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Glossary Element  Foresight Dictionary


English: Scenario

Glossary Element  Scenario

Scenarios are plausible and imaginative descriptions of how the future may develop, based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key relationships and driving forces, such as the rate of technological change. Scenarios are neither projections nor predictions that explore one future that is considered most probable/likely. Rather, scenarios are simulations of alternative futures.

A complete scenario study consists of a scenario base, several context scenarios, several policy scenarios and policy messages. In practice they do not always include all four elements or some of them only in a summarized way. The main types of scenarios include normative and exploratory scenarios. 

  • Scenario base

A scenario base provides a systematic overview of the various aspects of the policy issue under consideration, the policies aiming at purposefully influencing the issue, and the drivers of change with significant impacts on the issue and the policy under consideration. While the policy issue and the policies are framed as a part of the system, the drivers of change refer to the system environment.

  • Context scenarios

Context scenarios explore, in an integrative way, some of the possible future courses of the drivers of change, their mutual relationships and their impacts on the policy issue and the policy under consideration.

  • Policy scenarios

Policy scenarios explore several (un)desired future states of the policy issue under consideration and the alternative policies that may realise them. By doing this, the possible future courses of the drivers of change explored by the context scenarios are also taken into consideration.

  • Reference scenario

A reference scenario is the future that scenario developers, policymakers and/or stakeholders believe, either explicitly or implicitly, will occur. This is usually a plausible future, featuring no surprising changes. A reference scenario is usually made to contrast with alternative scenarios – context or policy scenarios. Synonym is baseline scenario.

  • Normative scenarios

Normative scenarios start with a preliminary view of a possible future and look backwards to see if and how this might or might not grow out the present.

  • Exploratory scenarios

Exploratory scenarios start with the present and move forward to the future by asking what-if questions about implications of possible events beyond familiar trends. They use data about the past and present, bearing in mind the possible, probable and desirable.


Ash, N. et al. (eds.). 2010. Ecosystems and human well-being – a manual for assessment practitioners. Washington

Dammers, E. et al. 2010. Making Territorial Scenarios. Futures, nr. 8, pp. 785 – 793

Dammers, E. et al. 2013. Scenario’s maken voor milieu, natuur en ruimte – een handreiking. Den Haag


Jakil, A. 2011. Sustainability Governance Foresight – Towards Bridging the Knowledge Gap between Policy Analysis and Governance for Sustainable Development. Vienna.