Sustainicum Collection

Consus The aim of the project is to establish a regional science-society network for sustainability innovations in Albania and Kosovo in order to strengthen the connection and collaboration of institutions in the field of higher education, research and practice.

Resource facts

  • 5 to 10 students
    11 to 30 students
  • Up to 3 lecture units
    4-7 lecture units
    up to 1 semester
    more than 1 semester
  • Internet connection necessary
  • English

Resource Description

Additional attachments

Scenario Analysis(Resource ID: 59)

Our future is not predictable; nevertheless long-term planning security is of great relevance for various disciplines. Based on concrete research questions the scenario method develops different possible future projections of complex and uncertain systems with the aim to: - assess middle and long-term changes, - estimate required future states and be able to plan accordingly, - assess possible catastrophes and negative changes, - sharpen common awareness and co-creation of knowledge.

Scenarios allow a better understanding of complex correlations in future contexts. Complex systems are being reduced to essential components but without losing sight of their interconnectedness. 

A scenario is defined as “a coherent, internally consistent and plausible description of a possible future state of the world. It is not a forecast; rather, each scenario is one alternative image of how the future can unfold” (IPCC 2010). Hence it is not enough to develop and analyse only one scenario, but multiple scenarios need to be developed in order to demonstrate the diversity of potential future developments.



  • are simplified descriptions of a potential future,
  • are based on a consistent set of assumptions and not on probabilities,
  • are group-subjective,
  • do not predict the future but present a systematic consideration of the future.


The suggested scenario method presents a simplified application of the formative scenario analysis by Scholz & Tietje (2002) and is based on Fink et al. (2004), Burandt & Barth (2010) and Kosnow & Gaßner (2008). 


Five steps of scenario analysis:

Step 1: Case and goal definition

Define the specific scope of the “scenario field”, which includes goals and research questions, a case description, system boundaries and a clear timeframe.

Step 2: Identification of key variables

In order to analyse the scenario field, relevant impact variables need to be identified and described. Distinguish between internal and external factors, which impact the system. In sustainability cases the impact variables could be clustered into social, environmental, economic and policy factors. 

An influence matrix helps to identify interactions of the variables and informs which factors present active, passive, critical or buffer variables. Key factors that need to be considered are active and ambivalent variables. Active variables highly impact other variables, but are hardly affected by others, while critical variables both highly affect and are affected by other variables. They have a system-wide influence and hence are important factors in change processes.

Step 3: Scenario construction

After setting the future horizon (timeframe), possible developments of the key variables are identified, which are called “future projections”. The characteristics of the variables are described in more detail. It is recommended to construct three different scenarios, which are consistent and can be clearly differentiated from each other. 

A consistency matrix helps to systematically assess the different forms of the possible projections, which are then checked by a specific software in order to identify consistent future scenarios. 

Step 4: Scenario analysis and interpretation

The different scenarios are described in detail, e.g. on the basis of guiding questions. Specific characteristics, key drivers, “winners” and “losers” can be worked out and interpreted. 

Step 5: Scenario transfer

Results of the developed scenarios for future planning will be highlighted in a final step. Based on the scenarios recommendations for actions will be developed in order to achieve or avoid the occurrence of specific scenarios.


Following figure provides an overview about the four step approach by Fink et al. (2004). It shows the variety of system factors in the beginning where key factors need to be identified, which then present starting points for scenarios, which are displayed in the figure in a so called “scenario trumpet”, which shows the range of possible future projections. Afterwards scenarios can be constructed and analysed in detail.


Fig.: Four steps of scenario development (Fink et al., 2004, p. 175)

Type of teaching method
  • Brain storming
  • Discussion / debate
  • Simulation
Preparation Efforts Description
For understanding and being able to implement the scenario method the students will need background knowledge by the facilitator (for recommendations see “Sources and links” below). Additionally information about the specific topic (e.g. sea level rise, global warming, technological innovations, demographic changes, etc.) is required. Examples of scenarios and templates, especially for the influence matrix and consistency matrix, will be of further importance.
Related Teaching Resources
Knowledge in system dynamics (esp. concerning system methods) would be an asset
Necessary documents / materials



Integration of stakeholders
The scenario method could be applied in class without the direct integration of societal stakeholders. Nevertheless in order to foster problem- and application-oriented learning of the students the involvement of stakeholders outside university is highly recommended. This assumes that the focus of the scenarios address a local/regional topic and the interest of possible stakeholders.
Stakeholders could be engaged (1) at the beginning for defining the case so that students get a better understanding about the scenario field, (2) through workshops where they discuss specific steps with the students (e.g. the mutual influence of key variables, the formulation or transfer of future projections), or (3) through specific interviews.
Societal stakeholder can bring in their context specific knowledge and benefit from fresh, but scientifically consistent future projections of a certain problem.
Topics of sustainability
Possible contents contain climate change and global warming (see “IPCC scenarios”), scarcity of resources, participation and urban/regional planning processes, social transitions, business trends, the use of technological innovations, biodiversity loss, etc.
Situations appropriate for this method
Scenario analysis is applied in complex, long-term situations and wicked problems.
Strengths of the method
- Scenarios help to understand complex systems and plan future developments.
- Scenarios help to assess and organise future developments on the basis of scientific insights and data.

- Scenario analysis supports students in acquiring systemic and strategic competences.
- Students learn to cope with complex and uncertain situations.
- Students learn to differentiate probabilities from future projections.
- Students strengthen their interpersonal competence.
- Students learn to discuss, exchange perspectives and negotiate consensus.
Weaknesses of the method
- Integrating scenario analysis in university courses requires good preparation and is time-intensive.
- Educators need background knowledge on system dynamics for applying scenario analysis in their lectures.
Assessment / evaluation
Besides a project report and presentation, a rubric is proposed to assess the work of the students. Following criteria are recommended for assessment, but others can be added as well:
- Understanding the system
- Foresighted and strategic thinking
- Interpersonal competences – among students
- Interpersonal competences – among societal stakeholders
- Creativity and improvement
- Scientific work
- Application of the methods
- Comprehensibility of the project report
- Structure and layout of the report
- Oral presentation.

The example for the rubric can be found in the section: necessary materials.

Additionally a learning portfolio is recommended to better analyse if the students have understood the approach. The students hereby have to reflect their personal work and experience with the method (i.e. what are the most important findings, what questions arise, are there difficulties in understanding and applying the approach, concluding reflection and resume). The learning portfolio is submitted at the end of the course. The lecturer can thus assess the learning process and learning success of the students.
Sources and Links


Burandt, S., Barth, M. (2010) Learning settings to face climate change. Journal of Cleaner Production 18, 659-665.


Fink, A., Siebe, A., Kuhle, J.P. (2004) How scenarios support strategic early warning processes. Foresight 6(3), 173-185.


Kosnow, H., Gaßner, R. (2008) Methoden der Zukunfts- und Szenarioanalyse. Überblick, Bewertung und Auswahlkriterien. Werkstattbericht Nr. 103, Institut für Zukunftsstudien und Technologiebewertung, Berlin.

https://www.izt.de/fileadmin/downloads/pdf/IZT_WB103.pdf (in German only)


Scholz, R.W., Tietje, O. (2002) Embedded Case Study Methods, Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Knowledge. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, USA.


Online examples of scenarios:

European Environment Agency – “Prelude”: http://www.eea.europa.eu/media/audiovisuals/interactive/prelude-scenarios/prelude 

Global Environmental Outlook ‐ GEO of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP 2007b, 2007a): http://www.unep.org/geo/ 

IPCC Emissions Scenarios: http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/emission/index.htm

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Hassan et al. 2005; Carpenter et al. 2005): http://www.maweb.org/en/About.aspx

World Business Council for Sustainable Development – Vision 2050: http://www.wbcsd.org/pages/edocument/edocumentdetails.aspx?id=219&nosearchcontextkey=true 

Funded by
This teaching resource, realised within the project ConSus, has been funded with the support of the TEMPUS of the European Union. The contents reflect the views of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Marlene Mader, Simon Brandt
This teaching resource is allocated to following University:
LEUPHANA - University of Lüneburg
Leuphana University of Lüneburg


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Type of teaching method

  • Brain storming
  • Discussion / debate
  • Simulation