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Step 6: Selecting a Preferred Scenario


Step 5 concluded with the development of alternative scenarios which were evaluated based on indicators from Step 2. In this step the alternative scenarios will be presented to decision makers, stakeholders and the public to solicit feedback about the selection and design of a preferred scenario for the metropolitan area. The preferred scenario will consist of a package including: a concept map, a set of major programs, policies or general actions, and spatially distributed housing and employment forecasts.


Step 6 involves the development and selection of a preferred scenario, based on a combination of public and stakeholder input and the evaluation results from Step 5. The evaluation results for the alternative scenarios, will show what the future could look like based on the scenarios they helped design. This new knowledge will help the public and stakeholders identify which scenario elements they support, and ultimately, the composition of a preferred scenario.
  • The concept map shows future land use types and major transportation changes based on the major themes of the preferred scenario, but more general than comprehensive plans or zoning maps.
  • A set of major programs, policies or general actions that can achieve the preferred scenario.
  • Forecasts of future housing and employment, at the TAZ level, helps to inform and guide subsequent planning, such as RTP updates, subsequent plan updates, and other options available to local governments to accommodate growth consistent with a preferred scenario.
  • A narrative describes the map, programs, policies or actions, and forecasts of the preferred scenario.

Present Alternative Scenarios to the Public

The public and stakeholders helped to shape the themes and strategies of the alternative scenarios in Step 5. Those evaluations of those alternative scenarios are used in this step to help the public and stakeholders understand outcomes of different policy choices. Comparing the performance of the alternative scenarios in against the reference case scenario created in Step 4 provides a benchmark from which to evaluate the alternatives. In this phase of public engagement, the community reviews the results of the alternative scenario evaluations, gives their feedback and preferences, and helps identify effective policies or actions to achieve community goals. That public input, along with the evaluations of the alternative scenarios, will inform the development of the preferred scenario.

This step often sees the greatest amount of participation in the scenario planning process. For the best results during an outreach campaign, and to maximize participation, it is important to use a variety of engagement methods. Choosing preferred strategies and elements from the alternative scenarios is an empowering activity for the public and stakeholders, and as a result, participation is likely to grow. This section outlines some recommendations for engaging stakeholders and the public during the selection of a preferred scenario.
Design Easy-to-Read Alternative Scenario Maps
Scenario maps, especially those coming straight out of a sketch planning tool, can be difficult for the public to interpret. Alternative scenario maps to be shared with the public, stakeholders and public officials should be rendered by a cartographer or graphic designer, simplified, easy to understand, and supplemented with written descriptions. Photographic and video simulations are also an effective way to communicate how places may look and feel if the future portrayed by the scenario became reality.
Present Key Evaluation Criteria Choices in a Relevant Way
Compare and present results evaluation based on how they performed against the criteria established in Step 2, such as GHG emissions, housing, economy, and transportation. Use techniques described in Step 5 to communicate the criteria in understandable and relevant ways (e.g., annual fuel costs per family versus VMT per capita).

Share the performance of each alternative scenario based on key themes identified by the public in Step 5. When presenting programs, policies and actions that can be implemented as part of the scenario, it may be useful to categorize each as either “contributing to GHG emissions,” “neutral or minimal impact,” or “reducing GHG emissions” to make clear connections to achieving the targets.

The use of technical planning terms and concepts should be avoided. Have people outside of the scenario planning team review the outreach materials to ensure they are easy to understand. Newsletters and websites should distill complex information into a clearly understandable form. Using a small focus group of the public, or people from a different department or agency, to review materials is often an effective way to ensure that questions and messages are clear and free of jargon.
Use a Range of Methods for Informative Engagement
While a broad outreach campaign can result in thousands of responses, some policy makers or stakeholders may be skeptical that the responses do not represent everyone in the metropolitan area. Voluntary input may not provide a representative sample of the population. This is not necessarily a problem; it is similar to voting or public testimony where interested people self-select to participate. Understanding the needs and desires of these peole is important for long-term success. Within this group are those most likely to vote on potential future implementation actions such as bonds or policy changes.
  • Summary materials, such as brochures, newsletters, websites, forums, open houses and short videos are common formats for presenting alternative scenarios and their core strategies. Using a graphically rich newsletter or an interactive web survey, people can review scenarios and express their preferences conveniently from home, without needing to invest a great deal of time.
  • Forums and open houses are great for two-way communication with the public and stakeholders. However, they can be time consuming; using guest speakers, discussions, table exercises and/or instant key-pad polling to help evaluate choices from different points of view and giving the public a chance to make recommendations. These events attract one hundred to several hundred participants. Smaller forums or facilitated conversations can be used as an alternative to large public events.
  • A scientifically designed survey such as a random sample telephone survey can have value. This kind of survey requires development of an additional version of the outreach materials that can be administered verbally. The best way to engage in this option is to consult with researchers who specialize in telephone surveys. These specialists can work with staff to develop the verbal questionnaire based on other materials already produced for this phase of public outreach.
Consider a Focused Stakeholder Approach
Extensive public outreach may not be the best fit for every community due to costs or timing. Grand public engagement programs utilizing several of the methods listed above have proved successful in engaging large portions of the public. While this is an exciting way to present the alternative scenarios for selection, focused stakeholder meetings can also be a useful method to gather input on the most and least favored elements of the alternative scenarios. A more limited engagement effort would include stakeholders with specific knowledge of land use and transportation planning, and public policy, from the perspective of public, private and non-profit entities. The main advantages of this approach, besides cost, are that stakeholders familiar with the subject matter will be able to comprehend complex information and better advise the team on the details of the scenarios being tested. They may also have insight on approaches likely to be supported by policy makers. The potential shortcoming of using a focused outreach exclusively is missing the opportunity to enhance the publics’ discussion of planning, and the opportunity to build a large base of support for future actions.

Role of a Preferred Scenario

A preferred scenario represents the land use and transportation pattern that the region wants to achieve over the next 20-40 years. It should guide any subsequent updates to land use and transportation plans, programs, policies, codes and regulations. While the scenario may be based on a detailed technical analysis, it should be framed more generally to allow flexibility during implementation. A preferred scenario should allow for slightly different outcomes over time (e.g., where one mixed-use area gets slightly more development and another gets slightly less) as long as overall objectives to accommodate mixed-use development are met. Once adopted, the preferred scenario is the basis for developing the implementation plans and actions to carry out the scenario. With agreement on the preferred scenario, local governments can take steps to amend plans, policies, and programs, along with other actions to make it a reality.

Develop a Preferred Scenario

The scenario analysis and selection process should result in an understanding of the public’s level of support for the elements of the scenarios. Once the public has weighed in on their preferred elements from each of the alternative scenarios, the next step is to synthesize that input and translate it into a preferred scenario.
Understanding Public Input
Responses from public input on the alternative scenarios should be compiled into a report or memorandum, coupled with a presentation summarizing the public’s rankings. It is possible that the community will overwhelmingly rally behind one scenario. However, it is also common for each scenario to possess some popular elements. Identifying popular elements and themes will help form the preferred scenario. The goal of inviting community input is to identify areas of consensus, and consider compatibility and tradeoffs among various scenario elements and themes.
Translate Public Input into a Preferred Scenario
The scenario that most closely matches the rankings of the public and the steering committee should be used as a starting point. Using methods described in Step 4 and Step 5 for scenario development in the sketch planning tool, the scenario could be modified by changing land uses, applying development type and modifying the transport network as applicable. Unwanted elements are removed and strategic elements added to make it perform better, as measured by the evaluation criteria from Step 2. An evaluation of effectiveness and feasibility is then used to develop a scenario that can be selected as most desirable.

By building two or three technical scenarios in GIS that achieve similar desired outcomes, but employ different themes or strategies, one scenario could add housing to job rich areas, while the other might focus new jobs and mixed-use developments in housing rich areas. The resulting mixed-use development in both scenarios may have similar outcomes. Similar combinations of scenario elements can be used to illustrate the flexibility a community has to achieve the same outcomes through different planning approaches.
Refine Scenarios with Stakeholders
The preferred scenario is not generally a selection of one of the initial scenarios as the best. Rather, it is a new scenario combining elements or strategies from various alternative scenarios and as such it may need to be adjusted to ensure that compatible elements are being used. Development of a preferred scenario may take several iterations.
Consider Revising or Refining Unpopular Actions That Are Effective in Meeting Community Goals
Proposals for increased infill, redevelopment or densities in existing neighborhoods can be unpopular in affected neighborhoods. As a preferred scenario is developed, local planners should consider whether a scenario can be revised or refined to address these kinds of public concerns. For example, during work on the 2040 Growth Concept, Metro received extensive feedback expressing concern that increased density would reduce livability of established single-family neighborhoods. Metro’s preferred scenario included measures to focus infill and redevelopment and higher densities to particular areas, generally along major roadway corridors, to make it clear that existing neighborhoods were not targeted for redevelopment.
Seek Guidance from Elected Officials
Elected officials should be regularly engaged throughout the scenario planning process. Engagement should consist of sharing results at key milestones and engaging them in discussions on the project outcomes. It’s reasonable to expect that public review of alternative scenarios will not result in a clear consensus about all the elements that ought to be included in the preferred scenario. Where the results of public review are conflicting or ambiguous, consultation with elected officials to discuss options for addressing key issues is recommended.

Model a Preferred Scenario and Other Recommended Next Steps

Each metropolitan area will likely proceed differently in the scenario planning process. This step provides several potential outcomes and common products produced by communities that have engaged in scenario planning. The intent of these products is to guide metropolitan areas towards implementation of a preferred scenario with a range of benefits.
Modeling a Preferred Scenario
Ultimately, the preferred scenario will be evaluated through use of the sketch planning tool and Metropolitan GreenSTEP. The modeling of the scenario in this step is the same as in Step 4 and Step 5. Performance of the scenario can be evaluated from the outputs of the sketch planning tool and by summarizing the urban design information, using the census tracts or other boundaries (as described in step 3), to link those outputs to Metropolitan GreenSTEP. The GreenSTEP tool evaluates the preferred scenario for compliance with the adopted light vehicle GHG reduction targets for 2035 and the statewide goals for 2050. If using additional models, such as a travel demand model, run the preferred scenario through those models as well; sketch planning tools readily allow for generating the necessary TAZ data files. Identify and document the model results to be used as performance measure during future implementation efforts, for use in describing characteristics of the vision and for use in the final report.
Develop a Community Vision Document
A vision document captures the community goals expressed during the planning process, and describes the anticipated outcomes based on the selected scenario. It moves from the detailed analysis of the scenarios into general concept and descriptions of places and outcomes. A vision has been an important part of many communities’ planning process. It provides more flexibility than a comprehensive plan. While visions are not necessarily developed with scenario processes, scenario plans often include a vision as an outcome. The vision is typically based on a preferred scenario (or two) and may include a map.
Create a Final Report
A final report might include descriptions of the effectiveness of the strategies, their performance, and key evaluations. In addition, the evaluations can be converted into goals for monitoring implementation progress.

The metropolitan area and member jurisdictions may choose to endorse the preferred scenario in a formal fashion. Places such as Denver, Colorado who have developed a widely accepted scenario have used the adopted preferred scenario as the foundation for future multiagency implementation.

If the cities and counties in the metropolitan area choose to give the preferred scenario official status, below are some considerations that may be helpful:
  • Selection of a preferred scenario need not be made as a formal land use decision.
  • Selection of a preferred scenario can be adopted by resolution.
  • Define the role of the preferred scenario in future planning and other work.
  • Identify broad actions or next steps could occur over time to implement the preferred strategy.
  • Include recommendations of ways other groups, agencies or organizations can help implementation.
  • Seek endorsement from key agencies potentially affected by proposed actions or programs contained in the approved strategy, such as school and transit districts, utilities, major employers, and landowners.
  • Identify roles and responsibility related to next steps.


In this step, the community, stakeholders and public officials all participated in creating and selecting a preferred scenario. That scenario consists of a concept map, a set of major programs, policies or general actions, and future spatially distributed housing and employment estimates. It also includes a detailed technical analysis that estimates light vehicle GHG emissions reduction and helps guide implementation and ongoing monitoring of progress. The preferred concept is then implemented through updates to land use and transportation plans, new policies and programs, and revised zoning codes and regulations – described further in Next Steps.

If done well, this step should result in increased support for planning among the community, stakeholders and elected officials, and the approaches the community wants to use for GHG reduction, and other co-benefits. This increased community awareness and knowledge will help the metropolitan area decide what actions, if any, they want to explore to implement the strategies tested through this process.