The Fifth Scenario

Post by Jenny Seifert

What kind of future do we want, and how can we get there?

These questions are at the heart of Yahara 2070, the four scenarios about the future of the Yahara Watershed, which the WSC project created to help communities and decision makers envision and realize a desirable future, or the fifth scenario.

The fifth scenario is created by you, the people who live in the Yahara Watershed (and perhaps beyond). Whereas Yahara 2070 is a set of plausible futures based on collected ideas and computer modeling, the fifth scenario is your vision of a desirable future, based on collective discussions and decision making.

Through our outreach we are trying to help stakeholders and communities discover that space where the world we want intersects with a world that is possible.


Yahara 2070 is meant to help us find our way to our desired future.

There is no cookie-cutter way of going about the process of creating a fifth scenario, as is the case with a lot of scenario work. Everyone has their own take (here is one method), and so do we. The essence is to use a set of existing scenarios to spark discussion about what kind of future is both desirable and plausible, and what could be done now to achieve it.

Already, we have tried out our fifth scenario development process in partnership with a handful of groups, such as the Watershed Network, a collection of mostly citizen-based lake and watershed groups organized by the Dane County Office of Lakes and Watersheds. We have learned a number of things along the way.

When building a fifth scenario, it is important to keep your eyes on the road, so to speak, and not get caught up in what seems likely or unlikely. It is easy to become mired in the likeliness trap; it may be human, in fact.

Cognitive psychologists would have a lot to say about why this is (see chapter 10 of this book), but the gist is that our brains aren’t wired to break easily from the deep-rooted ways in which we understand and interpret the world, which can limit how we understand and address problems and solutions.

To illustrate, in a few workshops I’ve conducted with the Yahara 2070 scenarios, there were individuals who had a hard time believing a global values shift of the likes of Connected Communities would ever happen, even if it is desirable to them. Given the current state of affairs, a world oriented around sustainability and community seems far-fetched. Yet, signals of this possibility are evident in the world (see here, here and here).

Equally important is the patience to embark on the journey of creating the collective vision for the future, instead of rushing into figuring out what to do now–an easy tendency, especially given the urgency of challenges such as water insecurity and climate change. These words from writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery eloquently capture the importance of the developing the vision first:

If you want to build a ship, don’t start with collecting wood, cutting the plank, and assigning work, but awake in people the longing for the wide and open sea. (from “Citadelle,” also known by the English title “Wisdom of the Sands”)

The fifth scenario is thus a vision that awakens the longing and guides the process of building a desirable future.

This summer I will be developing a discussion guide for Yahara 2070, which will include guidelines for creating a 5th scenario, based on our research and experiences with stakeholders. If you are interested in conducting this process with a group, stay tuned or contact me.


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