Online scenario planning tools coming to a browser near you

It’s a little early to be making New Year’s predictions, but I’d like to declare that in the next year we will see the beginning of new online, cloud based tools to do interactive scenario planning.  At PlaceMatters and among the organizations involved in the Open Planning Tools Group we have been talking about how we can bring robust scenario planning tools to the browser and mobile devices.  I’ve always known it would be possible eventually, but for the past couple of years we just didn’t have the tools available to us to do this very well.  Recently, that has changed.

The explosion of Geo-based frameworks like OpenGeo, CartoDB, MapBox and many others has given us the necessary ingredients to building user-centered scenario planning tools at lower cost and in faster iterations than we could have in the past.  In addition, the proliferation of standards-based programming libraries that can display vector and raster data quickly in a browser over a network connection makes this even more promising.  For example, Neil Salmond recently posted on this site his new open source tool Formr (github repo), which is a prototype application for looking at 3D representations of zoning regulations using an open source javascript library (three.js).  Aaron Ogle of OpenPlans recently showed me a very simple application for painting a grid called Pointillist (github repo) that was coded pretty quickly using standard javascript and mapping libraries.  In theory, this could be connected to analytics to replicate land use or place type painting known so well among scenario planning practitioners.  These examples are not full featured scenario tools, but they point to the potential.

Pointillist shows a prototype for land use painting

Pointillist shows a prototype for grid painting that could be applied to an online scenario planning tool

It is the goal of the Open Planning Tools Group to encourage better interoperability and collaboration among planning tools to make them more relevant and accessible to practitioners and the public.  The real aim is to connect people meaningfully to the places they live so the community can collectively own the outcomes and help steer change through informed and reasoned positions.  Tools and platforms, while not the only means, help us shift the culture of community building and potentially transform problem-solving in these complex times.

I am very excited about what will happen in this next year and I believe we will do it together.  If you are excited too, I encourage you to get involved in the Open Planning Tools Group through our Google Group and our monthly calls.  Check back here regularly for emerging and existing technologies in the scenario planning world.

Do you know of any other emerging projects or tools that can help us transform the culture of community building?  Let us know in the comments or send us a note on the Google Group.

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