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«Aspirational City Futures: A short review of Foresight approaches Hunt, D.V.L. and Rogers, C.D.F. The University of Birmingham This review has been ...»

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Aspirational City Futures:

A short review of Foresight approaches

Hunt, D.V.L. and Rogers, C.D.F.

The University of Birmingham

This review has been commissioned by the UK Government’s Foresight Future of Cities Project.

The views expressed do not represent policy of any government or organisation.




2.1. STEP 1: Defining the Strategic Question(s) for Cities

2.2. STEP 2: Identifying Drivers of Change for Cities

2.3. STEP 3: Main Issues and Trends for Cities

2.4. STEP 4: Clarifying the Level of Impact and Degree of Uncertainty for Cities................ 12

2.5. STEP 5: Establishing Scenario Logics for Cities

2.5.1 Axes of uncertainty or ‘Drivers Matrix’ approach

2.5.2. ‘Success Scenario’ approach

2.5.3 ‘Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) – An Aspirational Futures’ approach.......... 19 2.5.4 Scenario Archetypes

2.5.5. Royal Institute of British Architects – RIBA approach

2.5.6. ‘Plan 2035’

2.6. STEP 6: Creating Scenario Narratives for Cities






1.0 INTRODUCTION The origins, meanings and uses of ‘future cities’ in the current discourse, including definitions, trends and pathways of knowledge, are well documented, moving far beyond the focus of sustainability (Moir et al., 2014). In a world that is constantly and rapidly evolving, it is most likely that future cities will be very different from the present and the amount of change that occurs therein will depend on just how far into the future we go. The further we go the more uncertainty there will be, and hence any methodological approach that allows meaningful creation of city policies targeted at the far future must reflect this. Foresighting approaches, as they have become known, are relevant to such a requirement, not least because they can significantly enhance the efficacy of future city policy making (Foresight, 2008; HM Government, 2014). These approaches include, but are not

limited to, the following:

1 Trend analysis 2 ‘Horizon Scanning’ or ‘3 horizons’ 3 Side-Swipes or Black Swans 4 Scenarios analysis a. ‘Aspirational’ or ‘Success’ scenarios b. ‘Extreme yet Plausible’ scenarios c. Scenarios predicated on one or more dominant drivers Their approximate location within the policy cycle, based on reports of where the approaches have been most useful, are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The policy cycle, simplified in the ROAMEF model, showing where foresight approaches have had most impact (modified from HM Government, 2014)

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However, used in isolation there are shortfalls: by beginning with the present and working forwards, trend predictions for the longer term (30 years) will most likely be wrong as the world is inherently uncertain (i.e. contexts and ways of doing things change, as do the technologies that affect / enable them, and so on) – the question is: to what degree? Hence cities would be better placed to make long-term policies by supplementing trend analysis with potentially more pertinent approaches, such as the following.

Horizon Scanning or the ‘3 horizons’ technique (Approach 2) is a very well-known and often applied futures approach (Foresight, 2003; EA, 2006; Curry et al., 2005; NERR, 2009) which uses emerging issues that are starting to appear from within an evidence base and considers them for city thinking/planning in three horizons: (i) short (0-2 years), (ii) medium (2-5 years), and (iii) slightly longer-term (5+ years). Whilst the method is applicable and could be useful for city policy development, it requires significant use of knowledge management software, application of metrics and production of scanning documents. In addition it might be suggested that for the much longer time consideration applicable to future cities (20 years) the process is beyond most, if not all, city capabilities as they currently stand.

Side Swipes or Black Swans (Approach 3) and mega shocks, whilst of low probability, are highly impacting (GO Science, 2009; Hajkowicz and Moody, 2010), often affecting future policies profoundly and instantaneously. In a city context their consideration allows for ‘responsive mode’ future requirements to be considered for events that are largely unexpected with unanticipated effects – for example, major disruptions caused by technological failures or natural disasters (Taylor et al., 2007). Again these are directly relevant to future city policy making and should not be ignored, although they are beyond everyday considerations for a city.

Scenarios analysis (Approach 4) offers the distinct advantage to long-term policy making of allowing assumptions, values and mental models to be challenged (Miles, 2005; Karlson and Øverland, 2012) when considering ‘narrative based story telling’ (Approach 4). This moves cities from trend-based or megatrend-based approaches to a more exploratory type of approach (Section 2), whereby related foresight tools and techniques allow decisions and policy making to be created more consciously and effectively by asking ‘what if?’ questions. This serves to inform the derivation of a range of plausible / probable / possible / preferable alternative future city states using words and numbers (Raskin, 2005). Each method is no more or no less useful than the other, and in fact the most desirable approach would seek to use all of them in combination, thereby allowing future pathways to be viewed in a variety of ways using multiple (rather than individual) lenses (Hunt et al., 2012; NESC, 2009). However, this aspirational approach is undoubtedly influenced by a number of constraints – most notably time, cost and experience. That said, it is worth getting the process right in order that it becomes more than an academic exercise by impacting policy-making in a meaningful way.

An ‘Aspirational’ scenario approach (Approach 4a) is often described as a preferential path to a preferred city vision and, in terms of the way it is developed, it shares many characteristics with, and thus should be considered as a subset of, conventional scenarios analysis. However the term ‘path’ is unhelpful in this description, since the approach relies on scenario development and ‘backcasting’, 4|Page i.e. a normative methodological approach whereby future options are analysed devoid of the requirement to consider what futures are likely to happen or how they are likely to develop, but with an overarching momentum to understand how desirable futures can be attained (Bezold, 2009a,b) or undesirable ones avoided. As such, ‘backcasting’ contrasts significantly from forecasting, not least due to an explicit focus on desired outcomes and city scenarios that require a step change in the current state of play in order to achieve a preferred vision. Scenarios analysis can be used in a city policy environment to pressure test a whole range of interventions (whether these be fiscal policies, something physical / technological, or different still in nature) in order to understand their likely resilience and/or sustainability (Redman, 2014; Collier et al., 2013; Zhao et al., 2013). Undoubtedly there will be iteration between each aspect moving steadily towards agreement of the best approach for a city. The ability to make any scenario possible requires a series of steps (milestones) within an overarching strategic roadmap which encompasses a shared understanding and buy-in, with long-term commitment, from within the city ‘community’ (in its broadest sense) and a deep understanding of the context in which the journey will take place. This will likely require detailed interrogation of the physical and economic feasibility (including required policy measures) for achieving a desirable future therein (Robinson, 1982; Robinson, 1990). The richness within all of this is the ability to initiate a meaningful conversation about the future from multiple perspectives leading to a multi-dimensional scenario, or scenarios, created through a participatory approach.

Building on an extensive monograph produced by the Urban Futures project team (appended to Designing Resilient Cities publication, Lombardi et al., 2012), this paper provides a critical review of ‘aspirational’ scenario approaches, methodologies and toolkits reported in the literature and forms the basis of a much larger report on how scenarios might be used by cities to help them create policies and strategies to meet their own future city visions. This paper is written for the Foresight Futures of Cities project with the main aim of identifying key approaches, and providing comment on their usefulness and the skill levels needed to apply them when considering three broad categories

of user:

(a) citizens (b) practitioners with no specialist knowledge (c) academics and/or practitioners well-versed in the topic area 5|Page

2.0 DERIVING CIY-BASED ‘ASPIRATIONAL SCENARIOS’ Hunt et al. (2012) produced a monograph (limited to the period 1997 to 2011) which systematically reviewed 110 different future studies ( 450 individual scenarios), this being be the first essential step of the ‘Urban Futures’ research. The literature review found that whilst it might be suggested that there are many different process for deriving future scenarios they consist broadly of 10 generic stages, as first proposed by Ratcliffe and Sirr (2003) and shown in Figure 2. These were reported to have been adopted by an extensive range of Global and UK-specific audiences, for example the Department for Transport (DfT) 2006 and 2007, Foresight in 2008 and the Local Government Association (LGA) in 2008 (Hunt et al., 2012).

By revisiting the literature and narrowing the focus to the development of aspirational scenarios (STEPS 1 to 6) it was found that these steps are still highly applicable. In aspirational scenario development STEPS 1 to 4 and 6 are identical for all methodologies considered. The main difference occurs when scenario logics are developed (STEP 5 – Section 2.5) where different scenarios are created, although even here synergies exist. In a city context STEPS 1 to 6 are now described.

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Q1 – How are transactions (i.e. physical and economic) achieved in the city?

Q2 – How is movement facilitated in the city?

Q3 – How are resources sourced, extracted and used within the city?

Q4 – What is the look and feel of the city like?

When considering an ‘aspirational’ scenario the questions can be slightly rephrased to take into consideration how one would like these to be, or, conversely, to ask respondents to consider one

overarching question:

Q – What do you aspire to achieve in your city?

Whatever the approach, this initial question helps inform an overarching vision which may conform to archetypal city visions that exist already (e.g. smart, innovative, liveable, resilient, sustainable) or may accommodate changing aspects of our current environment (Schwartz, 1991). In addition, ‘aspirational’ goals can be derived from deeply held beliefs and/or concerns (Hill et al., 2014), or simply reflect preferences that are driven by underlying needs / wants, or reflect Jungian characteristics (Jung, 1981; Briggs Myers and MacCaulley, 1985; Hirsh, 1985; Quenk, 2000) that describe the personalities of those considered. Therefore some level of objectivity is required when dealing with ‘aspirational’. That said, without posing these initial question(s) the visioning process becomes much more difficult, particularly when working with city stakeholder groups.

–  –  –


This step is eminently achievable by groups (a) to (c) and does not require specific skills to allow it to happen. A derivation of questions across these groups will identify aspects which are important to each. This diversity of questions enriches the process.


2.2. STEP 2: Identifying Drivers of Change for Cities The second stage is the process for identifying the driving forces of change within a city (highlighted by the green box in Figure 1). Whilst this is sometimes referred to as a methodology in its own right, the drivers of change form an underlying crucial element of horizon scanning and all scenario development. Within the scenario literature the most commonly adopted acronym is STEEPO (Hunt et al., 2012) and this remains the case for ‘aspirational’ scenarios.

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Within certain disciplines, for example the water sector, the acronym PESTOR is used, where T is Technology and R is regulatory, while in other sectors O is sometimes accompanied by, or replaced with, L –Legal and E – Ethical, to yield STEEPLE. This configuration really depends on the motivational driving forces for that establishment.


The skills required here are in translating each of the driver headings into sub-drivers that are applicable to a city or an individual/practitioner who lives/works therein.

Whilst this might be readily apparent for groups (c) there will be a small amount of translation and/or reinterpretation for groups (a) and (b). A member of group (c) could facilitate this. With a city context in mind and as a good starting point for stakeholders, it would not be inappropriate to use of a list of drivers and indicators (already established or partially refined). In some cases this could draw from the past, looking at what key drivers have helped shape certain sectors of the city. For example, Pratt (2014), when reflecting on the last 50 years, identified five key drivers of change for the cultural field (i.e. Demographics, Technologies, Internationalisation, Organisation / Governance, Politics).

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(A) Events which are ‘predetermined’ (e.g. Demographics – city populations will likely continue to increase according to some trend).

(B) A range of critical ‘uncertainties’ (e.g. Water Availability – city water supplies will likely not be able to meet demands, or Energy Prices – city energy costs may be uncertain and volatile).

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