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Step 1: Creating a Framework for Your Scenario Planning Process


/ODOT/TD/OSTI/PublishingImages/rsz_step_1_circle.png Step 1 outlines how to organize and facilitate a scenario planning process. This includes establishing who will be involved, defining the geographical scope of the process, determining political and technical leadership, identifying potential funding sources, and preparing a public involvement strategy.

It describes some of the ways organizations including MPOs, local governments, agencies and non-profits can choose to set up their scenario planning process, and the importance of partnerships and cooperation. Finally, because a successful scenario planning process includes public input and comment, it describes the recommended elements of a public involvement process.

Develop Local Support

A successful scenario planning process needs local leadership to carry out the process. Having respected local leaders involved and openly supportive gives the process credibility and helps maintain momentum during the process.

The focus of the legislation that initiated the development of these Scenario Planning Guidelines is the planning needed to reduce light vehicle GHG emissions that contribute to climate change. However, local agencies undertaking this activity can also include other issues that address broader benefits for their communities. Scenario planning can address these other issues, and still address topics usually outside of traditional land use and transportation planning. Examples include: regional economic development strategies, regional fiscal impacts, and resource uses such as energy and water, that are direct outputs of the recommended scenario planning tools.

Scenario planning is an opportunity for local jurisdictions to build on past and current planning efforts to build momentum towards defining and achieving a long-term vision for their community’s future. Building local support requires an understanding of local issues that are of the greatest concern; a process designed to address those concerns openly will earn local support. It should include a clearly defined process, with clearly identified goals. The process should be both exciting and dynamic, rather than a dry academic exercise. Even if there is no commitment to action, engaging in a process that has useful outcomes for the member communities will be appreciated more than a simple study.

Identify Key Planning Issues

/ODOT/TD/OSTI/PublishingImages/P1000100sm.jpg It is recommended at this stage to conduct a series of in-depth interviews with stakeholders and review existing plans to help get a comprehensive picture of the region’s key issues. In-depth interviews are best conducted by a person independent of the MPO or local jurisdictions, and are most effective if they can be conducted confidentially or anonymously. This will allow for unvarnished communication by opinion leaders and potential stakeholders in a metropolitan area. The results of these interviews can help guide:
  • The composition of an advisory committee.
  • The topics that need to be addressed in addition to GHG emissions.
  • The networks available to engage the public in the process.
A review of existing plans can uncover guiding principles, goals, objectives and issues identified in past planning efforts. These values and goals found in past planning efforts will help inform the development of guiding principles in Step 2. Additionally, as part of Step 4 an analysis of existing plans using both GreenSTEP and a sketch planning tool will be conducted. This may also reveal local and regional planning issues that could be also analyzed as part of a scenario planning process.

Define the Planning Area

/ODOT/TD/OSTI/PublishingImages/sample%20travel%20shed%20map%20-%20bend.JPG Determining the geography of the planning area defines both the likely participants in the process and sets parameters for data collection and analysis. The minimum planning area should be based on 2010 MPO boundaries, which were used in establishing the GHG reduction targets for each of the six Oregon MPO regions. The planning area for a scenario process can cover a larger geographic area – beyond city or metropolitan boundaries - often encompassing the travel-shed area – in order to address regional issues or to coordinate planning among a number of different jurisdictions.

MPO travel demand models are based on travel-sheds, which may extend a short distance beyond the MPO boundary. The travel-shed boundary may be a more meaningful boundary, since a common consideration of scenario planning is the location of present and future jobs and households in the MPO and its surrounding area. This is particularly important for capturing trips that commute in and out of metropolitan areas on a daily basis. Inclusion in the area modeled does not obligate local jurisdictions to any specific action, but allows them to be part of the conversation.

While the jurisdictions within the MPO boundary should take the leadership role, it may be beneficial to invite interested leaders and community members of adjacent jurisdictions, outside the MPO boundaries, to participate and/or be regularly briefed on the process. This invitation to be part of the modeling exercise, data gathering and conversation would not obligate those jurisdictions to edit plans or participate in implementing strategies.

Determine an Organizational Structure

A successful scenario planning process relies on building and maintaining a partnership from the outset. The various agencies, interest groups, the general public, and even any consultants who might be involved, will need to come together at the beginning of the process to identify and collaborate for a common purpose. There will no doubt be times where compromise is required. The process must be transparent and inclusive to ensure that the partners will trust the process and support the outcomes. Developing the partnership can feel like a daunting task and may take up significant time in the beginning of the project. However, this partnership needs to be in place for the metropolitan area to commit to a scenario planning process, and to reap the rewards of implementation. After making the collective decision to initiate a scenario planning process many different organizing structures can be employed.
Using MPOs
MPOs are a natural host agency for initiating a regional scenario planning process, especially for the early strategic assessment phase using GreenSTEP. They already have many of the technical skills, data and tools needed for scenario planning. They are familiar with federal and state planning processes relating to transportation, and already develop and update the regional transportation plans. They have the financial and accounting expertise to receive and expend funds in accordance with the regulations governing the expenditures of public funds. Local cities and counties may collectively decide their MPO should staff and help lead the scenario planning effort. The MPO can help guide the process by developing a work scope and budget approved by the governing board.

On the other hand, though MPOs can provide important organizational structure and resources to the scenario planning process, it is the local governments within the MPO that have the authority and the obligation, to implement a preferred scenario in terms of transportation and land use. For those areas required by the legislation to participate in scenario planning, the local governments within the MPOs have the ultimate responsibility to comply.

Many scenario processes have included a leadership or advisory group that goes beyond the MPO, including other local officials, and leaders from business, education, environmental organizations, developers and builders, and citizen groups. Even where the process is housed in the MPO, it is often considered desirable for the process to be led by a more broad-based advisory committee than the MPO board.

Councils of governments (COGs), which may also be their region’s designated MPO, can be useful for bringing local elected officials into the scenario planning process, and for coordinating later implementation efforts. Additionally, COGs also have the skills and procedures to accept and expend public funds. In any case, the use of an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) is likely to be a useful tool.
Forming a New Consortium
In the absence of an already established vehicle for reaching agreement in a metropolitan area, forming a new consortium is an option. A cooperative process among all of the affected local governments is critical in ensuring they are engaged throughout the scenario planning process. Active engagement leads to ownership that will be needed in development of alternative scenarios, and ultimately in the selection of a preferred scenario. Under this model, an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) provides a useful tool for organizational structure and securing funding. Oregon law (ORS 190) provides broad authority and a great deal of flexibility for local governments to develop IGA’s for almost any conceivable purpose.

Local governments in Oregon have successfully used the IGA authority for a range of activities, from providing for jointly-owned and operated utilities, to urban renewal agreements, to the design, construction, and operation of facilities. In the case of a scenario planning process, the IGA may be advisable if a new entity is to be created and if funds from several governmental agencies are being pooled to finance the effort. A sample IGA document for a scenario planning process is included in the Technical Appendix.
Using an Existing Non-Profit Organization
It is also possible for a scenario planning effort to be led by a local non-profit organization. Several nationally recognized regional scenario planning processes have been led by regionally-based non-profit organizations. These organizations often have a broad base of local leaders they rely on, are typically funded by corporation or foundation grants (along with public funds) and are in a good position to identify potential planning issues. They rarely have the skills or tools needed for scenario analysis, but in other states they have contracted with the MPO or COG to accomplish these tasks. They often delegate receiving or expending public funds to a MPO, COG, city or county.

However, this is logistically the most complicated way to conduct a scenario planning process. In some cases, a non-profit may have to be formed from scratch, which can take many months. Since the MPO and local governments are likely to be involved as well, a combination of methods may be needed: the MPO work program for MPO technical services, an IGA to coordinate local government involvement and the handling of government funds, and the use or formation of a non-profit to conduct part or all of a scenario process (such as the public involvement process).
Creating an Ad Hoc Organization
Sometimes no regional organization is able to bring together the broad coalition of groups necessary for a successful regional scenario process. In these cases a new ad-hoc organization can be formed, often supported tactically and financially by other organizations such as MPOs and regional non-profit foundations. The advantage is that a broad-based coalition can be formed without a pre-conceived agenda in the minds of the public, and draw on support and funds from a broad base. If following this approach, it will be important to identify the parties responsible for implementation following the completion of the scenario planning process. There are examples of this model being used successfully. Perhaps the most well recognized example is Envision Utah, which has maintained a staff and contracts with both public and private entities, since the completion of its scenario planning process, to regularly engage in planning and implementation activities.

There are innumerable combinations of these methods. Metropolitan areas should consider the pros and cons of each, and collaboratively design a plan that best aligns with the metropolitan area’s own goals.

Determine Civic Leadership

A successful scenario planning process requires effective leadership. A local elected official can often play the role of champion for scenario planning, or in some cases the MPO board can assume that champion role, since it is composed of representatives of multiple local jurisdictions.

For effective community engagement and investment, citizens and stakeholders must be able to trust the opinions and skills of the leadership. The leaders need to be able to effectively convey the benefits of scenario planning, the process and its potential outcomes. It is equally important that community members and stakeholders trust that the leadership believes scenario planning can make desirable changes for the community.

In some scenario planning processes, local officials have delegated leadership to an outside agency due to a desire to include a wider array of community leaders than exist on an MPO board - or due to the potentially controversial nature of the process. When this is the case, as described above under Determining an Organizational Structure, the most common outside agency is either an existing nonprofit organization, or an ad-hoc group that includes a broader coalition of leaders. This gives more community members a seat at the table and opens the process to non-governmental stakeholders who can be crucial in crafting and implementing a strategy.

Overall, the leaders who represent the citizens and stakeholders must ensure they fairly represent them and that interested citizens and stakeholders have an opportunity to be heard throughout the process. In the Tualatin Tomorrow project, a Steering Committee and an Implementation Committee were created to maintain momentum throughout the project and ensure citizens and stakeholders were included in the process at multiple levels.

Establish a Policy Advisory Committee

The recommended approach is to form a policy advisory committee that includes a broad array of community representatives. In addition to the leaders and champions identified above, it is important to include members who represent some or all of the following interests on the advisory committee:
  • Participating jurisdictions (an elected officials or high level staff person)
  • Community leaders
  • Community-based organizations
  • Environmental organizations
  • Tribal leaders (if tribal lands are impacted)
  • Business community members
  • Chambers of commerce
  • Media organizations
  • Hospitals and health care organizations
  • Public and private utilities
  • Development interests
  • Local colleges or Universities
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Philanthropic groups
  • Cultural organizations such as music, theater, other arts and sports

Determine Technical and Logistical Leadership

The MPO, a county, or a large city are all logical candidates to be contracted to provide the technical or logistical support, including the staff who will be creating the actual scenarios. This selected agency will need to be able to receive, budget and expend state and federal monies, and have sufficient financial procedures in place to be successfully audited.

The tasks of overall project management, direction, and coordination describe the second piece of technical and logistical leadership. A consultant or area-selected project manager may best fulfill this role. The lead organization(s) for the planning process should be able to bring together the disparate parts of their community and provide a forum where disputes are resolved, policies are tested, and a strategy can be crafted.

In addition to identifying and engaging the core players essential to moving the process forward, the net should be cast widely to invite as many entities as possible to join in the scenario planning process. The cooperation and peer review of local technical experts is needed. It is recommended that a technical advisory committee be formed; an existing technical committee that performs similar functions for the MPO can also be utilized.

The structure of a technical committee needs a dedicated group of at least ten people. One successful approach to maintaining many diverse representatives on a committee, while simultaneously allowing for productive work sessions, is to have one large committee meeting infrequently coupled with a core committee meeting more frequently. Given that scenario planning typically looks at a broader array of issues than most MPO and local planning processes, the technical committee should include a diverse group of stakeholders from many of the agencies and organizations listed below to ensure a variety of interests and viewpoints are represented:
  • County/city land use and transportation planners
  • State government representatives (e.g. DLCD, ODOT, OEDD)
  • Transit districts
  • Transit, bike, and pedestrian experts
  • Community non-profits
  • City and county administrators
  • Developers
  • Environmental organizations
  • Public health organizations/advocates
  • Small and large businesses or representatives
  • Transportation organizations
  • Tribal government officials
  • Universities and schools
  • School districts
  • Freight

Identify Funding Sources

The Scenario Planning Financing Report (2010) reported a wide range of costs for scenario planning. The Financing Report estimated the added costs associated with the scenario planning process through the selection of a preferred scenario, to be between $200,000 and $1.5 million for each of Oregon’s five metropolitan areas. There are many potential funding sources, including some non-governmental sources not covered here. An important component of the IGA will be identifying those funding sources and getting commitment from funding parties.
State Funds
At the state level, the Oregon Transportation Commission has allocated funding to support metropolitan area scenario planning, and has provided funding to the Portland metropolitan area to conduct scenario planning. The extent of state funding support for scenario planning - and other transportation programs - is decided by the Commission as it develops and updates the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

Local jurisdictions are also eligible to compete for Transportation Growth Management (TGM) program funds to conduct scenario planning as part of their TSP update process. The TGM program provides grants to local governments to update TSPs and prepare integrated land use and transportation plans. Many regional and local TSPs have received TGM funding. For example, the Salem Futures project and Lane 2050 received funding through TGM grants.
Federal Funds
MPOs receive federal metropolitan planning funds that can be used for scenario planning. If scenario planning is done in conjunction with an RTP update, there may be an economy of scale advantage. Doing the two projects in conjunction, rather than paying for two separate projects may cost less overall. Portland Metro is considering this strategy in the development and implementation of their preferred scenario.

Another active source of federal funding has been the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant program, which is supported by the Sustainable Communities Partnership (Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency). Central Lane MPO successfully competed for this grant and was awarded $1.5 million in late 2010 for planning activities, and will be matching some of that money with other funds to conduct scenario planning.

The Livable Communities Act (the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities) offers another funding source, which sets aside monies for local communities to develop or adopt “green” development practices. In addition to other available funds, there is increasing interest in scenario planning at the national level. For example, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has provided increasing support for scenario planning as part of the regional transportation planning process.
Local Government Funds
In many regional scenario planning examples from other states, local governments are asked to contribute a portion of the funds, in proportion to their size and ability (this can be in-kind too). This has ranged from a nominal to a significant proportion of the funding, but the intent is that local governments can help demonstrate their commitment to the process by contributing funds. This can also help fulfill any matching requirements of state, federal, and private funding sources.
Foundations, Utilities and Large Companies
Another source of funding commonly used outside Oregon is philanthropic foundations. Projects such as Envision Utah and Chicago Metropolis 2020 were almost entirely funded by foundations. Again, this source of funding requires a non-profit, tax-exempt entity to receive and expend the funds. Local utilities or large companies may also fund a portion of the project, especially the outreach component. Utilities often have an in-house print shop, and might contribute the printing and sometimes distribution or materials. They may also have extensive Internet design and web hosting capabilities, and could contribute to the web design and hosting needs of a project.

Design a Meaningful Public Involvement Plan

Regardless of the organizational model selected, the process should begin by designing a public involvement plan. For scenario planning, the approach should include an opportunity for true give and take between planners and the community. Before designing a public involvement process, read through this entire guide, including the Step-by-Step Public Involvement section of the Technical Appendix , to identify the right moments and methods to reach out to the public.

The scale of public involvement effort will depend on the size of the metropolitan area and the scale of the scenario planning project. For instance, the Grand Vision, in the Traverse City area of Michigan, a community of six counties and 100,000 people, included an ambitious public involvement effort that garnered input from 15,000 citizens. In Missoula, Montana, a city with a population of 67,000 and metropolitan area population of about 75,000, the Envision Missoula scenario planning process included two rounds of public workshops with attendance of 50 to 100 people at each meeting.

When deciding on the scope and scale of the public outreach effort consider factors such as the size of the planning area, the level of the community’s involvement in past planning efforts, expected levels of community interest, the type of proposals likely to be considered in the scenario planning process and the available budget for outreach.

In order to bring the community into the planning process, it is important to describe scenario planning in terms of the livability criteria, or benefits, that the community will be considering. Many community goals – such as livable communities, health concerns, safety for children and others, walking and biking – have the additional benefit of also addressing GHG emissions. On a local level, Oregon communities have been actively engaged in conversations about land use and transportation for many years. Many ongoing or recurrent planning efforts will likely gain new interest and excitement from using the scenario planning process, and then can also lend their credibility and constituency to scenario planning. (The details of the public involvement discussion can be found in a Step-by-Step Public Involvement section of the Technical Appendix.)
Understand the Community’s Values and Opinions
A successful scenario planning process begins with an accurate representation of community values. Gaining an understanding of what they are through values research is critical to ensuring that plans reflect local and regional culture. Comprehending the shared ideals of the metropolitan area is a first step toward defining big ideas and creating specific messages for targeted audiences. Existing comprehensive plans and TSPs typically provide guiding principles, goals and a vision summarizing a community’s values. This is a good place to begin the assessment of regional values.

In addition to existing written sources, it is often useful to conduct research on the area’s values. Public values research has evolved over the years to become a quantifiable science. Values research can be conducted using various tools, such as; online qualitative surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews, online panels, and phone and mail surveys. Interestingly, while each region’s values are different, some nationally shared values and principles appear in many regions. Values research and analysis provides a means to ensure that a plan reflects the core values of a diverse regional community. It also allows planners to design a plan with benefits for the broadest segment of the community, not just motivated citizens involved directly with the planning process. The results from values research can also be shared with the community as a means for helping all citizens, motivated or not, better understand their own community and reconsider long-held assumptions. An understanding of the values held by people within the metropolitan area can be helpful in drawing in the partners required for the collaborative scenario planning process.
Public Engagement for Each Step
Step 1: Create a Framework for the Scenario Planning Process
Develop a public involvement strategy.
Step 2: Select Evaluation Criteria
Conduct forums and community values research.
Step 3: Set up for Scenario Building
  • Provide updates for those following a project website.
  • Provide updates on values from Step 2.
Step 4: Develop/Evaluate Current Base Conditions and Reference Case Scenario
  • Presentations to elected officials and appointed committees.
  • Create fact sheets or "report cards".
  • Host an open house to share results or a workshop.
Step 5: Develop and Evaluate Alternative Scenarios
  • Consult with elected officials.
  • Hold an interactive visioning workshop.
  • Reach out to key stakeholder groups.
  • Provide newsletters, fact sheets, articles
  • Use social media tools such as websites or surveys.
  • Utilize online scenario building.
Step 6: Select the Preferred Scenario
  • Share results of the alternative scenarios with the public.
  • Use public input to help identify preferred strategies. Formats for engagement include: summary brochures, newsletters, websites, forums, open houses, small focus groups and short videos.
  • Use a focused stakeholder group.
Next Steps
  • Hold multi-agency meetings.
  • Other public engagement opportunities will occur as implementation measures are proposed and considered or as part of comprehensive plan and/or RTP updates.


At the completion of Step 1 the framework for the scenario planning process should be established and presented in a work plan that will be used to guide the remaining steps of the process. At this point, the participants should have been identified and have a good understanding of why they want to embark on scenario planning, how it will benefit the area, and the general range of potential options and strategies. Decisions will have been made about who will be involved in the process, what geographical area it encompasses, who the project leaders and champions are and how the public will play a role. Moving into Step 2, the Guidelines recommend a process for discovering, gathering, and prioritizing community goals and establishing scenario evaluation criteria.