March 23, 2017

FSG Scenario Planning Workshop with Rhode Island Fisheries

Scenario planning is an enjoyable and stimulating endeavor, endlessly interesting and always rewarding —to a large extent because its usefulness is in decision making under uncertainty, particularly when the stakes are high.

So FSG was delighted recently when its scenario consultants were invited to help with a planning exercise for Rhode Island Fisheries. We felt fortunate for a number of reasons. Although we have a rich and varied history with client organizations in a wide range of fields, none has been quite like this eclectic mix of fishermen and dealers –representing a wide variety of fisheries, inshore and offshore, mixed bay, shellfish, lobsters, conch, scallops, dragging, rod and reel, floating fish trap, from all along the Rhode Island coast. As such, the group is less an organization than a loose-knit community, so the opportunity to use alternative futures as a way of further galvanizing the group, and ultimately to help promote their cause was particularly motivating.

The project was additionally interesting as it presented a number of challenges. Time was limited- we were tasked with designing a one day workshop (fishermen like to be on the water), focused on current and anticipated effects of climate and other environmental changes on local fisheries. But just as in the real world the effects of climate change, themselves uncertain, do not happen in isolation, so participants would need to explore them within a variety of alternative futures, reflecting a range of economic, regulatory, social and consumer conditions. In this way, the group could derive approaches and strategies to respond more effectively.

Fortunately, we had already developed a set of (4) ‘placemat’ scenarios – abbreviated one-page descriptions of alternative futures (see picture), for just such a time-constrained workshop environment, where each world is fairly well defined, but sketched loosely enough to allow flexibility to accommodate specific client concerns . Working with the group’s admirably energetic and thoughtful facilitator, Sarah Schumann (see here and here), we decided to consider 4 climate scenarios and assign these randomly to each of the 4 alternative futures. The climate change scenarios were created in consultation with a scientist from the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation. The workshop was held in a delightful old property, and hosted by Sarah and Kira Stillwell, from the Rhode Island Natural History Survey.

It transpired that the fishermen were dab hands. Perhaps because they have to be resourceful and adaptive, they worked easily and fluidly with the scenarios. It struck us that their ‘normal’ operating environment is subject to almost permanent change, to a mind-boggling extent. They face change in the natural environment, some of it naturally occurring, some of it man-made, some long-term and slowly occurring, some short-term and cyclical; there are constant changes in market prices, changes in demand for different types of fish, imports from around the world, and a regulatory (and scientific) environment that is in their estimation by and large adversarial rather than collaborative, and way too slow to respond – static rather than dynamic.

We were very pleased to have been involved, in what was all in all a memorable day, made more so by the beautiful environment (see below) and Sarah and Kira’s efficient organization and generous hospitality.

'The Barn'