The world stands at the threshold of some exciting — and potentially life-altering — advances that point to what our potential world could look like, including the adoption and integration of driverless cars, a greater reliance on renewable energy and the invention of technology that significantly changes how people live and work.

But while it's still unclear which, if any, of these potential futures will become a reality, the one thing that is clear is that those organizations and municipalities that don't prepare for an evolving world will be left behind. That mindset is why one Kansas City-based company, Integrated Roadways, created a new smart pavement that has embedded technology that will provide wireless connectivity to cars driving on the roadway, providing better infrastructure for autonomous vehicles. Smart, right?

The central idea behind the smart cities movement is that cities take a broad, integrated approach to improving how they function to ideally serve the people who live within them. But that can't truly be accomplished without looking to the future and considering all possible scenarios that could one day become reality.

The process of scenario planning guides utilities, businesses, municipalities and others through a series of alternate futures. It’s designed to empower those participating to consider how trends could evolve in the next 30 to 50 years, then using that information to inform the decisions they are making today.

For instance, what if developing countries use more fossil fuel, significantly driving up demand for fuel? Or what if renewable energy becomes the more cost-effective and sustainable option for energy? How will it alter the utility industry if new energy-efficient models significantly reduce energy consumption? Considering potential situations like these could influence the strategic plans of key infrastructure entities and change whether they choose to build or buy, commit to smart infrastructure projects now or delay decisions until a possible trend is fully developed.

How people live and use the infrastructure around us is changing, and those who manage and build infrastructure, including power, oil and gas, transportation and water, need to anticipate and plan for those changes that are happening today, as well as what could happen down the road. But rather than each utility racing to the finish line on their own, the companies, the cities, that will benefit the most are the ones that work collaboratively with other stakeholders to find ways to work together to improve the lives of all.

Scenario planning is the tool that will help guide you through all your options to plan for the future, whatever that might look like. But regardless of the infrastructure strategy that's adopted, the ultimate goal is to make the world a better place for all of us who live in it.


Explore how long-range scenario planning can help prepare your organization for the potential future conditions in your industry.

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Julie Lorenz leads the strategic consulting and public engagement services for the Transportation Group at Burns & McDonnell. She has more than 20 years of experience in communications, public affairs and policy development in the transportation industry.