Marrying exploratory modelling to strategic planning: Towards participatory model use

S. Malekpour , F.J. de Haan, R.R. Brown

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Long-term strategic planning in the context of urban systems involves uncertainties beyond mere error margins on assumptions and predictions. Exploratory modelling, as opposed to the well-established predictive/deterministic modelling, has emerged to cope with, rather than reduce, uncertainty in this realm. However, the scholarly commentary is largely silent, despite its advocacy, on how this type of modelling is integrated into a participatory strategic planning context. In particular, these models are often regarded as tools to support planning; but the process methodologies for model use in a participatory setting are not well- developed. To form the underpinnings of such a methodology, this paper puts forward a theoretical rationale that justifies how exploratory modelling techniques may contribute to fulfilment of participatory strategic planning objectives. To do so, the main objectives of strategic planning in the public sector are extracted from the literature and outlined. Then an overview of the social scenario modelling literature, mainly involving exploratory modelling, is presented and the main features of this type of modelling are derived. It is then discussed that a critical element that hinders the fulfilment of strategic planning objectives, as highlighted in literature, is the cognitive limitations of planners and decision makers to process and to use information and their over-reliance on limited experience to anticipate the future. The pitfalls resulting from such human limitations include frame-blindness, cognitive biases and false attributions of causality. According to the theoretical rationale developed in this paper, exploratory modelling brings a portfolio of possible futures and strategy outcomes, which are normally beyond direct experience, to a perceivable sphere for planners and decision makers. Therefore, a virtual experience of possible future realities will be created. This may challenge the mental frames of the planners, reduce cognitive biases in scenario planning and facilitate following long and dynamic sequences of causes and effects. The result might be pre-maturation of the participants' perception about future issues and strategy outcomes. Consequently, fulfilment of strategic planning objectives in practice would be more likely. This rationale underpins the research agenda for development of a currently absent process methodology that incorporates exploratory modelling approaches within a participatory strategic planning context. This methodology shall aim to strengthen the perceptions' maturation process and circumvent the aforementioned pitfalls. The ingredients of such a process methodology may include but are not necessarily limited to: using scenarios for visioning and arriving at shared perspectives, facilitating strategy experiments and performing robustness analyses across various strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings - 20th International Congress on Modelling and Simulation, MODSIM 2013
EditorsJulia Piantadosi, Robert Anderssen, John Boland
PublisherModelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (MSSANZ)
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9780987214331
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013
EventInternational Congress on Modelling and Simulation 2013: Adapting to Change: the multiple roles of modelling - Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 1 Dec 20136 Dec 2013
Conference number: 20th

Publication series

NameProceedings - 20th International Congress on Modelling and Simulation, MODSIM 2013


ConferenceInternational Congress on Modelling and Simulation 2013
Abbreviated titleMODSIM 2013
Internet address


  • Exploratory modelling
  • Participatory
  • Public sector
  • Strategic planning
  • Uncertainty

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