You are here

Participatory Scenario Development: A Tool for Effective Planning

Karnataka is facing a water crisis. The adverse effects of climate variations experienced through fluctuations in temperature and precipitation have a significant bearing on the growth of the state economy. Farmers, in many parts of the state have faced loss of crops due to drought-like conditions owing to scarce rainfall and severe depletion of ground water.

Devendrappa, a farmer from Doddaballapur, a taluk in the Bangalore metropolitan area, says that people are now more aware of the impacts of climate change and what causes them than they were 20 years ago, when he took over farming from his father. Unfortunately, despite being aware, people lack the willingness to act upon this knowledge. Nanjegowda, another farmer wants decision-makers to know that ‘quick fix’ solutions, such as farm ponds, do not help lower income farmers much, while large farmers grow water-intensive crops by using larger amounts of ground and surface water.

These insights were gained at a Participatory Scenario Development (PSD) workshop organised by Climate Resilience Practice (CRP) of WRI India and Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) in November last year. PSD is an effective method for short to long-term planning that allows users of this method to integrate socioeconomic and environmental goals. PSD is a powerful tool to engage a variety of stakeholders in discussions about future actions and acceptable trade-offs. The workshop was held to develop sustainable development scenarios for Doddaballapur focusing on food and water security in the face of changing climate. The PSD workshop in Doddaballapur taluk was conducted to understand the multitude of issues faced in the area, and facilitate discussions between farmers like Devendrappa and Nanjegowda and other state residents, government officials, and other stakeholders to make informed and fair decisions for sustainable growth while developing future scenarios regarding the taluk in 2025 and 2040. The PSD workshop was part of a project funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) aimed at understanding the dynamic changes in India’s peri‐urban regions, and building capacity and resilience in the context of urbanisation and climate change.

Identifying Drivers of Change

To begin with, participants discussed the drivers responsible for the present circumstances in the taluk in relation to food and water security. They first listed drivers based on their own understanding of the environment, and were later given relevant facts on rainfall and temperature patterns, and future climate projections from the Karnataka State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC). The drivers were classified as uncertain and important, and subsequently used to develop four plausible scenarios. This exercise helped participants understand the difference between culture-based, lifestyle-based, and policy-based drivers while engaging in a discussion on causes of pollution and environmental degradation and their effects on health and economic sustainability.

Scenario Axis Fig. Scenario axis for Doddaballapur PSD

Envisioning the Future

Next, participants broke into groups and each group considered one scenario and two influential drivers. During the vision creation, the hope that despite lack of resources, humanity will be able to achieve unprecedented levels of economic growth overpowered the discussion, only to later recognise that a balance needs to be struck between incomes supported by agriculture, livestock, and industries. Industries were able to comprehend that without agricultural produce from local areas they might incur huge costs in transportation of raw materials and may need to relocate resulting in further loss. Participants acknowledged that collectively thinking about the future will sustain growth while also improving quality of life.


In the third session, participants return to reality from the excitement of an ideal future. Here the participants have to phase actions to be taken in order to achieve the vision. If the group envisions that in 10 years they will not import water from other watersheds they have to decide on and phase community based actions, awareness programs and policy changes needed to achieve their goal. In In this workshop, farmers realised that if water pollution and soil degradation levels due to excessive use of fertilizers are at peak levels now, practices have to change immediately to retain cultivable land for their children to till. Planners found that pressures of urbanisation on water and sanitation infrastructure have to be eased soon to avoid major health alarms. Locals concerned with personal health agreed that along with industrial pollution, agricultural and vehicular pollution due to urbanisation also needs to be curtailed. Back-casting, as the session is aptly named, helps participants collectively decide on roles and responsibilities of individuals and governing bodies.

Moving Forward

Finally, participants list enabling factors and barriers that a plan may face, and revise plans to add a contingency plan, contributing to a concrete way forward. The discussions Doddaballapur along with other evidence collected during the project period will be used for identifying climate resilient development pathways and contribute to policy debates, generate action on the ground, and building capacity towards sustainable development.

By combining explorative scenarios and normative back casting, participants can link different analytic and experiential perspectives to create a shared understanding. Merging qualitative and quantitative information lends credibility to the process. PSDs can be conducted at various levels, and can be used in all types of public sector engagements, from water resource planning to transport planning. Having an inclusive participant mix, and coupling the PSD with household surveys and focussed group discussions will help create robust plans. In India, WRI’s Climate Resilience Practice will use PSD extensively to engage with stakeholders at village, city, state, and national levels to build resilience in sectors such as agriculture, water, restoration.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletters

Get the latest commentary, upcoming events, publications, and multimedia resources. Sign up for the monthly WRI India Digest.