Using scenarios to plan for a growing older adult population

I was honored on Friday to be a panelist on a webinar hosted by N4A (the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging) to discuss the scenarios I developed last year for the Howard County (Maryland) Department of Citizen Services to support their community-wide master planning process. The webinar was entitled “Creating a Livable Community Using a Scenario-Based Approach: Howard County’s Master Plan for Aging.” The video recording can be viewed here.

On the webinar, I talked about the benefits to area agencies on aging (AAAs) of using a scenario approach to plan for the future, particularly given the certainties (e.g., massive demographic change) and uncertainties (e.g., political, social, and technological change) they face today. Specifically:

  • First, the “most likely future” rarely happens, so if that’s the only future you’re planning for, then you are very likely to be surprised. Scenarios help you prepare for a range of possible futures.
  • Second, everything is interconnected in the future, so scenarios make it clear to everyone how essential collaboration will be to creating a better future.
  • Third, the future is inherently multi-generational, so scenarios invite all agesinto the planning process rather than simply setting up a negotiation between AAAs and the current cohort of older adults.
  • Fourth, we humans have a tendency to plan for a future other than the future we want. By considering a range of potential futures, we can start to take action to create the future we prefer.

I was encouraged on the webinar to see that around 20% of participants said their agencies do look across multiple scenarios and then set strategy based on a clear vision. But just as many said their agencies do not explicitly incorporate the future into their planning. I hope that a growing number of AAAs will follow Howard County’s example and use scenarios (or some other approach) to be more intentional about their futures. This will help them obtain the benefits that Howard County has already seen, not least of which is a community-wide recognition that major changes must be made across multiple sectors in order to create a community in which older adults can age with independence and dignity.