Combining backcasting and exploratory scenarios to develop robust water strategies in face of uncertain futures

  • Mathijs van Vliet
  • Kasper Kok
Original Article


Water management strategies in times of global change need to be developed within a complex and uncertain environment. Scenarios are often used to deal with uncertainty. A novel backcasting methodology has been tested in which a normative objective (e.g. adaptive water management) is backcasted within the context of exploratory scenarios that sketch four different plausible futures (Economy First, Policy Rules, Fortress Europe, and Sustainability Eventually). The main advantage of combining exploratory and normative scenarios is in the identification of robust actions: actions that are effective in the different socio-environmental contexts sketched in the exploratory scenarios. This paper has three objectives: (1) to present the methodology, focussing on its novel aspects (2) to test the methodology and evaluate its perceived success by analysing organiser and stakeholder feedback and (3) to analyse and evaluate the results, in order to study the impact of the exploratory scenarios on the backcasting results and the added value of robust actions. The methodology was successfully tested in 9 local and one regional case study in a water project water scenarios for Europe and for Neighbouring States (SCENES). Results showed that the exploratory scenarios influenced the content of the backcasts, thus making the identification of robust strategies possible. The list of robust strategies includes both technological and social/organisational strategies, highlighting the need for an integrated approach. The approach shows high potential, but as the methodology is in its infancy more research is needed, particularly in methods to facilitate and monitor information flow between exploratory scenarios and backcasts.


Backcasting Exploratory scenarios Robust strategies Water management Participation Policy development 



This research was funded by SCENES (EC-funded FP6, Contract number 036822) and Knowledge for Climate (Theme 7). We wish to thank our colleagues within SCENES for numerous valuable scientific discussions that led to the insights reported here. Particularly valuable were discussions with Jan Sendzimir, Ilona Bärlund, Ania Dubel and Zsuzsanna Flachner. We also acknowledge the helpful comments of four anonymous reviewers. We further want to thank all the people who worked on the local, regional and pan-European panel workshops. Without them, the combined methodology could not have been tested on such a large scale, thus giving our results extra strength. Last but not least, we want to thank all the stakeholders who took part in the workshops; without them there would be no results.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Public Administration and Policy groupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Soil Geography and Landscape GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

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