Post by Jenny Seifert
Developers of socio-ecological scenarios have an ambitious goal: help society move towards a sustainable future by helping people think in a long-term way and apply that thinking to decision-making that impacts our built and natural environments. One challenge that accompanies this ambition is how to make scenarios accessible to the broadest possible range of people.
Accessible means that it’s easy for people to engage with and learn from the diverse products of scenario projects, such as the storylines and model results of our own scenarios, Yahara 2070. This can range from simply creating an online presence to more ambitious undertakings like translating scenario storylines into multiple languages or turning them into artistic expressions like plays or videos.
Multiple pathways to connect with long-term thinking seem essential for scenario projects to achieve their goals. People learn in many different ways and with varying capacities to modify their thought processes, which makes trying to meet them where they are vital to any scenario project’s success.
Accessibility is something the Water Sustainability and Climate project took seriously with Yahara 2070. We worked to communicate our scenarios through short stories, videos, artwork and a discussion guide, for example. Now we are happy to introduce two new ways to engage with Yahara 2070.
First are the Yahara 2070 audio-stories, which allow people to listen to engaging narrations of the four storylines, rather than read them. Their creation was an idea from community partners who thought audio-stories could enhance the scenarios’ accessibility to busy people – one can listen to them on their commute to work, for example – or to people for whom English is a second language.
Second is an interactive infographic that communicates the Yahara 2070 model results. The modeling entailed simulating the land-use and climate changes that occur in the four scenario storylines, and the results are estimated future conditions for seven natural benefits, or ecosystem services, that people in the Yahara watershed rely on for their well-being, such as food production and freshwater.
These results provide a range of implications for future generations’ quality of life and help highlight potential vulnerabilities for which to prepare, assuming the ultimate goal is social and environmental resilience. Comparing the model results can also help clarify ways to bring about a desirable future.
There is certainly more we could have done to make Yahara 2070 even more accessible – for example, translating the stories into Spanish was high on our wish list – but limited time and funding were precluding factors.
Aside from the importance of creating multiple avenues for engagement, I think another takeaway from our efforts for scenario researchers and practitioners is the value of listening to the communities we aim to reach. By learning what resonates with them and how they might best connect with scenarios, we can do a better job of facilitating the different way of thinking we are encouraging.
With Yahara 2070, our overarching goal was to stimulate lively conversation about the future of the Yahara and provide a platform that enables diverse members of the community to explore issues that may not otherwise arise when thinking in the short term.
Ongoing conversations about the future and the exchange of diverse viewpoints among the public, practitioners, policymakers, scientists, artists and anyone concerned with maintaining a high quality of life in the Yahara are critical for long-term sustainability and will make the community more resilient to whatever changes lie ahead.