I’m planning a road trip and I want to know what to pack. I could rely on what I’ve learned from past trips or what it looks like out the window right now, but what would really help are a weather forecast and a guidebook telling me what I might expect. It’s no guarantee against a wrong turn or two, but it will certainly better prepare me for the road ahead and help me take advantage of opportunities along the way.
As it turns out, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is following a similar exercise to help nations lift people out of poverty using a tool called scenario planning. Scenario planning helps agency planners and mission officers escape from the demands of the now and think strategically about what may be coming down the road.
My group was tasked with thinking through a future history where both international forces and Bosnians themselves supported a unified nation – arguably the most positive, but also the most challenging scenario for which to plan around, considering current conditions. Keeping in mind present-day struggles, we had to figure out which forces would be strong enough to unite the fragmented people of Bosnia and the international community. After much debate, we felt European Union accession could be the strongest driving force of such a result.
Regional changes, such as a Syrian peace agreement – which could reduce the draw on radicalized youth and shift some European Union funding from the refugee crisis to development in Bosnia and its neighbors – may be enough to push the nation closer to peace and increased cohesion. Additionally, my group suspected that if Bosnians saw neighboring countries experiencing an improved quality of life from membership in the European Union, it might be enough to incentivize a national change for the better.
Of course this scenario almost certainly won’t come to pass exactly as we described, but working through it at least provides a set of benchmarks for the country and USAID to observe should we start down that path.
Getting myself into a future-focused mindset wasn’t easy. Planning 20 years out is much different than planning for tomorrow. The cone of possibilities widens as time gets further and further away. Something that seems impossible now, may be entirely possible in a decade or two.
Two weeks later, USAID held a similar workshop in Sarajevo to gather essential in-country perspectives on the drivers of change. The agency readily admits it cannot predict the future, but scenario planning and other “futures” tools, like horizon scanning, bolster its ability to partner with host countries to peer into an uncertain future and together consider the best development choices.
(Excerpt from “Forecasting Development: Observations From Scenario Planning for Bosnia and Herzegovina” by Carolanne Chanik found in its entirety on newsecuritybeat.org)