By the end of the century, experts predict that millions of people living in the US will be displaced by climate change. As the direct effects of climate change—including extreme heatpoor air quality, wildfires, and flooding—grow more frequent and intense, communities will need to prepare for the realities of climate-driven migration and climate disasters.

Exploratory scenario planning (XSP) is a flexible tool that can help local leaders grapple with these uncertainties. Unlike more traditional scenario planning, XSP forces participants to break out of established thinking patterns. It’s a collaborative process participants can use to explore their priorities and prepare for uncertainty in the context of multiple possible futures—desirable or otherwise. Through brainstorming and collective problem-solving, stakeholders, organizations, and departments can move beyond competing priorities toward common interests. This work not only builds understanding and relationships across different sectors and offices but also facilitates collaboration and coordination.

In March, the Urban Institute and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, in partnership with Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, the University at Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning, and the Cuyahoga County Office of Sustainability, convened a small group of local leaders for an XSP workshop. Together, the group explored the possible impacts of climate change and climate migration and how to bolster sustainable development in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

Drawing on insights from this workshop, here are six steps local governments can use to foster cross-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional collaboration and prepare for the effects of climate change in their communities.

  1. Identify stakeholders and set goals.
  2.  Determine central themes.
  3. Pinpoint driving forces of change.
  4. Develop narratives for alternative scenarios.
  5. Outline strategies in response to the scenarios.
  6. Track trends and indicators to guide decision-making.

Read the full article about climate change by Violet Sulka/Hewes and Joseph Schilling at Urban Institute.