Scenario Planning on the web

This is not an exhaustive post by any means, but we wanted to showcase some examples of using the web to engage participants in scenario generation.  This is definitely a space that will continue to grow and become more sophisticated over time.  In the meantime, these examples can provide some food for thought on how you can engage citizens online in meaningful ways.  We also hope you contribute additional examples in the comments below.

Design My DSM

Image of the priority ranking screen of Design My DSM developed by Sasaki Associates

Design My DSM asks participants to first rank their priorities

In regional planning there are a number of challenges in engaging a diverse set of interests over a large geographic area.  The Tomorrow Plan is a 2 year regional plan for the Greater Des Moines, Iowa region.  Working with the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the lead consultant, Sasaki, sought to build a tool that would help answer three driving questions (from this CoLab article):

 1. Most planning tools consist of pre-made maps or research material. How can we design a fun interface that is all about the user, how planning impacts them, and what they want to see in the future?

2.Getting people engaged and excited about the planning process can be hard. Why don’t we design a tool that is playful, focused on education, and designed to elevate the discussion of ideas?

3.Crowdsourcing and participatory planning techniques are the next frontier for planning. What if we use the dynamic tool to directly feed users’ input into a brand-new scenario?

The result of addressing these questions was a custom-developed online framework for gathering input called Design My DSM.  The framework alone is an impressive and creative feat, but the custom scenario analysis behind it that drives the various links among values, priorities and outcomes is equally if not more impressive.  This is not an off-the-shelf tool, but the team at Sasaki has done a good job of documenting their process and approach and is probably itching to try this out in other regions.  You can actually try out the tool, just enter your actual zip code and it will not be included in the analysis if you’re from outside the region.

YouChoose Bay Area

Screenshot of the YouChoose Bay Area website

YouChoose Bay Area is built on the MetroQuest platform and asks participants to consider priorities, choices and outcomes

YouChoose Bay Area is an initiative of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to help area residents shape their region’s future through the One Bay Area planning process.  This process has used traditional community planning meetings to collect feedback but also uses the MetroQuest platform to help residents consider values, priorities and tradeoffs and discover ways to get involved further in the process. asks each participant to learn about trends in the region, rank priorities including things like “Clean Air” or “Lower Costs and Taxes,” make basic choices on scenario preferences and then view the impacts of the scenarios on each of their priorities.

[Note: the following is a correction to the original post submitted June 22, 2012]

The scenarios driving the impacts of the tool were developed using Calthorpe Associate’s RapidFire modeling tool, and then integrated into the MetroQuest interface for public and stakeholder engagement. The scenarios range from a Business as Usual future, to a ‘Planned Future’ representing ‘on the books’ regional and local plans, to two variations on more compact transit-focused scenarios. Scenarios address the impacts of critical job-housing balance issues facing the Bay Area, as well as the quality and location of growth within the region. Scenario development and the You Choose Bay Area process was guided by a 23-member advisory group of “leading environmental and social-equity advocates, business groups, public health experts, labor representatives, community-based organizations, and academics.” The scenarios driving the impacts of the tool were based on previous work including the Smart Growth Livability Footprint Project (ABAG, 2002), FOCUS/Projections 2009 and 2011 (ABAG/MTC, 2009 and 2011 [draft]), and Grow Smart Bay Area (Greenbelt Alliance, 2009).  The online tool development was also guided by a 23-member advisory group “leading environmental and social-equity advocates, business groups, public health experts, labor representatives, community-based organizations, and academics.”

MetroQuest is built to be offered in any region or community and can be configured to many needs.  It is not an analysis tool, but rather an engagement platform to get feedback on important scenario-based decisions.  It can be deployed on tablets, computers and in kiosks, making it useful for doing broad level engagement in the places people are.

Envision 2050 (San Diego)

Screenshot of the choices screen of Envision 2050 website

Envision 2050 allowed participants to see the impacts of various scenarios on their priorities

Envision 2050 (no longer online) was a collaboration of Placeways, FIREANT Studio and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).  FIREANT worked closely with the team to build an online interactive Flash website that would allow participants to interactively look at the impact of scenarios on various priorities.  Placeways managed the development and integration of the online platform with scenario analysis completed in CommunityViz.  The analysis, 3D visualizations, and maps were all created using CommunityViz and then displayed in a stepwise fashion through the Flash platform.  Here’s more from the Placeways case study (PDF):

The interactive site educates the general public about transportation planning issues and challenges through a fun, highly visual experience. A central part of the tool is a step-by-step user experience that allows visitors to select their own priorities by dragging them from an animated wheel of options. Based on their choices, users learn more about planning and transportation topics like transit, accessibility, air quality, and safety. For example they can see dynamic chart icons showing how the RTP plan will perform on “good walking and biking connections” or “reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

And many more

This is just the beginning of showcasing these kinds of emerging online platforms.  I’m certain we left many out and would like to hear more about tools you’ve used or have developed to help people consider scenario planning on the web.  Please leave us a note in the comments, tweet some examples at me (@synchronouscity) or get involved in our growing community on the Google Group.


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