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Scenario Archetypes: Converging rather than Diverging Themes
1 , * 2 , 2 , 1 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 3 , 6 , 1 , 7 , 8 , 8 , 3 , 7 , 6 , 6 , 4 , 8 , 2 , 6 , 1 , 4 , 2 , 4
1  Center for Water Systems, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom
2  School of Civil, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
3  The Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
4  The Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom
5  Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom
6  School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
7  Coventry University
8  Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), Birmingham City University, Birmingham, United Kingdom

Published: 02 November 2011 by MDPI in The 1st World Sustainability Forum session General and Related Topics
Abstract: The achievement of a less unsustainable future requires a multi-dimensional approach that addresses a range of \'issues\' (i.e. the sustainability indicator spectrum; demographics through to water) within a bounded yet diverse \'space\' (i.e. global through to local scale) over \'time\' (i.e. current and future generations; their needs and aspirations). Futurescenarios provide challenging, plausible and relevant stories about how the future, typically within 5 to 100 years, could unfold. As neither forecasts nor predictions and unconstrained by the requirement for substantiating how one gets from here to there they allow a range of sustainability issues to be challenged at different scales in future worlds. Urban Futures (UF) research has identified a substantial set (>450) of seemingly disparate scenario visions published within the literature over the period 1997-2011. Whilst it is evident that some comparisons have been undertaken there is little evidence to substantiate converging rather than diverging themes from which an overarching scenario archetypal could be drawn. This is significant shortfall for those who wish to test the principles of sustainability / resilience against a generic scenario set, rather than derive yet more scenarios to add to the list already identified. In fulfilling this research need it has been possible to identify, based upon their scenario narratives, a sub-set of 150 scenarios that can be categorised according to three world types (i.e. Business as usual, Barbarisation and Great Transitions) and six scenarios; two for each world type (i.e. Policy Reform - PR, Market Forces - MF, Breakdown - B, Fortress World - FW, Eco-Communalism - E and New Sustainability Paradigm – NSP respectively) first proposed by the Global Scenarios Group (GSG) in 1997. It is suggested that four of these (MF, PR, NSP and FW) are sufficiently distinct to facilitate active stakeholder engagement and allow sustainability/resilience to be tested over a broad range (e.g. high to low technological efficiency). Moreover this archetypal scenario set is accompanied by a well-established, internally consistent set of narratives that provide a deeper understanding of the key fundamental drivers (e.g. economic, environmental, social, technological, political and organisational) that could bring about realistic world changes through a push or a pull effect. This is testament to the original concept of the GSG scenarios and their development and refinement over a 20 year period.
Keywords: Sustainability, Future scenarios
Comments on this paper
Dexter Hunt
Review by Paul Raskin (President of Tellus Institute)
Thank you for sharing this thorough, insightful paper. You and your co-authors have done yeoman's service in assembling the potpourri of scenario of exercises, and giving some coherence to this Tower of Babel. The reinventing of wheels continues, so let's hope this mostly semantic proliferation carries with it some freeing, creative purpose.

The only passage in the paper that didn't quite ring true appears in the discussion of why the GSG did not quantify EC (p. 21). We did consider the EC/NSP distinction to be "clear-cut" in NSP, the extension of human identity to embrace global citizenship becomes the foundation for the construction of supra-national instituions for effectively adressing supra-national challenges and pursuing opportunities, i.e., some degree of nation-state sovereignty is ceded to global governance. EC also challenges state sovereignty, but in a localizing direction. The reason we didn't quantify EC which would have been straightforward (still is) -- is that we didn't want to emphasize a scenario we felt to be implausible in light of soaring cross-border interdependence (except as an offshoot, perhaps, of other scenarios).

Paul Raskin, Ph.D. Web:

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