A Future Mapping Case Study

From 2011 to 2014 three of Anthros Consulting’s founders, Dave Mason, Jim Herman and Kathy Hornbach, conducted a pro bono strategy effort on behalf of the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance using our Future Mapping approach.  From very modest initial objectives, the effort blossomed into a major force for collaboration across this large region of upstate New York that involved over 500 people directly and many thousands of others indirectly. Because this was an open public process, the full content for the effort is available as this case study in how Future Mapping can be used to engage a broad and diverse group of stakeholders for aligned, collective action. Note that this case study features an extensive use of the methodology. Most Future Mapping projects are not as all-encompassing as this one.


The Adirondack Park is a 6 million acre mixture of highly regulated public and private lands with a history of contention between environmentalists and local residents. Although it is called a State Park, it is not like your usual park.  Here private land and villages are tightly intermixed with Forest Preserve lands that are protected as “Forever Wild” by the New York State constitution.  Although there are state agencies responsible for different aspects of the Park, such as zoning regulations on private land, there is no one in charge of the whole park.

There was no strategy or plan, and no vision to unify the disparate constituencies of permanent residents, seasonal residents, visitors, local and State government representatives or private sector leaders. From the mid-70s, after increased environmental regulations, the region became so factionalized that the outsiders quipped that residents “would rather fight than win”. It was almost impossible to make forward progress on any issue. Until the formation of the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance (CGA) in 2005, there wasn’t even a forum to discuss the issues facing the region. The CGA is a true grass roots effort of local NGOs, foundations, state and local officials, nearby colleges, local businesses and concerned citizens that try to make progress on smaller issues where there was less contention – i.e. common ground.

Developing Endstates for the Park

Through discussions with key people leading the CGA effort, we saw how Future Mapping could become a vehicle for starting a conversation about the future of the Park.  We interviewed a few dozen leaders in the region and did some research.  At the July 2011 CGA Forum we presented six initial endstates for the Park in 2035 summarized below. (The full text of the endstates can be found here.) 

  • A - Wild Park
    The Park is managed under a strong interpretation of Article XIV “Forever Wild” that includes stricter private land use regulation and a hands-off approach to preserving the Forest Preserve. DEC and APA’s (state environmental agencies) focus is preservation and enhancement of the wild experience, not revival of local economies.

  • B - A Usable Park
    The economy and the environment beneficially reinforce each. We grow the economy by investing in a wide range of amenities and promoting it as a world class recreational tourism destination. We attract active retirees to settle here. Use the Park for the benefit of visitors and residents. Government sector shrinks.

  • C - The Sustainable Life
    The Park is a model of sustainable, low carbon footprint rural lifestyle with local renewable energy (solar, geothermal, biomass), local food, and widespread broadband. Revitalization of the Park’s communities is the top priority, with emphasis on the arts, education, healthcare and public infrastructure upgrades.

  • D - Adirondack County
    Government services are more centralized to reduce costs and improve effectiveness. Park-wide planning, promotion and branding are the norm. The fragmented Forest Preserve is consolidated.  The Park is made into its own county.

  • E - Post Big Government Solutions
    Bottom-up, town-by-town economic development efforts try many different strategies. Some do well, some fail and disappear. Gaps widen between haves and have nots. Better towns improve planning capability. Pragmatism rules.

  • F - Adirondack State Forest
    External threats (e.g., climate change, invasive species, health care costs, and demographic shifts in NYS) overwhelm the Park. Half of the Forest Preserve is made working State Forest in an attempt to forestall collapse in the heart of the Park.

Ranking The Endstates

We asked the 120 attendees at the Forum to rank order the endstates according to their desirability and their attainability by the people of the Adirondacks.  Remarkably, to everyone’s surprise including ours, the group had strong agreement that one of the endstates, C “The Sustainable Life”, was most desirable AND most attainable.  As the result went up on the screen (figure 1) at the Forum you could have heard a pin drop.  The notion that these fractious groups might actually share a vision stunned everyone.  There was a chance that a real consensus could be forged. 

Figure 1: First Ranking Result for ADK Futures Endstates (120 people)

At the end of the group discussion, we asked the crowd if some of them would be willing to go through the full two-day Future Mapping scenario development workshop with us.  On the spot, 89 people signed up to participate. In the next few months we did a major round of interviewing (over 100 people) to refine and add much more detail to the endstates and to the building blocks for the scenarios - events.

We held three workshops in the last quarter of 2011, each attended by 30-35 people, and the results all reinforced the emerging consensus.  We knew that two days was too much to ask of many people that we wanted to engage with these ideas so we created a half-day version and started scheduling workshops all around the Park. We even held a session in New York City to engage with affluent seasonal residents and key environmentalists.  We went to the farming community of Wallonsburg in the Champlain Valley and many other places. We held one workshop for only young people under 30 including some high school students.  It turned out to be crucial that we went out to different parts of this large region to engage different groups in the process. The repeatability of the process and our determination to seek out diverse constituencies throughout the Park, ensured the concepts were widely shared and helped to build strong momentum.  Figure 2 shows the distribution of participants across all workshops.

Figure 2: Distribution of Participants across All ADK Futures Workshops

By the time we finished in June 2012 we had run 13 workshops in total and over 500 people had registered their opinions and become part of the conversation.  Amazingly, the consensus really didn’t change. Figure 3 shows the summary of all ranking results.

Figure 3: Results of All ADK Futures Rankings

The Events about the Adirondack Park

As part of the Future Mapping process, participants are asked to assume their endstate has happened, and as a simulated hindsight exercise, pick events that must have happened (or not happened) for their endstate to develop and turn this event path into a narrative story line. The events for this workshop series covered a wide range of topics in an integrated, holistic way that had never been attempted before for the Adirondack Park.  These events make the steps to take to achieve the vision concrete and real, such as providing nearer-term issues to resolve or investments or policy changes to make.  Here is a brief description of the 16 categories of events that were used in the workshops.  Figure 6 shows a specific event.  Figure 4 shows the events that turned out to be most critical for the scenarios.  

  • Agriculture: the rise of diversified agriculture, farmers markets and agri-tourism
  • Arts & culture:  the arts sector becomes an important economic force and enriches the quality of life for residents
  • Climate change:  tracking impacts of climate change as well as steps to prevent or protect from extreme weather
  • Community:  strengthening of community organizations and increasing citizen engagement
  • Demographics:  tracking changes in population, age distribution and diversity (economic and racial)
  • Economic development:  efforts to grow and diversify local economies
  • Education:  challenges and changes in public schools and colleges in the region
  • Energy: efforts to improve efficiency and reduce fossil fuel use
  • Government: changes in village, town, county and state government
  • Healthcare: improvements in availability and quality of healthcare in the region
  • Promotion:  increasing awareness of the opportunities the region has to offer to visitors, business owners and new residents
  • Recreation:  enhancement of recreational tourism offerings by the State and private sector
  • Regulation:  changes to land use and other government policies and regulations
  • The Forest:  issues concerning the Forest Preserve and private forests
  • The Waters: issues concerning lakes and streams in the region, especially the threat of invasive species
  • Transportation:  highways and public transportation issues

Because each of the teams is working from the same set of 110 events, their choices can be compared and events that are common to multiple scenarios can be identified. Figure 4 shows the common events across the five full scenario development workshops.   The first 12 columns show how often each event was chosen in the critical path for each endstate (max would be 5), either positively or negatively. The events chosen most often by the most teams come first in the lists.

These common events became part of early implementation planning for achieving the desired endstate.  Some were events that needed to happen to get to the core endstates of the vision (B and C).  Others were events that needed to be prevented from happening.   

Figure 4: The Common Events for ADK Futures Across Five Two-Day Workshops

Developing a Composite Scenario

For the final task in the two-day scenario development workshops, we asked the participants to describe a composite scenario that used the best elements of the original six endstates.  Figure 5 shows a typical way in which these were integrated.  In this diagram the Y axis is the degree of implementation of the endstate from 0% to 100% at a given point in time.  Here you see that the core endstate (C - The Sustainable Life) eventually gets to 100% implementation but the others are only partially implemented. Note that the failure scenario (F Adirondack State Forest) was not part of the desired future.

Figure 5: How the Scenarios Evolve over Time

Each workshop confirmed and deepened the consensus vision for the Park that is depicted in this timeline.  This was then turned into a vision document that was widely circulated. We presented and discussed the vision at the CGA Forum in July 2012.  We polled the 220 people there as to their agreement with the vision synthesis and the results were strongly supportive:

  • Strongly Agree:      65%
  • Agree:                     29%
  • Somewhat Agree:   7%
  • Disagree:                 0%
  • Strongly Disagree: 0%

And this was for a region that had famously been unable to agree on much for decades!  

In the CGA Forums of 2012, 2013 and 2014 around 200 people came together each summer to develop implementation strategies based on these events and the overall vision. The vision was incorporated into economic development strategy for the region and eventually was embraced by the NY Governor’s office as a blueprint for the State’s investment in the region.  We worked with the boards of regional non-profits to help them understand the role they could play in implementing the vision. Efforts are underway to amend the NY state constitution to fix clauses that were hampering effective deployment of modern broadband communications and infrastructure upgrades for climate change adaptation. The region won over $300m in competitive regional development grants, not least because of the region’s strong vision and aligned stakeholders. A regional collaboration of Lake Owner associations, State agencies, environmental NGOs and others has put together a comprehensive strategy for fighting aquatic and terrestrial invasive species in the region.  Our site www.ADKFutures.net provides a comprehensive look at all the activities that are implementing the scenarios in this framework.

The region has now begun to grapple with its response to climate change, using the same Future Mapping approach. 

Monitoring the Scenario Events

In order to support implementation efforts and to track progress toward implementing key events and movement toward the vision, we created a site (www.ADKfutures.net) devoted to monitoring real-world events against the ADK Futures scenario framework.  At this site, evidence is associated with specific events to inform the likelihood of their occurrence.  Figure 6 shows an example of an event with evidence.

Figure 6: Example of Event with Associated Evidence

In this online monitoring system, each event is assigned a current likelihood of occurrence.  Its impact from highly negative to highly positive on each endstate is also recorded.  We then can look at each scenario and see how its event path currently looks in terms of probability and impact of its constituent events.  Figure 7 is an example of the most desirable scenario (C) compared with the most undesirable scenario (F).  The good news is that C’s events are happening and F’s are mostly not happening.  In this bubble graph, each bubble is an event and the size of the bubble indicates the degree of impact on the scenario with green being positive and red negative.  The Y axis is the current probability of the event happening.  The x axis arrays the events by category.

Figure 7: Event Paths for Two Divergent Scenarios (C and F)


Future Mapping is a process that can engage large numbers of people through repeatable scenario development workshops.  The methodology allows for high level vision as well as detailed implementation planning and monitoring of progress going forward. It scales from a single workshop for a single organization focused on a specific issue, into a regional or sectoral series of workshops tracking complex interrelated problems, drawing in hundreds of participants. Feel free to contact us for more information.