‘Scenario building’ explained

Blog by Aniek Hebinck and Monika Zurek, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

One of the first building blocks of the Sentinel project is developing qualitative scenarios on plausible agricultural and food system development pathways in the three study countries with local actors – people who have an in-depth understanding of and experience with the systems that are being discussed.

These scenarios will then be translated into inputs for the teams that are modelling potential land use changes in the future of the three study countries and their social and biodiversity/environmental impacts.

Over the course of the first year, Sentinel project country teams attended a week-long course on scenario development at the Environmental Change Institute and then carried out their own scenario development workshops in each country.

But what exactly does it mean to ‘build a scenario’? Scenarios are, simply put, descriptions of plausible futures which explore how some of the key uncertain developments in process today may play out in the future. These futures can be described in words (often called narratives or storylines), in numbers using quantitative models, or in a combination of both. 

Under the Sentinel programme, each country team developed four different scenarios describing how agricultural and food systems could look by 2030 or 2050. The scenarios are based on certain assumptions, such as how issues like climate change, governance systems or economic development might play out (see the example for Ghana below).

Four scenarios for the future of agriculture in Ghana: