How can scientists produce research on environmental topics impacting local communities that decision makers in those communities can trust? In August 2016, scientists from the Changing Landscapes Initiative collaborated with community leaders in Northwestern Virginia to answer that question. This case study shows how CLI researchers combined community knowledge with scientific data to create a set of future scenarios designed to help planners make important land use choices.
For the Changing Landscapes Initiative, combining research and community wisdom means working with stakeholders to:
- Assess and prioritize regional needs, values, goals, and factors driving change
- Envision future scenarios and what life would look like in each scenario
- Produce land-use models, maps, and visualizations for each scenario
- Analyze the impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services
- Use results to guide local and regional planning efforts
While scenarios are not predictions of the future, they can help communities prepare for the unexpected. They also help people relate to science and planning through storytelling.
Scenario Planning Workshops
Scenario planning workshops allow stakeholders to build connections and identify shared conservation and planning goals. They also help scientists gain important insights for their research.
CLI’s approach to scenario planning includes six main steps:
- Ask stakeholders to brainstorm the “drivers” that lead to changes in land use
- Rank those drivers based on their impact, and choose the two most important
- Define the “range of intensity” for each driver. For example, if one driver is population growth, the range may be low to high.
- Define four future scenarios based on the extremes of each driver.
- Create narratives that illustrate a life in each future scenario
- Estimate where and how much the important land uses will change
For this pilot study in Northwestern Virginia, CLI researchers held two workshops with more than 40 decision makers, planners, conservation leaders and community members.