Do participatory scenario exercises promote systems thinking and build consensus?
Participatory scenario processes are associated with positive social learning outcomes, including consensusbuilding and shifts toward more systemic thinking. However, these claims have not been assessed quantitatively in diverse cultural and socio-ecological settings. We convened three stakeholder workshops around the future of agricultural development and rural livelihoods in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Malawi, using a participatory scenario generation process to examine proposed research and action priorities under conditions of uncertainty. We administered pre- and post-workshop surveys, and used a paired t-test to assess how stakeholders’ rankings of research priorities changed after participating in the scenario visioning exercise. Workshop participants also listed their own priorities for research and implementation on both the pre- and post-survey forms. We found indications that the workshops promoted consensus-building around the research priorities, including a reduction in standard deviation of priority rankings post-workshop compared to pre-workshop; and a higher incidence of identical volunteered responses. We did not find evidence to support shifts in thinking to more systemic views of agricultural development. However, participants viewed themselves as having learned throughout the process. We conclude that scenario visioning does have the potential to foster consensusbuilding (one element of social learning) among diverse stakeholder groups. We urge researchers to continue to monitor and measure systems thinking outcomes from scenario visioning so that these processes may be designed to be more effective.