Exploring the usefulness of scenario archetypes in science-policy processes: Experience across IPBES assessments

Nadia Sitas, Zuzana V. Harmáčková, Jonathan A. Anticamara, Almut Arneth, Ruchi Badola, Reinette Biggs, Ryan Blanchard, Lluis Brotons, Matthew Cantele, Kaera Coetzer, Rajarshi Dasgupta, Eefje Den Belder, Sonali Ghosh, Antoine Guisan, Haripriya Gundimeda, Maike Hamann, Paula A. Harrison, Shizuka Hashimoto, Jennifer Hauck, Brian J. KlattKasper Kok, Rainer M. Krug, Aidin Niamir, Patrick J. O'farrell, Sana Okayasu, Ignacio Palomo, Laura M. Pereira, Philip Riordan, Fernando Santos-Martín*, Odirilwe Selomane, Yunne Jai Shin, Mireia Valle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Scenario analyses have been used in multiple science-policy assessments to better understand complex plausible futures. Scenario archetype approaches are based on the fact that many future scenarios have similar underlying storylines, assumptions, and trends in drivers of change, which allows for grouping of scenarios into typologies, or archetypes, facilitating comparisons between a large range of studies. The use of scenario archetypes in environmental assessments foregrounds important policy questions and can be used to codesign interventions tackling future sustainability issues. Recently, scenario archetypes were used in four regional assessments and one ongoing global assessment within the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The aim of these assessments was to provide decision makers with policy-relevant knowledge about the state of biodiversity, ecosystems, and the contributions they provide to people. This paper reflects on the usefulness of the scenario archetype approach within science-policy processes, drawing on the experience from the IPBES assessments. Using a thematic analysis of (a) survey data collected from experts involved in the archetype analyses across IPBES assessments, (b) notes from IPBES workshops, and (c) regional assessment chapter texts, we synthesize the benefits, challenges, and frontiers of applying the scenario archetype approach in a science-policy process. Scenario archetypes were perceived to allow syntheses of large amounts of information for scientific, practice-, and policy-related purposes, streamline key messages from multiple scenario studies, and facilitate communication of them to end users. In terms of challenges, they were perceived as subjective in their interpretation, oversimplifying information, having a limited applicability across scales, and concealing contextual information and novel narratives. Finally, our results highlight what methodologies, applications, and frontiers in archetype-based research should be explored in the future. These advances can assist the design of future large-scale sustainability-related assessment processes, aiming to better support decisions and interventions for equitable and sustainable futures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number35
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Assessment
  • Biodiversity
  • Decision making
  • Ecosystem services
  • Futures
  • Nature
  • Regional
  • Scenarios

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