Future Scenarios

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The Future Scenarios initiative works in a participatory and interactive way with technical advisors and other key stakeholders in East and West Africa to build some up pictures of different worlds, or narratives, that identify the uncertainties that policy-makers may be faced with at the regional level. The idea is to help decision makers start analysing the transformational changes that will be needed in terms of policies, institutions and governance in agricultural production and food security over the next 15 years. The narratives identify a range of possible pro-active and re-active positions to be taken for a number of different “futures”.

Lead institution: Oxford University with CCAFS inputting on communications angle

Climate communication aims:
The communication aim of this initiative is to help build future scenarios that look at the on- the-ground uncertainties around regional social, political, economic uncertainties. It is about building up a picture of what uncertainties policy makers and technical advisors may have to face in the future. Scenarios help inform decision making under uncertainty through the development of a range of plausible futures. The scenarios are aimed at those making difficult choices at regional level and are designed to offer information and data in response to particular situations. The scenarios are not predicting a future or designing a future but offering ideas on what might happen and how to adapt – testing future options. A powerful, but equally important, aim is to build up teams of people who can own and lead the process at a country level and develop the strong relationships that will be needed for complex decision making.

Communications/social learning characteristics:
The process of building up the regional narratives for the scenarios takes place with key stakeholders, technical advisors researchers, policy makers, media, industry, agricultural scientists, private sector, finance sector etc. Their role is to identify key uncertainties and to describe in some detail what kind of situations they envisage and to take ownership of the process of scenario building and decision making. The international team, the modellers, then take this information and go to other existing models, datasets to quantify these narratives. The process of quantifying the narratives is very important for sharing back with the stakeholders to ensure that a full understanding of the scenario has been represented and developed. The scenario team can then look at their future worlds and decides how best to adapt to each situation. This close exchange between the narrative builders and the data modellers provides a good opportunity for shared learning. It is clear that the existing models and datasets may be constructed on different paradigms but this exchange and challenge is a catalyst for new thinking.

The development of the regional team that begins to work together in building the narratives provides a good example of a social learning process that brings together people from different sectors and who will develop new iterations of each scenario by sharing thinking from their own perspectives and will stay close to the scenarios over the time they roll out.

There is a certain amount of agenda setting here by the organisers as there is a need for capacity building of participants to be able to use scenarios as a way to plan strategies. However the planning is then done in a participatory way. Using scenarios was originally developed in the military but then became a business tool and has only been used so far in Europe and northern America in the private sector. So despite the top-down agenda setting on “we will take the scenarios approach”, building successful scenario relies on a good understanding of realistic, specific, contextual possibilities – this is a very participatory process.

The principle audience are the technical advisors and sector experts, policy makers at national /regional level etc who have been helping in developing the scenarios. Engaging a broader audience including the private sector and civil society organisations happened in a June 2012 workshop and there is strong involvement and support for the process by the East Africa Commission. The internal CGIAR/CCAFS audience is also an important one, but perhaps one that is harder to reach.

Getting research into use (how this case study does or does not contribute to that):
The Scenarios Project will be used in a number of different ways. Scenarios will be developed as a cross cutting shared activity across the CCAFS programme and it is hoped that it will unlock creative thinking. Scenario analyses will be conducted at regional levels in three initial research regions (East Africa, West Africa and South Asia). The current East African project has a linked communications programme with Panos East Africa that is designed to share learning with the media and with local radio to engage wider audiences. Each of the Scenarios projects has the tangible output of project documents and analyses from each of the workshops but it also has a strong network of team members sharing learning in their own sectors.

The project also has a large number of partners with whom it is working – the East African Commission General Secretariat, other CGIAR Centres - IWMI, ICRISAT, ICRAF, ILRI, IFPRI – and more.

A key part of this project is the involvement of an expert panel that advises the project – the CCAFS Scenarios Advisory Group – that brings together futures experts from a range of different sectors.

Evolution of the project (how has the project evolved or developed if known):
Planning workshops have been held with technical advisors in East and West Africa in
2010/11. The aim is to bring these scenarios for discussion with broader audiences in 2012.

Global institutions like the IPCC, and the Global Forum for Agricultural Research of FAO have been interested in how this kind of work might be used by in their global foresight work.


  • Harvey, Blane
  • Ensor, Jonathan
  • Carlile, Liz
  • Garside, Ben
  • Patterson, Zachary
  • Naess, Lars Otto