June 2011

TECHNICAL BRIEF SCENARIO BUILDING

................................................... 3 Introduction to scenario building ............................................................................................................. 2................................................................ 8 ANNEX I The different types of scenarios (Choularton............................. 2007) ..................................................... 3....... 6.............................. 3 Key principles ............................................................ Objective ................ 5 References.....................................................Technical Brief – Scenario Building Contents 1................................ 4 Scenarios approaches ................... 11 Page 2 of 13 ........................................................................... 5.................. 8 ANNEX II Recommended templates for phase 1 and 2 of needs assessment . 4........................................................................ 5 How to proceed .......................................................

3. It is also describes as “an account or synopsis of a possible course of events that could occur. a set of informed assumptions about a situation that may require humanitarian action” (Choularton. especially in the north. Example Assumptions Effects on humanitarian needs and operations  Onset of winter in the north. 2007). steady normalization in central province and pockets of stagnant waters in parts of the south Access is restored across most of the affected areas. both before or during an emergency. In addition. In-country capacity to respond Scenarios are based on specific. This brief document can be used to guide scenario exercise planning. appeals development Page 3 of 13 . taking into account the type of emergency and its volatility. People‟s resilience and vulnerability. which forms the basis for planning assumptions” (IASC. Assumptions about possible future shocks and opportunities. and can be used by practitioners and policy makers alike. Current humanitarian situation (situation analysis). 4.Technical Brief – Scenario Building 1. a clear description of key assumptions facilitates both the explanation of risk analysis to colleagues and partners and the process of updating scenarios as new information becomes available.  Steady improvement in access to affected areas and communication networks.  Need for strong and effective coordination structures across areas and clusters to ensure timely. 2006).  Steady reduction in relief support in central provinces and increase in early recovery support  Large number of diverse actors carrying out relief and early recovery activities across many geographical areas  Markets and prices remain inflated in cut-off areas until regular road networks and bridges are restored. they also allow for the estimation of future disaster outcomes. including a step-by-step approach. Pakistan (2010) The rationale for doing scenario planning is:  To support strategic planning and. Scenarios indicate alternative ways in which the situation might evolve. based on: 1. informed assumptions about future events and their effects. Objective This document on scenario building provides guidance on how to develop a scenario. Introduction to scenario building A scenario is “a description of situations that could occur. as well as affected population) Source: Revised Flash Appeal. with some remaining gaps in regular road networks Continuing concerns related to the safety and security of operations Different needs and response modalities required in different parts of the country  Prolonged food assistance (beyond six months) required in areas where planting not possible  Risk for disease outbreaks in areas that are still flooded  Prolonged disruption of critical services in areas that are still flooded  Reduced coping strategies for vulnerable and poorest segments of population that continue to live in displacement and/or camps or remained in flooded areas  Winterization of shelter and livestock a priority. especially international staff. 2. 2. These assumptions not only support the understanding of the current conditions. needs-based and appropriate assistance Some restrictions on humanitarian access due to limitations on movement on goods as well as people (humanitarian workers. more specifically.

as a minimum. When used within the framework of a needs assessment. o Identify which scenario is most likely to unfold and which has a greater impact (probability and impact level) o Appoint a coordinator for the scenario development and respect their decision to continue. o Understand when differences amongst assumptions have a serious impact on the plan and when they do not. and which ones are not. Include just enough details to permit planning and to communicate to others the anticipated conditions and needs of the affected population. Planners must consciously define what will be useful for their purposes. and the related needs. Always include support of selected key informants/experts. Link this analysis to an informed programme or response design. Understand and agree that you need different levels of details at different time. Requires the identification of „the known unknowns‟. Avoid the scenario traps: o Admit that you will never be completely right.         Page 4 of 13 . Do not base your scenario on issues that will certainly take place. 3. and accept that you do not need to be for your planning process to be effective. to prepare for the possible evolution of a crisis. rather than trying to develop all possible scenarios. experience. o Come back to your scenario(s) after doing some planning. This can often focus the scenario discussions and illustrate what issues are worth further exploration. Key principles  Scenario development can be done either on an individual basis or in a group. Do not get stuck on details. They are particularly useful in the first days of a disaster (phase 1 of assessment) to identify potential future situations and to create situation awareness amongst key stakeholders. who have knowledge of the country context and the current crisis impact. use ranges or round numbers.Technical Brief – Scenario Building  Identify assumptions underlying anticipated needs and related operations  Enhance adaptability and design of detailed assessment  Influence monitoring systems Scenario building can take place as part of disaster preparedness (contingency planning) or during an emergency. o Do not develop scenarios that are overly detailed. o Set a time limit for scenario development. secondary information and direct observation. lesson learnt. Only select factors that are genuinely variable and subject to significant alternative outcomes. Build scenarios around specific planning objectives. and what will not. scenarios are used to build and plan for possible future humanitarian situations and needs. Base scenarios on. o Instead of using exact numbers. o Determine which scenarios are needed to move forward with planning. Focus on the impact of the scenario on people and their livelihoods.

and then tested against baseline data. key assumptions about the impact of a crisis are made. key informants are interviewed and scenarios are discussed with the affected population and their representant. baseline information is collected. HPN. previous CAP or Flash Appeals for similar type of crisis in similar type or area). 5. During these assessments. impact) and the upcoming events (Rainy season. which are difficult to model. Take into account upcoming events. The second approach (historical analogy) uses the history and lesson learnt from past crises to develop scenarios for future ones. June 2009 Page 5 of 13 . These two analyses are then combined and scenarios are developed. including: o The preliminary information available concerning the crisis impact and the extent of the area affected o The background (pre-crisis) information available on the area and the affected population o The hazard country profile (review of past hazards. etc. The fourth method of building scenarios is projection against a baseline. frequency. depending on time and resources available. In some cases. this method can be as simple as taking an old assessment report and building a scenario from it.  The disaster situation analysis. Here. Tanya Boudreau. such as conflicts. This technique is most commonly used with demographic baselines. Some of those approach can be used together. lessons learnt. especially when little information is available and informs scenarios and plans with knowledge of conditions in the field. elections. define duration and scope of your scenarios.  What is known about the typical effects of this type of event (ACAPS Disaster Summary Sheets. refers to “Solving the risk equation: People-centred disaster risk assessment in Ethiopia”. differences between the current crisis and previous crises are defined. How to proceed Step 1: Gather and review the necessary information A review of the following documents or information is necessary before to start the scenario building process:  The contingency plan. The result is a projection that can often be quantified. It is also common in the food security field. for example to model population displacement based on census data disaggregated by ethnic group. Afterwards. Scenarios approaches The first approach draws on expert opinion: scenarios are developed by achieving consensus among relevant. winter. lessons learnt and evaluations are reviewed. Documents on previous crises such as assessment reports. available experts. seasonality. in the shape of the Household Economy Approach1.) Step 2: Define number and scope of scenarios Based on this information. try to assess to what degree it is possible to predict common trends and for how 1 For one interesting example of this approach. This method allows assessment teams to gain broad input quickly. The third method of scenario building is field assessment.Technical Brief – Scenario Building 4. This method is common when there is no previous in-country examples and/or when scenarios need to be developed for complex situations. including for instance population demographics and urbanisation. if any.

overcrowding. forced enrolment. often called the “contingency”.). 3 to 5 smaller scenarios are recommended to capture the alternative evolution of the. table 5). likely and almost certain). SceLikely narios are a Possible technique for Unlikely presenting Rare alternative futures and should not be based on predictable factors. The most common types of assumptions are about:  The cause of a humanitarian crisis (for example floods.) (See annex I. Step 4: Selection of assumptions Assess whether any linkages between different factors exist. situation. conflict preventing access to affected areas). Use them instead as an introduction to the scenario or include them within the situation analysis. These factors are sometimes called “variables” or “drivers” (for change) and may have a positive impact (cease fire.  The timing and progression of events (arrival of new influx of refugees.  The effect of this event or situation on people. economic collapse. It is generally recommended to develop.Technical Brief – Scenario Building long they may remain valid. Step 3: Identification of risks and opportunities The first stage is to examine the findings of the step 1 review to determine which are the most important factors that will decide the nature of the future environment.g. Each risk and opportunity is then organized according to the likelihood of occurrence versus the likely importance of its impact or consequences on the affected population. its severity and the type of humanitarian needs it will generate (displacement of population. only risks and opportunities that are likely to have an moderate. etc. aftershocks. etc. water recession. conflict resuming/new population displacement. In the same way. end of the winter. Your final list will be based on the factors that are the most likely to occur (Possible. important and major impact on the situation will be selected. etc. Range the timeframe your scenarios should fit in.g. epidemics. etc. aftershocks.) or a rather negative impact (continuation of conflict.). water pollution/water borne diseases. return/land ownership issues. such as whether staff and supplies are prepositioned. etc). conflict. Some elements are sometimes clearly related to each other and may be linked together to provide a meaningful framework (e. etc. winter and extreme temperature during night for population that remains at an altitude higher than 2000m). often dynamic. Define the area and population of interest. Only the most Impact/consequences Likelihood relevant factors Insignificant Minor Moderate Important Major should be inAlmost certain cluded. for instance from 3-4 months for conflict situations and 4-8 months for sudden onset disasters.). stalemate. It is necessary to quickly identify and isolate “certain” topics – the issues that will definitely take place and cannot be ignored (e. Assumptions about the capacity of humanitarian organisations to respond are also common. at minimum. (roads and bridges washed out. epidemics.  Other factors that will affect the ability of humanitarian organisations to respond to these needs. overcrowding/protection issues. two scenarios (most likely and worst case). Merging and combining different factors into groups that make sense will allow the creation of several “mini scenarios”. water scarcity. They are therefore referred to as opportunities or risks that may influence the way the situation will evolve in the future. For complex emergencies. The following table can be useful to organize and prioritize the identified factors. Page 6 of 13 .

influx of 50. Population at risk & duration of the emergency Affected groups (e. Give also each scenario a descriptive (and catchy) name to ease later reference. specific vulnerable groups.Technical Brief – Scenario Building your assumptions. demographics.g. Affected population in urban centres are attended but rural population are waiting several weeks before to receive first assistance. it is important to focus only on a limited number of assumptions. Assumptions are a set of statement that are assumed to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn.g. IDPs is a population at risk in case of further flooding) and their characteristics (numbers. Response capacity and gap analysis: E.g. copying mechanisms) Page 7 of 13 . etc. Overall effects and impact of the event: Core assumptions & impact E. North and south west of the province are the most affected area. NATO intervention. The scenarios should reflect the likelihood of certain events occurring and their potential impact on the humanitarian situation and the affected population. Government issue a call for external assistance to face the refugee problem. as well as their priority needs and the necessary measures to be taken to get prepared in case the scenario unfold. For the sake of simplicity. take the following issues into account:  How long will the event last?  What trends. Affected population need to live in temporary shelter until access to their land and homes is possible. Affected areas: E.). scenarios can be developed. While developing scenarios. Very low capacity to respond on the NGO side and to face a disaster that scale.000 IDPs in overcrowded and non adequate shelter expose the population to public health threats such as during floods in 2008 when outbreaks were reported in camps.g. In practice.g. Rule out any "impossible" factor (e. Magnitude 10 earthquake. full compensation for victims. conditions or event may confirm or mitigate scenario projections?  What is the probability and the impact level associated to the scenario The recommended content of the scenarios should be as followed: Steps Probability level: Impact level: X X “Name of the scenario“ Assumptions and triggering factors: E. the water level will not recede before the next two month and a large area remains inaccessible for assessment and intervention. the challenge is to identify from two to four assumption “containers” or “mini scenarios” into which the most important factors can be sensibly fitted. Each scenario must clearly state what is the likelihood of occurrence (probability level) and the foreseen impact severity. Step 4: Scenario development On the basis of the selected assumptions. After heavy rainfall in the South.g.

most likely/middle and worst case scenario.g.Technical Brief – Scenario Building How are they affected (e. slow onset. chapter 8 Undertaking an initial investigation HPN. Scenarios are developed which normally (though not invariably) describe differing levels of severity of the same contingency. complex emergencies. 6. Time period during which assistance may be required Operational constraints Access. Little attention is generally given to the best case scenario. access to basic services. 2007) By far the most common approach to scenario-building in humanitarian contingency planning is the best. in public building in urban areas. losses of assets) Location (e. Richard Choularton Scenario Planning. Emergency Food Security Assessment. security. logistics Most affected groups Most affected areas Priority needs Sectors requiring immediate assistance Key interventions (including intervention/assessment preparedness measures) Depending on the circumstances (sudden onset. 2010. Instead. Wikipedia ANNEX I The different types of scenarios (Choularton.).g. Scenario Drought Flood Earthquake Page 8 of 13 . other templates for the scenario building may be more appropriate. 2007. displaced in inadequate shelter. etc) Duration of the emergency situation. Contingency planning and humanitarian action. Scenario development for food security early warning WFP (2005). a review of practices. References CAP training toolkit on Scenario building FEWS. Annex 1 provides different approaches on scenarios content while Annex 2 provides some templates for Phase 1 and 2 of needs assessment reports. etc. in camp settlement. planners focus on the worst case and the most likely or mid-case scenarios (planning for the worst to be ready for the least).

the number of people affected progressively increases.000 50. This type of scenario is often used in planning for refugee and displacement crises where. and provides a basis for more realistic planning to take place. the timeline approach is a simple and effective way of mapping out the complex evolving nature of a crisis. The Meteorological Office forecasts continuing heavy rainfall • Rivers overflow and water enters inhabited areas • 20% of the total area of the district is immediately flooded. Adapted from CARE.000 100.000 15. the thresholds established by these scenarios are tied to resources. As the example in the table below shows. starting with the onset of the emergency. as the crisis progresses. Scenario Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3 Scenario4 Number of refugees 5.5 on the Richter Scale causing some minor damage in rural areas Eq measuring 6. the response capacity required of humanitarian organisations also increases. India Page 9 of 13 . and when to take them. including some medium-sized towns Eq measuring 8.000. In some situations. This describes the potential escalation of a crisis in the scenario.Technical Brief – Scenario Building Eq measuring 4. but can also be used in slow-onset scenarios. in order to adequately respond to the situation. the resources are released. When the threshold is reached.5 on the Richter Scale with an epicentre in a major city causing catastrophic damage Best No drought Moderate drought affecting one part of the country Severe drought affecting large areas of the country Normal seasonal flood Middle/most likely Worst Major flood affecting 100. Timeline -1 week Day Zero 2 Description2 Excessive rainfall in upper catchments areas leads to rising water tables as reported by the irrigation department.000 people Extreme flood affecting 1. In turn.000 • • • • • • • Contingency plan Provide registration and protection to refugees staying with host families Open refugee camp Deploy one emergency officer Open second refugee camp Hire additional staff members Open third refugee camp Hire additional staff members Another approach – the timeline approach – defines conditions at set points in time. This approach is especially useful for rapid-onset crises like floods. The timeline then allows planners to define what actions their organisations need to take.000 people in the capital city Another approach to scenario-building is the augmentation or step scenario. Augmentation or step scenarios try to set levels at which additional action and response capacity is required. and the corresponding response requirements.5 on the Richter Scale causing some major damage in rural areas. along with the scale of their humanitarian need.

Technical Brief – Scenario Building • An estimated 40% of the population are affected • Displacement begins • Conditions for affected population: • First signs of food scarcity • Frustration • Migration • Effect on affected households: • Loss of shelter.000>300. drought.g. conflict)  Planning for different extent of the impact (100. Describe differing levels of severity of the same contingency  Displacement situations (IDPs and refugees)  Slow on set disaster (Slow floods.000<600. deployment of police begins Day 7 Day 14 Each of those scenario type present different advantages and may be use for different context or situation.  Easy to build plans which allow expansion of operations  Allows planners to adapt operations over time while a crisis evolves Timeline approach Page 10 of 13 . • Security situation tense. asset and property • 1/3 of the population non accessible by road • Government requires external assistance • Conditions of affected population: • 10% of affected population migrated from the affected districts to neighbouring districts • Remaining affected population placed in temporary shelters • Sanitary conditions slightly improved due to emergency measures • 60% receive some food aid unacceptable by international standards. livestock.)  When sudden-onset crises occur and intervention needs can change very rapidly in the initial days and weeks Best. etc. no food for people with special food needs (e. INGOs. sometimes UNICEF. most likely and worst case approach Augmentation approach  Good for planning for situations which increase in magnitude over time. Provide clear triggers.000 people affected).g. as presented hereafter: Approach Advantages  Provides a basis for planning for different scales of problem  Easy to understand and discuss  Raise situation awareness Best use  Planning for situations that are difficult to predict and where cumulative risks factors may difficult predictions (e. displacement • Loss of crops. infants) • 25% remain unattended in remote or difficult-to-reach areas • Daily coordination meetings at state level including government. army. • Practical coordination is not effective • Water level in the flooded territory remains unchanged • Army works on repair of dams and bridges.

It may be used for slow or sudden onset emergency when the degree to which the situation may change in the future is not too diverse and when response planning needs to be more detailed. Both template are designed to fit into a one page format (A4). Page 11 of 13 . It may be used for conflict situation where numerous risk factors can draw multiple alternative situation that needs to be reflected and planned upon.Technical Brief – Scenario Building ANNEX II Recommended templates for phase 1 and 2 of needs assessment The first example provides template for “Mini scenarios”. The second example provides template for an extended “Most likely/middle and worst case scenario”.

Name of the scenario Probability level Impact level  Name of the scenario X X  Probability level Impact level X X Assumptions  Assumptions  Context  Context  Operational constraints  Operational constraints  Priority needs Priority needs Name of the scenario Probability level Impact level  Name of the scenario X X  Probability level Impact level X X Assumptions  Assumptions  Context  Context  Operational constraints  Operational constraints  Priority needs Priority needs .

displaced in inadequate shelter. market disruption. copying mechanisms) How are they affected (e. price rising.) Affected areas Response capacity and gap analysis Core assumptions & impact Assumptions (risks. and displacement patterns. price rising. Time period during which assistance may be required Population at risk & anticipated duration of the emergency Affected groups (e. etc) Duration of the emergency situation. access to basic services. communication Priority needs Most affected groups Most affected areas Sectors requiring immediate assistance Key interventions (including intervention/assessment preparedness measures) Most affected groups Most affected areas Priority needs Sectors requiring immediate assistance Key interventions (including intervention/assessment preparedness measures) Page 13 of 13 . etc) Duration of the emergency situation. IDPs is a population at risk in case of further flooding) and their characteristics (numbers. opportunities and triggering factors) General impact and effects of the crisis (estimates of affected population.Name of the scenario Most likely/middle scenario Probability level Impact level Name of the scenario x x Worst case scenario Probability level Impact level x x Core assumptions & impact Assumptions (risks. in public building in urban areas.. in camp settlement. communication Operational constraints Security. opportunities and triggering factors) General impact and effects of the crisis (estimates of affected population. destruction of crops. IDPs is a population at risk in case of further flooding) and their characteristics (numbers. specific vulnerable groups. demographics. and displacement patterns.. in camp settlement. etc. losses of assets) Location (e.g. specific vulnerable groups. destruction of crops. in public building in urban areas.g. access. copying mechanisms) How are they affected (e.g. Time period during which assistance may be required Operational constraints Security. etc. access. displaced in inadequate shelter.g. access to basic services.) Affected areas Response capacity and gap analysis Population at risk & anticipated duration of the emergency Affected groups (e. market disruption.g. demographics. losses of assets) Location (e.g.

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