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Using Scenario Visioning and Participatory System Dynamics Modeling to Investigate the Future: Lessons from Minnesota 2050

Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resource Studies, Michigan State University, 151 Natural Resources Building, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
Environmental Studies Program, Dartmouth College, 6182 Steele Hall, Hanover, NH 03755, USA
Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, 325 VoTech Building, 1954 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, 115 Green Hall, 1530 Cleveland Avenue N, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
Meeting Challenges, 1022 West Country Road D, St. Paul, MN 55126, USA
University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, 411 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2010, 2(8), 2686-2706;
Received: 10 July 2010 / Revised: 17 August 2010 / Accepted: 18 August 2010 / Published: 24 August 2010
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Futures)
Both scenario visioning and participatory system dynamics modeling emphasize the dynamic and uncontrollable nature of complex socio-ecological systems, and the significance of multiple feedback mechanisms. These two methodologies complement one another, but are rarely used together. We partnered with regional organizations in Minnesota to design a future visioning process that incorporated both scenarios and participatory system dynamics modeling. The three purposes of this exercise were: first, to assist regional leaders in making strategic decisions that would make their communities sustainable; second, to identify research gaps that could impede the ability of regional and state groups to plan for the future; and finally, to introduce more systems thinking into planning and policy-making around environmental issues. We found that scenarios and modeling complemented one another, and that both techniques allowed regional groups to focus on the sustainability of fundamental support systems (energy, food, and water supply). The process introduced some creative tensions between imaginative scenario visioning and quantitative system dynamics modeling, and between creating desired futures (a strong cultural norm) and inhabiting the future (a premise of the Minnesota 2050 exercise). We suggest that these tensions can stimulate more agile, strategic thinking about the future. View Full-Text
Keywords: scenarios; participatory modeling; multiple futures; energy; water scenarios; participatory modeling; multiple futures; energy; water
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Schmitt Olabisi, L.K.; Kapuscinski, A.R.; Johnson, K.A.; Reich, P.B.; Stenquist, B.; Draeger, K.J. Using Scenario Visioning and Participatory System Dynamics Modeling to Investigate the Future: Lessons from Minnesota 2050. Sustainability 2010, 2, 2686-2706.

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