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Development and Uptake of Scenarios to Support Water Resources Planning, Development and Management – Examples from South Africa

Written By

Nikki Funke, Marius Claassen and Shanna Nienaber

Submitted: 18 April 2012 Published: 08 May 2013

DOI: 10.5772/52577

From the Edited Volume

Water Resources Planning, Development and Management

Edited by Ralph Wurbs

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1. Introduction

The international agenda on water resources development reflects societal needs, political agendas, economic realities and the state of resources. The industrial revolution, which started in the 18th century, brought social and economic prosperity but also marked a major shift in humanity’s impact on the earth’s systems. This shift is now referred to as the Anthropocene [1], where humans have brought such vast and unprecedented changes to the planet that this era represents a new geological time interval [2]. Societal needs have shifted since the 1940s from a need for modest food production to a need for increased agricultural productivity that has been met by high yield crops, the use of pesticides, the application of fertiliser and advanced agricultural techniques. This development has averted food shortages, but has also resulted in humanity having to pay a heavy price in terms of increased water use and energy consumption, as well as environmental degradation [3].

From the early 1970s a series of events and key documents has promoted an integrated approach to sustainable development. The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment considered the need for a common outlook towards the preservation and enhancement of the human environment [4]. The World Commission on Environment and Development advanced this agenda in their report ‘Our Common Future’, with an emphasis on sustainable development promoting harmony among human beings and between humanity and nature [5]. The International Conference on Water and the Environment that took place in Dublin in 1992 resulted in the development of four guiding principles [6]. These principles, commonly referred to as the Dublin principles, state that: water is a finite resource with economic value and social implications; local communities must participate in water management; water resources management must be developed within a set of policies; and the role of rural populations and women should be recognised. This led to the Rio Declaration and the adoption of Agenda 21, which is a comprehensive plan of action to be implemented globally, nationally and locally in every area in which humanity impacts on the environment [7]. This declaration subsequently became the blueprint for sustainable development world-wide [8].

Uncertainties about societal, economic, political and environmental aspects have proved to be a considerable obstacle to the implementation of sustainable development. Here follow a few examples of such uncertainties. In 1980, the World Development Report of the United Nations [9] estimated that the world population would reach 6.029bn by the year 2000. Five years later, the estimate was updated to 6.088bn [10], with further updates at five yearly increments resulting in estimates of 6.194bn and 6.123bn [11, 12]. The actual population in the year 2000 turned out to be 6.188bn [13]. Future economic development is also uncertain, with the annual growth in Figure 1 showing how the world average varies significantly between years and also how the growth of individual countries (South Africa in this case), does not necessarily follow the global trend and is even more variable between years.

Figure 1.

Annual economic growth between 1961 and 2011 [13]

Environmental conditions also vary significantly over time and space, with Figure 2 illustrating the annual deviation of rainfall over southern Africa. This uncertainty is exacerbated by climate projections, which suggest that freshwater resources are vulnerable and have the potential to be strongly impacted by climate change, with wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems [14].

Figure 2.

Annual rainfall anomalies for the southern African region (1901-2009; Adapted from [15]).

A question that emanates from the realisation that we live in a changing world where change is unpredictable is, ‘How do we plan for the future?’

Water use in South Africa was first regulated through the Irrigation and Conservation of Waters Act (Act No. 8 of 1912), which managed the use of water from public streams for domestic, irrigation and industrial purposes [16]. The Water Act (Act No. 54 of 1956) further regulated water use by providing for the control of water pollution and the more effective protection of water resources. The variable distribution of water required the development of infrastructure to capture, store and distribute water. The subsequent expansion of mines, industries and urban areas created a demand for further infrastructure development. When this demand further increased and the social and economic issues in South Africa became increasingly complex in the 1990s as the country was transitioning from apartheid to democracy, a shift in thinking was required. As it became clear that engineering solutions to increase water supply were not sustainable, a holistic strategy to meet future needs became more popular [17].

The new National Water Act (Act No. 36 of 1998) [18] emphasised water resources management at national and catchment scales, made specific provisions for the protection of water resources, established mechanisms to ensure equitable and efficient water use and promoted participatory management. The National Water Resources Strategy [19] addressed the balance of future water supply and demand by establishing scenarios. The demand scenarios were based on population growth by 2025, with the high population scenario at 54 million people and the low population scenario at 50 million people. It also established economic growth scenarios, with the upper scenario assuming 4% growth in GDP and the less favourable scenario assuming 1.5% [19].

While there has been much progress in water infrastructure development for services (public benefit), the backlog in issuing water use licenses (mostly for private benefit) stood at 4 318 in 2011 [20]. The protection of water resources has suffered as a result of the government’s drive to achieve social and economic development, with South Africa ranked 128 out of 132 countries in the Environmental Performance Index [21]. The National Water Act provides for a balance of responsibilities, ranging from the Minister and Director General at the national level, to Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs) at the basin level and Water User Associations (WUAs) at a sub-basin level. Progress has been slow as after 14 years after the promulgation of the Water Act, only two CMAs (out of the 19 intended) have been established [20]. It can be argued that many hurdles have to be overcome to fully realise cooperative governance for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), with inadequate human and institutional capacity being one of the main factors limiting the efficient management of water resources in South Africa [22]. To illustrate this point: the country’s Department of Water Affairs (DWA) reported having 4 286 people in its employment in September 2010, while 1 155 posts were vacant at the time [20].

From the discussion above it becomes clear that we live in a world with social, economic and environmental conditions that are variable and difficult to predict, and the water sector is no exception. This uncertainty provides a challenging environment for policy and institutional development. Scenarios are one way of attempting to achieve a desired outcome in an uncertain and variable future [23]. The rest of this chapter will examine the research question, ‘How are scenarios able to achieve impact in an uncertain world, with a particular focus on water resources planning, development and management?’ The body of this chapter focuses on the research method, presents an overview of scenario development and the importance of scenario development and how they facilitate more effective water resources planning, development and management, focuses on a few select South African scenarios and the impact they have had and then turns to discussing the impact of scenarios in general. The conclusion wraps up the learning from this chapter and suggests a way forward in terms of future research and designing scenarios for impact.


2. The ability of scenarios to achieve impact in an uncertain world with a focus on water planning, development and management

2.1. Method

The authors of this chapter conducted an exploratory study on the ability of scenarios to achieve impact in an uncertain world, with particular reference to water planning, development and management. They conducted a review of scenario planning literature in the water and other sectors, and also considered literature focusing specifically on the impact of scenarios. The authors also considered literature on the impact of scientific research and on the science-policy interface. This was accompanied by a search of major databases (e.g. Google Scholar, EBSCO Host and Scopus) to determine where and how the four scenarios discussed in this chapter have been cited. In addition, the authors interviewed selected stakeholders in the water and other sectors who are likely to have been exposed to scenarios and who may use scenarios when making decisions in their workplace.

2.2. Scenarios and their importance in the water sector

2.2.1. The history of scenario development

The concept of scenario planning has its origin in military applications, with the US Air Force developing ‘scenarios’ of what the enemy might do and preparing alternative strategies. It was thus aimed at achieving a desired outcome in an uncertain future [24]. At the end of the 1940s, researchers at the RAND Corporation started to investigate the scientific use of expert opinion in planning for the future [25]. The Royal Dutch Shell company employed scenario tools to good effect in the 1970s, when they improved their size and profitability by being prepared to act quickly during the oil price shock of 1973 [26]. In summarising definitions of scenarios, scenarios can be described as a narrative description of a possible state of affairs or development over time, that they are useful to communicate speculations about the future to promote discussion and feedback, and that they can dramatise trends and alternatives, explore the impacts and implications of decisions, choices and policies, and provide cause-and-effect explanations [24].

Clem Sunter is credited with popularising the use of scenarios in South Africa, with ‘The World and South Africa in the 1990s’, which describe the ‘High Road’ and ‘Low Road’ scenarios [27]. The publication was based on work from Anglo American Corporation teams in London and Johannesburg. Subsequently, Adam Kahane facilitated a process that became known as the Mont Fleur scenario project, which was launched in 1992. It explored the question of ‘What will South Africa be like in the year 2002?’ These scenarios were arrived at collaboratively by a very broad group [28]. The Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) also deployed scenarios and technology foresighting in the development of South Africa's National Research and Development Strategy, with Kahn initiating and leading the development of the South African National Research and Technology Foresight Project [29]. The Dinokeng team [30] developed ‘3 Futures for South Africa’, which characterised future scenarios based on the effectiveness of the state and the engagement of society. Some of the recent scenario projects in the water sector include the World Business Council for Sustainable Development report on ‘Business in the World of Water: WBCSD Water Scenarios to 2025’ [31], and the Global Research Alliance (GRA) report on ‘Science and Technology-based Water Scenarios for sub-Saharan Africa’ [32].

2.2.2. The importance of the use of scenarios in water resources planning, development and management

Scenarios are important and useful to water resources planning, development and management in a number of ways. In the South Africa context, in particular, scenario development processes have been instrumental in initiating strategic conversations among scenario workshop In the South African context, (e.g. the transition from apartheid to democracy), and have helped develop a common language among people with widely divergent views [28]. Those involved in scenario development processes may be inspired to think more broadly about the future and the forces creating it. They may also realise how their particular actions may help to create a desired future [33]; and they may have suggestions about which options exist to direct target audiences on to a desirable path [28]. The knowledge that scenarios generate can therefore potentially empower role players in the water sector and other sectors to engage in participative governance by equipping them with insights into potential futures they may face, and making them aware of the implications of certain decisions, behaviours and actions [23]. Finally, the advantage of communicating scenarios as stories is that they have the psychological impact that other more academic means of communication, for example, graphs and equations, lack. Stories give order and meaning to events, which is crucial for imagining future possibilities [34].

2.3. Some South African scenarios: Overview and impact

The discussion in this chapter and the research question were inspired by the development of the Water Sector Institutional Landscape by 2025 scenarios. These scenarios were the main output of a research project led by the authors. In particular, the authors are interested in how these scenarios could be used by potential end-users. Given this question and the importance and potential usefulness of scenarios in facilitating decision-making in a context of uncertainty, it becomes important to reflect on some examples of scenarios that have been developed in South Africa at different points in history and to learn from the impact they have had on different sectors, including the water sector. These scenarios are discussed in chronological order. The section starts with the High Road/Low Road scenarios that were developed late in the apartheid era and on the cusp of South Africa’s transition to democracy. Secondly, the Mont Fleur scenarios, which were developed during the democratic negotiations, are discussed. Thirdly, the section focuses on the Dinokeng scenarios that were developed in 2009, the year a new president came to power and a serious economic crisis shook the world. The section concludes with the Water Sector Institutional Landscape scenarios that focus on potential futures of the South African water sector in 2025.

2.3.1. High road/Low road Overview and process

The High Road/Low Road scenarios were an initiative by the Anglo American Corporation in the early 1980s and aimed to look into some less conventional approaches to business planning and future investment decisions, given the international economic turbulence of the 1970s and the resultant slump in commodity markets. During this time, South Africa’s economic performance was poor and several events resulted in the country becoming increasingly isolated and the government resorting to a rule of force. Careful and gradual reforms by the apartheid government in the middle to late 1980s and increasing attempts by members of the white establishment to reach out to black leaders in exile, led to the eventual unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC) and the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 [35].

The scenarios involved a large-scale exercise with numerous contributors, notably Pierre Wack and Ted Newland, as well as Clem Sunter. Most of the effort went into developing global scenarios which were based on the analysis of key ‘drivers’ (for example, demography, technology and societal values) of developments in Japan, the USA and USSR (then regarded as the main players of the world economy), and also the ingredients for success of ‘winning’ nations and world class companies. This work then provided the basis for the South African scenarios. In essence, these scenarios focus on the choice the country was facing to either (through consultation and negotiation) travel on the ‘High Road’ to a non-racial democracy and increasing prosperity, or, to continue on the ‘Low Road’ of confrontation, conflict and falling incomes (as a repressive, centralised society and controlled economy) and ending up as a ‘waste land’ [35].

The scenarios conclude with the need for a ‘common vision’ to help launch South Africa into the more desirable ‘High Road’ scenario. This common vision entails putting South Africans first (looking beyond different races and groups), to turn the country into a ‘winning’ nation and to work towards achieving a certain income per head, all of which would be reached through negotiation [28].

Figure 3.

The High Road/Low Road scenarios depicting two possible future trajectories for South Africa [27] Dissemination and impact

Within a year, starting in 1986, Clem Sunter presented the ‘High Road/Low Road’ scenarios to 230 (mostly white) audiences at various levels of society, thereby reaching between 25 000 to 30 000 people [35]. Senior politicians of the ANC were also one of Sunter’s audiences before the eventual negotiated settlement was reached [28]. The message of the scenarios seems to have made a big impression on the audiences as it was ultimately positive and encouraged people in the country to take it into their own hands to get on to the ‘High Road’, without being prescriptive about how this should be done [35]. In particular, the High Road/Low Road scenarios also seem to have contributed somewhat to the shift in thinking in government circles, and indeed as supporting evidence for a need for change, which eventually brought about a political transition. In conclusion then, the High Road/Low Road scenarios started out as a corporate scenario project and resulted in a brilliant communication exercise, both in terms of content and style of presentation, that reached thousands beyond the initial intended audience and paved the way for more prominent South Africa scenario exercises to come [35].

In terms of uptake in the scientific and decision-making community, Clem Sunter’s book ‘South Africa and the World in the 1990s’ has been widely cited and includes discussions of a range of topics. These include reflections on various elements of the political and economic transformation of South Africa, the future of Africa, scenario development and planning and globalisation. The citations include a variety of different sources, including books, journal articles, theses and reports. These sources are mostly from the economic, management and social sciences, but also from the health and environmental sciences.

While no examples could be found of the use of the High Road/Low Road scenarios in the water sector, it is likely, judging from the fact that Sunter presented these scenarios to such a wide range of audiences, that some members of government and other stakeholders in the water sector would have been exposed to them in the late 1980s or early 1990s. South Africa’s new water legislation certainly reflects the thinking associated with the High Road scenario, with emphasis on introducing ground-breaking new principles into the governance of South Africa’s water resources. Though somewhat outdated now, the High Road/Low Road scenarios serve as a reminder of where South Africa could be headed at any point in history. In terms of water resources, South Africa is in need of thoughtful planning, development and management if its water resources are to continue to meet the needs of its ever growing and developing population.

2.3.2. Mont Fleur Overview and process

The Mont Fleur scenarios were developed in South Africa between 1990 and 1994. Key events during this time were the release of Nelson Mandela, and the legalisation of the ANC, Pan African Congress (PAC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) [36]. The country’s first racially inclusive elections were also held at this time. Given this political climate, multiple forums emerged that brought a broad range of stakeholders together to try to develop a new way forward for South Africa. In particular, issues such as housing, education, and constitutional reform received attention [35, 36].

The Mont Fleur scenarios formed a part of this process and essentially tried to encourage debate, thinking and imaginative ideas around how to shape the first ten years of the ‘new’ South Africa and also to illustrate how certain choices would steer the country towards different outcomes. The Mont Fleur scenario team was made up of a diverse group of 22 prominent South Africans, including politicians, activists, academics and business people [36].

The Ostrich scenario represents a continuation of the status quo in South Africa and suggests that no negotiated settlement would be reached and that government would continue to be non-representative [37].

Figure 4.

The Ostrich scenario [36]

The Lame Duck scenario suggests a South Africa where a settlement would have been achieved but where the transition to a new dispensation would be slow and indecisive [37].

Figure 5.

The Lame Duck scenario [36]

The Icarus scenario suggests a rapid transition to a new government that would push for populist and unsustainable economic policies [37].

Figure 6.

The Icarus scenario [36]

The Flight of the Flamingos scenario depicts a government that would choose sustainable policies that would lead the country towards inclusive growth and a maturing democracy [35, 36, 37].

Figure 7.

The Flight of the Flamingos scenario [36]

By means of a process of negotiation and reflection on different drivers and concerns, the Mont Fleur scenario team was able to articulate a range of potential outcomes for South Africa during the 1992 to 2002 period. This also helped to clarify the goals and aspirations related to where the country should be heading. Dissemination and impact

A variety of dissemination techniques were used by the Mont Fleur team. Key to this process was the fact that each of the individual participants took responsibility for spreading the message of these scenarios. They did this by presenting and discussing the scenarios with more than 50 different groups of people including political parties, companies, academics, trade unions and civil society organisations [36]. This was possible given the diverse background that the team came from. Over and above this process, the scenarios were condensed into an easily accessible 14 page document. This document was distributed to national newspapers. A short video was also produced that combined cartoons with presentations by team members [35, 36].

The impacts of this scenario development process are subtle. Three key points are important in this regard. Firstly, Mont Fleur, along with other processes taking place in South Africa at the time, helped to establish a common language and understanding about the challenges facing the country and the way forward. This was because participants focused on an issue of common concern for all: ‘the future of South Africa’. Secondly, although participants could not agree on one major solution to South Africa’s problems, they could agree that certain solutions would not work (such as armed revolutions, continued minority rule and socialism). Thirdly, through an informal process of open conversation, participants who had not expected to agree with each other found common ground and shared understandings about the future of the country [36]. Given these points it is clear that the impact that the Mont Fleur scenarios had was first and foremost on the individuals who participated in the process. There was subsequently a more indirect impact on broader society once these individuals started presenting the scenarios to their various constituencies. Given the widely publicised nature of South Africa’s political transition, these scenarios also gained popularity overseas [35].

The Mont Fleur scenarios have also been cited in a range of publications. These citations occur in journals, books, conference papers, dissertations and magazines that focus on a range of different disciplines, namely the social, natural and technical sciences. Given this broad interest, the publications cover a broad range of topics most of which are geared towards futures research, democratic transition and strategic planning. This citation record illustrates that the Mont Fleur scenarios seem to have had a considerable impact on the academic community.

Whilst the Mont Fleur scenarios are not obviously related to the South Africa water sector, they did contribute to setting a precedent for using scenario development for planning purposes in South Africa. So, for instance, as mentioned above, the National Water Resources Strategy established a set of water demand scenarios. As with the High Road/Low Road scenarios, the Mont Fleur scenarios were part of the thinking and move towards democratic transition in South Africa. As a result of and in order to complement this change, the water sector was fundamentally transformed and restructured.

2.3.3. Dinokeng scenarios Overview and process

The Dinokeng scenario team consisted of 35 leaders from civil society, government, business, political parties, public administration, trade unions, religious groups, academia and the media. The scenario development process was sponsored by the financial institutions Old Mutual and Nedbank who believed that, 15 years into South Africa’s democracy, it was important to initiate a reflective and constructive debate about the country’s future. According to the Dinokeng scenario team, some of the most prominent challenges facing South Africa are unemployment and poverty, safety and security, education and health. These challenges appear all the more grave in the context of a volatile global economic market, and a global economic crisis that shook the world when these scenarios were developed in 2009 [30].

The Dinokeng scenario team agreed that South Africa needs to realise that the country has failed to appreciate or understand the imperatives of running a modern democratic state, and that there is a problem with the country’s self-interested, unethical and unaccountable leadership across all sectors. Additional problems include a weak state that is increasingly less capable of addressing the country’s critical challenges, and a population that is either not interested and is showing a growing dependence on the state to provide for everything, or has become co-opted into government or party structures since 1994 [30].

The scenario team developed three possible scenarios which the country could be heading into:

Firstly, the Walk Apart scenario suggests the state becoming increasingly weak and ineffective, and the population, which is looking out for its own interests, eventually losing patience with the state and resorting to protest and unrest to make its views heard. Because the state is unable to meet the population’s demands and expectations, it responds brutally, and the result is a spiral of resistance and repression. The Walk Apart scenario therefore suggests a need for South Africans to address their critical challenges, to build state capacity and to organise themselves to engage government in a constructive way, in order to prevent themselves from heading towards disintegration and decline [30].

Secondly, the Walk Behind scenario suggests the state becoming increasingly confident and strong in terms of leading and directing development, fuelled by the fact that civil society is becoming more and more dependent and compliant. The problem is that the state does not have the capacity to address the critical challenges the country is facing on its own. The message of this scenario is that state-led development cannot be successful if there is insufficient state capacity. Furthermore, if the state intervenes constantly and dominates all other sectors, it will crowd out private business and civil society initiatives and will end up creating a population that is complacent and dependent on the state [30].

Thirdly, the Walk Together scenario suggests the state becoming collaborative and increasingly listening to its citizens and leaders from different sectors, engaging with critical voices, and consulting and sharing authority in order to work towards long-term sustainability. In this scenario there is also a focus on a population that takes leadership and holds government accountable and shows an active interest in policy development and outcomes. It is important that South Africans re-engage, that the capacity of the state is strengthened and that leaders from all sectors think beyond their own self-interest and contribute to nation-building [30].

In conclusion, the present contains the seeds for all three futures to be realised. For a healthy democracy and strong socio-economic development to persist, it is important to have a healthy interface between an effective state and an alert and involved population; the nature of this interface is likely to determine the future of the country [30].

Figure 8.

The Dinokeng scenarios [30] Dissemination and impact

In terms of dissemination and impact, once the Dinokeng scenarios on possible futures for South Africa had been developed, the messages of these scenarios were shared with a range of stakeholders. This engagement was followed up with a media and engagement campaign to communicate the Dinokeng scenarios to a variety of organisations, groups and communities across South Africa [30]. The Dinokeng scenarios and the process around their development were also placed on the Dinokeng scenarios website, which is a user-friendly resource for those who are interested in finding out more about these scenarios. The Dinokeng scenarios text is also available for download here.

A database search showed that these scenarios have been cited in a wide range of publications. These publications include discussion papers, theses, conference presentations, books and journal papers. The topics of the publications that cited the Dinokeng scenarios are wide-ranging and include issues around interrogating and addressing social issues related to South Africa’s democracy, such as local government, education, housing, poverty, unemployment and food security. Many of these topics have a future-centred focus, e.g. investigating South Africans’ perceptions about the future, or planning for the future in local government structures. The fact that the Dinokeng scenarios were cited in different kinds of publications and across different subject matters indicates that, at least among the research community, the scenarios were widely distributed and taken up by researchers from different social science-based backgrounds and interests.

A question that arises here is to what extent the Dinokeng scenarios may be of relevance to water resources planning, development and management. While no examples of their use in the water sector were found, it can be argued that the insights provided by these scenarios would prove valuable in focusing on resolving some of the water governance related issues South Africa is currently facing. Examples include problems around water pollution resulting from ineffective waste water treatment and mine and industrial effluents, and water service delivery to previously disadvantaged communities. Those who need to address these water governance related problems could benefit from taking into account the need for maintaining a balance between strong and effective leadership in all sectors and an interested and engaged population, and reflecting on the different future directions such a relationship or lack thereof could take.

2.3.4. Water sector institutional landscape by 2025 Overview and process

An example of scenario development with particular reference to the South African water sector is the South African Water Research Commission’s (WRC) Water Sector Institutional Landscape by 2025 scenarios, developed by the authors in 2011 with the assistance of Chan tell Illbury as facilitator, and in consultation with a range of water sector related experts and stakeholders. The focus of the scenario development was on water resources management in South Africa, also with relevance to the water services sector. The aim of these scenarios was to build knowledge about key drivers and uncertainties that relate to the future of the South African water sector, and specifically about the context in which water institutions may operate in future [23].

The knowledge for this project was generated through a structured research process to target existing and new institutional structures and to ensure the involvement and participation of a broad range of stakeholders. The aim of this engagement was to identify water-related needs, priorities and uncertainties based on a wide range of perspectives. A broad range of methods was employed to include stakeholders from both rural and urban environments and with different cultures and educational backgrounds. These included interactive workshops, semi-structured interviews, and a web-based survey. This process was characterised by continuous assessment, learning and adaptation [23].

The key drivers and uncertainties that were identified were subsequently translated into different scenarios that hold potential implications for social and economic development, as well as water resources and services in South Africa. The four scenarios were derived from a matrix with two axes that represent the ability of the decision-making paradigm of water institutions to deal with ‘complexity’ (refer to the x-axis of the diagram), and the reconciliation of environmental, social and economic demands of present and future generations (referred to as ‘sustainability’ on the vertical or y-axis of the diagram) [23].

Four possible scenarios emerged from the matrix. The Greedy Jackal scenario depicts a South Africa where water is scarce but government still struggles to meet developmental demands and address backlogs. Under these urgent socio-economic circumstances, environmental responsibility is not prioritised. Despite this the need for a multidisciplinary response to complex water challenges is acknowledged [38].

The Wise Tortoise scenario suggests that a paradigm shift has occurred resulting in a water sector that is multi-layered and engages many different sectors given the strategic importance of the resource in all facets of development. This approach allows for proactive management rather than crisis response to challenges [38].

The Busy Bee scenario suggests that the water sector is defined by great intentions but does not follow up on these with necessary actions. Thus, whilst rhetoric embraces sustainability, in practice there is limited economic and social development to support this process. Part of the challenge is a lack of civil society engagement and failure to embrace the complexity facing water resources management [38].

The Ignorant Ostrich scenario suggests that government fails to recognise water as central to development. As such they rush to implement politically appealing but imbalanced and short term solutions. Civil society is not engaged in decision-making and the complexity inherent to the water sector is overlooked [38].

Figure 9.

The Water sector institutional landscape by 2025 scenarios [38] Dissemination and impact

The scenarios were printed by the WRC in the form of a colourful booklet and subsequently have been disseminated to some stakeholders. The scenario document and technical report documenting the scenario development process are also available online. While much more could have be done in terms of dissemination, this was not a component required by the project’s funders and was therefore not planned into the project process from the start of the project. Therefore no funding was available to carry out this important part of the scenario development process. Nonetheless, these scenarios have the potential of feeding into the decision-making processes of water resources managers and decision-makers, but could also potentially empower a range of other role players in the water sector to engage in participative governance [23].

By studying the dissemination, impact and lessons learned from the South African scenarios discussed above, along with other literature related to the impact of scientific research and the science-policy interface, it is possible to distil some lessons and challenges relating to impact and how to more effectively produce and disseminate impactful scenario products. A discussion on the impact of scenarios in general and reflections on such impact follows below.

2.4. The impact of scenarios

The previous section explored a number of South African scenarios in terms of their contents and impact. In terms of impact, Chantell Illbury and Clem Sunter refer to the “Wack” test, based on the ideas of Pierre Wack, a key scenarios planner in the 1970s and 1980s. According to this test, scenarios are not deemed important because of their prediction capability. What is important is their ability to influence the mindsets of decision-makers and to encourage them to act [39].

The issue of scenario impact is in many ways tied to a broader issue often referred to as the science-policy or science-end user interface. This issue essentially speaks to the challenge of getting knowledge that is produced by scientific or expert teams to be used in the public domain. This discourse recognises that there should be a close relationship between science or research products and their end-users, which could include government, policy-makers, businesses and communities. In reality, however, this relationship is not always an effective one, resulting in research often (or mostly) having minimal impact on policy and practice. The science-policy interface discourse explores why this happens in order to try to advise scientists and end-users about how to more effectively incorporate research into practice [40, 41, 42].

In terms of scenarios there tend to be two major opportunities for impact. The first is an impact on the participants who are part of the scenario development process. This is referred to as ‘communication for scenarios’ [43]. Similarly this opportunity for impact can be referred to as first order influence. First order influence refers to participants in the scenario development process undergoing personal changes in their thinking and behaviour. They also commit to the process, learn new skills, and build new networks and relationships. Because participants increasingly respect, understand and trust each other, they jointly commit to change [37].

The second is the impact of scenarios on broader society. This can be referred to as ‘communication of scenarios’ [43]. Here a wider group of stakeholders ideally need to be exposed to the scenarios once they are fully developed. As such, at this stage it is important to think about ways to foster appropriate dissemination and use of scenarios. This stage can also be referred to as second and third order influence. Second order influence is closely linked to first order influence. Participants who have been part of the scenario development process go back to their communities and networks and start sharing their new language, thoughts and insights with others. Third order influence is a process of social change, but can be difficult to monitor and study because of the many variable factors that influence every change process [37].

The following sub-sections reflect on the impact of scenario development on the participating team as well as the impact or influence of scenarios on broader society.

2.4.1. Impacts on participants in the scenario building process

Participants in a scenario development process actively engage and transform the process in the sense that they are asked to share their views, ideas, concerns and experiences in order to generate drivers to develop scenarios or stories from these drivers. It is important to recognise that this kind of individual impact is difficult to quantify and tends to be very subtle [35; 37]. Nonetheless, the kinds of impacts that individuals experience can include:

  • Experiencing reframed mental models – By being forced, through the scenario development process, to articulate and share different perspectives and mental models, participants are made to think carefully about their perceptions and often re-think their views when faced with other participants’ views and the need to move collectively towards a desired future [44].

  • Gaining a broadened network of relationships – Scenario development processes bring together groups of people to have open and constructive conversations. This process fosters a shared understanding, trust and a sense of community [44].

  • Regenerating energy, commitment, and action – By clarifying desired futures and building consensus about how different actions will navigate society towards certain scenarios, a sense of regenerated energy and commitment can be achieved. Also, with new commitment in place, new actions can be catalysed [44].

  • Taking pride in participation – When interviewed, participants tend to be quite proud of their involvement in scenario development processes. This encourages them to use and share the learning from the scenario development process during other projects and/or engagements [35].

  • Creating a common vocabulary, trust and mutual understanding – Through the process of developing scenarios these subtle processes tend to be fostered. This is important as it is through trust and understanding that people are able to work together towards a desired shared future [37].

2.4.2. Facilitating and forming a scenario team

Whilst it is clear that a subtle process of impact and transformation can occur in a scenario team, this does not happen automatically. There are a number of lessons that have been learned through scenario development processes over the years that need to be borne in mind.

Firstly, having a diverse team is important [45]. The team should come from different age, race and gender brackets as well as a wide range of ideological spectrums [35]. This diversity is important because the more diverse the team is, the more diverse the driver inputs will be and as such the richer and more accurate the scenario development process will be. Also, an inclusive rather than exclusive scenario development process lends legitimacy to the process [46].

Secondly, embracing transdisciplinarity in any scenario development process is important. This implies that in order for scenarios to have the impact they need, they should be produced by a team made up of multiple different actors from government, civil society, communities, and research institutions. This will help the team to take into account different types of knowledge that different actors have (such as technical, traditional, experiential, cultural, and political knowledge). In so doing the inherent complexity in future planning processes will be reflected [47].

Finally, working with a diverse team with different knowledge, experience and viewpoints is not always easy. Conflict can arise when participants with different viewpoints are made to work together. Also, meaningfully incorporating feedback from diverse sets of stakeholders tends to be a highly time consuming process. Given these and other challenges that can arise, the importance of having a skilled, sensitive and insightful facilitator cannot be underestimated. Such a facilitator needs to be able to manage strong individuals who dominate conversation with their own agendas, and needs to be able to encourage everyone to express their opinions during the scenario development process [35].

2.4.3. Impacts on broader society

The impacts of scenarios on broader society are harder to ascertain and measure than the impacts of scenario development on the scenario team itself. This is because there are no measurable criteria for quantifying the impact that scenario products have on society, be they in written or oral form. Also the outcome of scenario development processes can never be attributed to a single factor. Scenario development processes typically deal with broad developmental issues making the range of issues and actors that they try to affect diverse. Scenario development processes also happen within the context of a range of related social activities, such as developments in policy, civil society events and public debates. For example, in the case of developing the South African scenarios of the 1980s and 1990s, there were multiple social forums, political parties, and government groups working on transforming the country. These scenarios and their related processes were just one input amongst many others that were part of the broad transition process. Similarly, the Water Sector Institutional Landscape by 2025 scenarios exist alongside scenarios established by the National Water Resources Strategy, the various government departments that do strategic planning and forecasts in relation to water, and the host of grassroots organisations that work on managing water sustainably for the future. Any impact or change in the water sector must then be attributed to a whole range of interlocking factors rather than just one set of scenarios.

2.4.4. Facilitating the effective dissemination of scenario products to society

In order for scenarios to have influence in the broader public space a number of key lessons are important. Firstly, a broad and extensive communication process is a key requirement and should be planned and budgeted for from the beginning of the project [42]. It is important that such a process targets multiple different actors in society, and takes place at many levels of scale (local, provincial, national) [23, 41, 42] in order to engage society and attempt to create a better future [37]. Non-government actors are an important target audience because they are critical in terms of instigating social debate, bringing about grassroots changes and challenging authorities to improve their performance [42].

In government, actors need to be aware of scenario products and how they can make use of them [23]. With regard to the South African water sector in particular, there seems to be a need to enable officials from DWA to apply the outcome of scenarios thinking and processes in their strategic decision-making aimed at mapping out the future of the water sector. A possible way of enabling experts and government officials to think imaginatively and creatively about the future, given their considerable daily workload and challenges, would be to involve scenario experts as facilitators for strategic planning sessions. Such sessions should ideally take the form of one or two day workshops in order to remove government officials from their immediate working environment and enable them to apply their minds to thinking creatively and focusing exclusively on the planning task at hand [23]. When engaging with government departments, it is important to be sensitive to and aware of different issues inherent in the government hierarchy. Non-political, technical experts tend to have a good knowledge of technical issues, but it is also important to target more senior political actors as they tend to have more decision-making power and can therefore implement changes and ideas brought about through the scenario development process more effectively [42].

It has been argued that regardless of which actor is being focused on, there are three key points to bear in mind in terms of targeting actors with information. A clear plan of action needs to be laid out and followed up on. The information needs to be shared in a manner that is non-threatening, interactive and flexible. Scenarios can be disseminated by tapping into existing networks and events such as management meetings, seminars and the media [42].

In addition, the way that scenarios are packaged and communicated is important [42]. There is a whole host of ways that information can be packaged and disseminated. There can be face-to-face dissemination [23], where scenarios are verbally presented at workshops, conferences, public gatherings, business breakfasts, and corporate events. Style of presentation is crucial in this regard. The presentations need to be simple, clear and memorable. The presenter needs to be engaging and open to feedback from the audience [35]. Radio or television documentaries can also be utilised to disseminate scenario ideas and generate public debate [36, 40, 42].

Another option is to publish the scenarios in a written format. A range of media can be used. The scenarios can be published in books, illustrated pamphlets [23] and newspapers [48]. Cartoon artists can be brought on board to illustrate the scenarios. Magazines and web pages can also be targeted. Written documentation about scenarios has proved to be a successful model. For example, Sunter and Illbury’s ‘The Mind of the Fox: Scenario Planning in Action’ [49] is popular reading material and widely distributed.

Finally, it is crucial that the scenario products are seen as legitimate from the start of the scenario development process. They need to have buy-in from influential people involved in the issue that the scenarios explore. This legitimacy is generated by ensuring that the facilitators of the process as well as the scenario team are respected. Although a range of actors must be included in the scenario development process, and must be targeted in the dissemination process, it remains important to include high level and well-connected people in the team as it is often these individuals who will provide the ‘insider’ links for scenarios to be heard and disseminated through channels of influence [42]. If these strategic individuals cannot be made part of the team, they need to be made aware of and kept informed about the scenario development process to secure their interest and support [35].

Dissemination is not without its challenges. It is challenging to disseminate in a way that suits and reaches a diverse audience with different languages, levels of education, varied professional backgrounds and cultures. Another challenge of ensuring the uptake of scenarios (and research in general) is that dissemination is often not part of the project planning process, and as a result funding often runs out before scenario uptake and use can be promoted [48]. Also, depending on how it is done, the dissemination of scenarios can be very expensive [35].

2.4.5. General reflections on impact

Over and above the specific processes linked to the impact of scenarios on the scenario team and broader society there are some general points that are important to bear in mind when planning for impact in relation to scenario products.

Firstly, when starting the scenario development process, it is important to be clear about the purpose of the process one is undertaking and designing it accordingly. What are the intended outcomes of the process? Who is the process meant to influence and what product(s) will be necessary for this to happen [35]? Essentially scenarios need to fill a strategic gap or opportunity in society [50].

Secondly, questions also need to be asked about the timing of the scenario development process. Is there likely to be sufficient recognition among the intended target audience(s) that the problem being addressed is important and that the process is therefore potentially beneficial? Is the political environment such that intended target audience(s) will be responsive to fresh, unorthodox thinking [35, 42]?

Thirdly, attention also needs to be paid to the legitimacy of those financing and promoting the process, and the credibility of the project team developing the scenarios in the eyes of both the sponsors and the target audience(s) [35, 40, 42].

3. Conclusions

In conclusion, it seems that since the initial High Road/Low Road scenarios were developed, scenario development has taken root in South Africa, with several follow up scenarios having been developed since [28]. This development suggests that South African decision-makers must deem scenario development to be of considerable importance and utility, as it is often government or government-related institutions that develop or commission new sets of scenarios. These subsequent scenarios seem to mirror their predecessors with their snappy titles and straightforward structure and certainly have the potential to inspire decision-makers with regard to their planning activities [28].

Based on the discussion and reflections above, scenario development should involve a focus on dissemination and impact from the onset of the scenario process. Impact can happen at the level of participants in the scenario development process as they are exposed to new ideas and start adopting a new way of thinking about current issues of importance. These ideas have the potential to slowly infiltrate the networks of these participants and to also influence their thinking. At the same time, it is important to have a strong dissemination process in order to reach as many people as possible beyond the project team. The High Road/Low Road presentations are an example of a highly effective dissemination process made possible by an engaging speaker and interesting topic that was clearly and simply brought across to a wide range of audiences. Another key method of dissemination is to raise awareness about where the scenarios can be found and to make it easy for people to access them. The open access route followed by the Dinokeng scenario team is a good example of a scenario document that is easily available on a website, accompanied by much useful background information. It is this dissemination phase that has been lacking in the Water Sector Institutional Landscape by 2025 scenarios, and a follow up process is needed to plan how more people could be made aware of these scenarios and their usefulness to decision-making and planning in the South African water sector.

It is also important to keep in mind that scenarios are likely to have a higher impact if they are developed with the intention of identifying or solving particular problems [51]. If there is an intended target audience with particular information needs from the beginning of the scenario process, the scenario team will be able to keep this in mind when developing the scenarios. This will also ensure more effective uptake of the scenarios as pre-defined end-users exist. In the water sector, for instance, it could be effective for decision-makers who are grappling with a particular issue to solicit scenario inputs to aid them in making decisions regarding that issue.

In terms of future research, three areas come to mind based on what has been discussed in this chapter:

Firstly, a large scale study (mostly comprising of interviews) is needed to understand in greater detail the impact of scenarios on scenario participants, society and government planning processes [28]. Much of what has been argued to date in terms of the impact of scenarios has been on the basis of inference and assumptions. It would be interesting, though admittedly also very difficult, to try to substantiate views around the impact of scenarios with empirical evidence.

Secondly, it would be important to study how a scenario team would know that the timing is right to come up with and disseminate a new set of scenarios. It is reasonably easy to see that scenarios would have been important for particular moments in history, for example the political transition in South Africa, but it is considerably more difficult to determine when there may be an ideal window of opportunity in future in which scenarios may make an impact. It may also be important to determine which factors other than and in support of ideal timing would be important for scenarios to achieve impact.

Thirdly, building on this chapter, it would be important to determine how best to ensure that scenarios can become more useful and practical to policy-makers and other end-users. How can scenario teams ensure that end-users know how best they may use scenarios in order to influence their future planning? The issue of providing navigation to and between different scenarios and future outcomes is important in this regard.

Clearly, scenario development is a useful process to help decision-makers cope with and plan amidst uncertainty. Particularly in the context of the South African water sector, it is important to recognise that uncertainty is deepening in many ways given the impending presence of multiple stressors such as climate change, basin closure, growing populations, migration movements and a growing economy. These stressors, along with the institutional fluctuations and changes within the water sector itself, make it increasingly important for decision-makers to work with scenarios to help them to plan sensibly and creatively despite uncertainty. However, in order for scenarios to be useful it is important to plan for and carefully think about how to maximise their impact.



The authors would like to acknowledge the CSIR’s librarian, Engela van Heerden, for her excellent work in sourcing a large amount of relevant literature that contributed to this chapter. They would also like to acknowledge Wilma Strydom for her valuable review comments on this chapter. Finally, the authors would like to acknowledge the Water Research Commission (WRC), the organisation that funded the development of the Water Sector Institutional Landscape by 2025 scenarios. The learning that the project team gained from this project was a key input into this chapter.


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Written By

Nikki Funke, Marius Claassen and Shanna Nienaber

Submitted: 18 April 2012 Published: 08 May 2013