges: ‘Circular Economy’ and ‘Talent for the Future’. For Circular Economy, the Board considered the role of sustainability in the four AMA scenarios and what a circular economy might be like in the different scenarios.
This quickly helped to bring about good strategic discussions, which gave those involved in the challenge the insight that there can be multiple, plausible transition paths, and that circularity can have multiple dimensions. It has also raised questions about wishful thinking and stimulated reflection on how you can achieve the goals if the wind is against you.
Scenarios as a stress test
In the case of the Talent for the Future challenge, for each of the four scenarios, a possible future of employment was outlined, along with the accompanying guiding values both for employer and employee. What kind of jobs do people need to be trained for, and what kind of labour market will they be entering?
The detailed versions of the scenarios have resulted in excellent cross-fertilisation with other research on the future of employment. Where other studies raised very specific market needs for positions and jobs, the scenarios were used to consider if these needs played a role in each scenario. In this way, the scenarios actually function as a kind of stress test for proposed policy. Is a particular intervention relevant in every case, or only in one or two scenarios?
Scenarios both as source of inspiration and as assessment framework
Something that can really help users of the scenarios in applying this way of thinking is to look carefully at where you currently stand. If you are just at the start of a strategic discussion about the future, you can use the scenarios to inspire you and to devise options for action. However, if you are a phase further, and already have concrete policy plans, for example, or you are already taking action, then the scenarios are very useful as an assessment framework.