An opportunity to join an August summer course (and workshop) discussing Arctic Energy Futures at the University of Alaska Fairbanks happened my way in late June; how can you pass up an opportunity like this up? [This blog would have made it to the website sooner, but I was cozily staying in an off-the-grid yurt (well) off of Farmers Loop Road.]
Here in the new International Arctic Research Center (IARC) building, Hajo Eicken and Amy Lauren Lovecraft led a workshop designed to do two things: (1) expose interested stakeholders and students to the concept of futures planning through scenarios creation and (2) teach useful, experiential lessons in futures planning by answering the following focal question: What is required to drive demand for Alaskan energy production and use by 2060?
The dizzying list of participants include representatives from Pew Trusts, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Audubon, Ocean Conservancy, Institute of the North, Cold Climate Housing Research Center, Oil Spill Recovery Institute, North Slope Science Initiative, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Alaska Satellite Facility, Alaska Center for Energy and Power, Geographic Information Network of Alaska, Scenario Networks for Alaska and Arctic Planning, International Arctic Research Center, WWF, Wilderness Society, Alaska Ocean Observing System, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Dartmouth College. Suffice it to say, there was a palpable energy in the room as we all delved into scenarios creation.
Essentially, this fascinating technique allows for an informed projection of plausible futures that extend beyond the normal time frame of predictive forecasting. You can engage in long-range strategy development with time frames beyond 20 years out (e.g., Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment,2007), and through the process you identify components within the separate narratives that are connected. Multiple scenarios allow for a wider exploration of possibilities without being tied to a singular compromised outlook. The scenarios, created primarily through imagination and cognition and grounded, when possible, in science and expert opinion (e.g., local knowledge, traditional knowledge, regional knowledge), create an awareness of long-term futures under conditions of uncertainty. These uncertainties are constrained through plausibilites (not probabilities), and they enable traditionally disciplinary thinkers to approach complex systems with a tool to identify and describe inter-related key factors and forces.
Despite the time constraints, class participants felt enriched by the experience. Okay, I certainly did, and all of the folks I had a chance to ask concurred. For the most part, most felt this strategy could be translated into their own professional experiences. This technique of scenarios creation is a great tool to have in your tool box. If anything, it highlighted how the process is the most important component in scenarios creation and futures planning. Gathering experts together and communicating on a topic (focal question) helps establish broader understanding and identifies key factors (provided there is good moderation, which there was in our class “example”). Ideally, you would also have decision-makers involved in the process so that, by virtue of their participation and observation of the exercise, they become educated in the topic, invested in the scenarios, and motivated to integrate viable strategies.
The class was such a hit, organizers from the Institute of the North wanted to somehow showcase this summer workshop in their annual Week of the Arctic in Anchorage, AK. As luck would have it, I was able to stay awhile longer in Alaska and volunteered to participate in the Wednesday session (Northern Energy Science and Technology Fair). Images and experiences from that little add-on will follow shortly!