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Investigating the benefits of Participatory Scenario Planning for tackling social-ecological problems

Poskitt, S. (2018) Investigating the benefits of Participatory Scenario Planning for tackling social-ecological problems. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Participatory scenario planning (PSP) is a method in which diverse groups of participants imagine alternative narratives of plausible future events, conditions and trajectories. Researchers and practitioners commonly regard PSP as a useful method for tackling social-ecological problems (SEPs) by incorporating the knowledges of different stakeholders in dialogue to help build a holistic understanding of them. However, within PSP practice in the field of social-ecological resilience the literature is imprecise on the benefits it may have for those whose knowledge it incorporates. Seminal critiques of participation indicate that the outcomes of participatory processes typically reflect the interests of those who initiate them. This doctoral research therefore investigated the benefits PSP may have for those whose knowledge it incorporates. My analysis focused on learning, given the emphasis in the literature on using PSP to facilitate dialogue between participants with different knowledges. I collected data from: a critical review of 23 cases of PSP described in the peer-reviewed literature, semi-structured interviews with PSP practitioners, and two case studies of PSP processes. I analysed this data to explore: 1) the expected and reported benefits of PSP; 2) how and under what conditions learning occurs; and 3) how and why learning varies. To understand learning in PSP, I developed an innovative conceptual framework, built on a seminal learning theory, the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’. This postulates that learning occurs through interactions between different participants, which enable them to push beyond their usual range of thinking. My analysis indicates that learning is the most commonly expected and reported benefit associated with PSP. I reason that PSP stimulates learning by prompting focused discussions, which expose participants to different assumptions about the future. PSP thus encourages creative, focused thinking, that can help participants to push beyond their usual range of thinking. I found that learning varies according to participants’ relative prior expertise in specific topics, social and economic backgrounds, previous experience (if any) of PSP, and the design of specific PSP processes. I reason that learning varies because of the relative extent to which different participants consider the knowledge encountered in PSP to be relevant to their interests, as well as developed through a fair and unbiased process. This perception is strongly influenced both by facilitators and the objectives of wider projects in which specific PSP processes are embedded. I conclude that, although PSP can be a useful method for learning, there is a need for more robust governance to ensure critical reflection and evaluation of the use of PSP in this context.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Ainslie, A. and Waylen, K.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
ID Code:79998
Date on Title Page:2017


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