The Usability of Scenario Studies: The Case of the EUruralis from the Users' Perspective

By Kowalczewska, Katarzyna; Turnhout, Esther | Polish Sociological Review, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Usability of Scenario Studies: The Case of the EUruralis from the Users' Perspective


Kowalczewska, Katarzyna, Turnhout, Esther, Polish Sociological Review


Abstract: Scenario studies are seen as useful tools to support planning and decision making processes because they provide integrated projections of future trends and developments and their impacts on land use. They play an important role in facilitating cooperation and interaction at the science policy interface. This article contributes to new understandings of the role of science-based tools and instruments such as scenario studies at the science-policy interface. It uses a theoretical framework that connects the criteria of credibility, salience and legitimacy to the concepts of coproduction and boundary object to analyze the EUruralis project; a scenario study that addresses the future of agriculture and rural development in Europe. The findings demonstrate that aspects related to legitimacy contributed to the capacity of the EUruralis to function as a boundary object between the scientists and policymakers involved. They also show how cooperation in the EUruralis project resulted in joint learning and reflection. The article concludes by discussing the role of the EUruralis as a boundary object and connecting the findings to the concept of coproduction.

Keywords: EUruralis; boundary object; credibility; legitimacy; salience; coproduction.

Scenario Studies and the Science Policy Interface

Scientific knowledge plays an important role in current national and international environmental governance, planning and decision making. Particularly knowledge that pertains to future developments and trends is considered important as a basis for land use planning issues. Scenario studies are considered to be particularly useful in that respect because they are able to project the impacts of land use changes and illustrate future needs and issues in a complex context (Clavel et al. 2011). According to Kok (2006: 264), scenarios function as "plausible, challenging, and relevant stories about how the future might unfold that can be told in both words and numbers." In a similar vein, Kahn and Weiner (2000, cited in Kok 2006) state that scenarios are hypothetical sequences of events constructed for the purpose of focusing attention on causal processes and decision-points. Scenarios integrate existing knowledge about drivers and impacts of environmental and land use change. As such, they can contribute to knowledge utilization and to informed decision making in the face of uncertainty.

Several studies have highlighted the important role of tools and instruments such as scenario studies, models, maps, multi criteria analyses, or indicators at the science policy interface (Turnhout 2009, Sterk et al. 2009, Stirling 2006, Hessel et al. 2009, Clavel et al. 2011). These tools and instruments are considered useful because they are science -based, which lends them a certain epistemic authority, while at the same time, they generate knowledge and information that is considered relevant for policy and decision making. By combining scientific validity and user relevance, these tools are considered crucial in bridging the gap between science and policy and enhancing knowledge utilization. However, their capacity to play such a role in improving the science policy interface depends on the extent to which they are able to meet the demands of the users (Sarewitz and Pielke 2007).

This article explores these demands by offering an analysis of user perspectives on the usability of scenario studies. It uses the EUruralis project as a case study. The EUruralis project is a scenario study that addresses the future of agriculture and rural development in Europe. The project, which started in 2004, has been initiated by the Working Group of Sustainable Development and System Innovation set up at Wageningen University and Research and commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV). The EUruralis uses several scenarios to forecast the possible future of rural areas in the light of the current reforms of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). …

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