Scenarios That Illuminate Vulnerabilities and Robust Responses

Published in: Climate Change, v. 177, no. 4, Apr. 2013, p. 627-646

Posted on RAND.org on April 01, 2013

by Robert J. Lempert

Read More

Access further information on this document at Climate Change

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

Scenarios exist so that decision makers and those who provide them with information can make statements about the future that claim less confidence than do predictions, projections, and forecasts. Despite their prevalence, fundamental questions remain about how scenarios should best be developed and used. This paper proposes a particular conceptualization of scenarios that aims to address many of the challenges faced when using scenarios to inform contentious policy debates. The concept envisions scenarios as illuminating the vulnerabilities of proposed policies, that is, as concise summaries of the future states of the world in which a proposed policy would fail to meet its goals. Such scenarios emerge from a decision support process that begins with a proposed policy, seeks to understand the conditions under which it would fail, and then uses this information to identify and evaluate potential alternative policies that are robust over a wide range of future conditions. Statistical cluster analyses applied to databases of simulation model results can help identify scenarios as part of this process. Drawing on themes from the decision support literature, this paper first reviews difficulties faced when using scenarios to inform climate-related decisions, describes the proposed approach to address these challenges, illustrates the approach with applications for three different types of users, and concludes with some thoughts on implications for the provision of climate information and for future scenario processes.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/principles.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.