A project of the General Economics Division of the Bangladesh Planning Commission funded by the Government of the Netherlands

  • Envisioning and narrating future scenarios for Bangladesh

    Envisioning and narrating future scenarios for Bangladesh

    Scenario Development Workshop – Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 Formulation Project:

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    A two day long workshop on Scenario Development was organized by the General Economics Division (GED) of the Planning Commission of the Government of Bangladesh in collaboration with the TA Team of Consultants of the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 Formulation Project. The workshop was held at the NEC Conference Room of the GED from 11 to 12 February 2015, chaired by Professor Dr. Shamsul Alam, Senior Member of the GED. Stakeholders from various Ministries, government agencies, development partners, research organizations and civil society were present to add value to the workshop.

    The objective of the workshop was to explain the steps in development of scenarios and involve relevant stakeholders in the in the scenario development process. Scenarios are storylines of plausible and possible futures, developed to quantitatively and qualitatively describe future developments. On Day 1, the workshop was inaugurated by the workshop chair who mentioned that the Delta Plan 2100 is a “unique plan which can have a significant impact on the livelihood of the common people.”

    IMG_0515The first session of the workshop began afterwards, where the subtleties of scenario development in the context of delta planning was brought to light by William Veerbeek and Maaike van Aalst, experts in the BDP 2100 Technical Assistance team. They explained the use and importance of scenarios as a tool in relation to the strategic vision and strategies. Scenarios are descriptions of possible futures, and they are the fulcrum of any adaptive plan. Designing possible future scenarios are all about the level of uncertainty of a multitude of factors (or drivers) which are used to construct different scenarios.

    William explained that it is notoriously difficult to accurately predict the future, underscoring the need for adaptive planning. Since the future cannot be planned for exactly, the only feasible mechanism is to plan for multiple futures taking multiple scenarios into account. This offers the flexibility that is needed by institutions to be able to adapt to different levels of intensities on the ground, as realities change over time.

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    The second and third sessions were interactive exercises where the more than 150 participants were broken down into four groups, with about fifteen people in each group. The four groups were facilitated by William Veerbeek, Maaike van Aalst, Tahmina Shafique and Catherine Terwisscha van Scheltinga. In the second session, the groups brainstormed to identify the main drivers of change in Bangladesh, clustered in six domains: Demographics, Economics, Social, Technical, Environmental and Political. This session was quite interactive, as stakeholders from various different backgrounds expressed their views regarding what they thought were the most important drivers. A host of various drivers were identified, listed and categorized. The stakeholders, with their diverse inputs, were the main ingredients of the workshop.

    In the third session of the first day, also carried out as an interactive exercise in the four groups, aimed to develop an appreciation for which of the drivers identified are both highly relevant and very uncertain. This was accomplished through an impact-uncertainty matrix.

    Day 2 of the workshop brought the same stakeholders, now about 125 participants, to the table once again to discuss scenario framework, storytelling and scenario impact. The session began with a recap of the sessions on the previous sessions, and the group facilitators informed that the most common drivers that were identified and discussed again and again in their groups were technological progress, political unrest, natural disasters, climate change and bilateral relations with neighboring countries and transboundary water sharing issues.

     

    In the fourth session, William Veerbeek introduced the process of scenario narratives, where one thinks of drivers and how they impact e.g. society and economy, and use this impact analysis over time to develop stories describing plausible, consistent and relevant developments over time for a particular future. A two scenario axis was brought to the screen which looked at four different ways drivers could change and create four different futures for Bangladesh. The four scenarios were named productive, resilient, urbanized and reactive Bangladesh.

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    The fifth session of the workshop was again a group exercise and the most interesting one, which called upon the participants to envisage scenarios for Bangladesh in the future, each group selecting one of the four scenarios introduced in the fourth session. As an example of scenario building, a few examples were presented. Maaike van Aalst displayed a video showing different structural scenarios of the European Union in 2030, based on how united the member states could be. Secondly, Tahmina Shafique summarized the story of Bangladesh’s growth over 40 years from 1971 to 2011 to provide an example of what a scenario narrative for the future could potentially include. Where she presented historical facts for Bangladesh over 40 years, participants, working in groups in the fifth and sixth sessions, imagined future scenarios. The group facilitators worked with the group members to illustrate these scenarios on flipcharts and a spokesperson from each group presented their scenarios to all the participants at the workshop.

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    The feedback from the workshop audience was very positive and it was indeed their interactive participation that made the workshop a success. There were many comments in the open discussion, which included ensuring that the delta plan becomes a professional and practical exercise, but also takes into account ground realities and the capacities of those who will be implementing the plan, and about how to develop an investment plan which can be used to develop interventions through which the GED can engage various development agencies and donors in the implementation of the Delta Plan going forward. The Technical Assistance team commented that these concerns will be taken into account.

     

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    At the end of the two day workshop, Prof. Dr. Jaap de Heer, Team Leader of BDP 2100 consultants’ team, thanked the participants for being active on both days and commented that such interesting outputs could not have been produced so quickly if such a diverse group of people did not participate enthusiastically. He indicated that the findings of the workshop will be related to a delta vision and will be enriched with data of the Baseline Studies, that the scenario narratives will be elaborated and that a validation session will take place in the second half of March. The importance of an investment plan and the identification of interventions were reiterated by Md. Mafidul Islam, Project Director of BDP 2100, who said that it is important to engage various stakeholders and specially development partners and the private sector in order to implement the delta plan successfully. The session was formally closed by the chair, Professor Dr. Shamsul Alam, Senior Member of the GED, who invited everyone to keep participating in the formulation of the delta plan the way he has seen over the two day workshop. He said, “Increased participation will minimize the risk of wrong steps in the Delta Plan.”

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