Stakeholder-Driven Scenario Models for Strategic Conservation Planning

Scenario planning is an approach that allows us to imagine how land use decisions we make today could influence the landscape of tomorrow. Scenarios are storylines developed by stakeholders that describe potential alternate futures. When linked to land use, socio-economic, and environmental data, these scenarios can help us identify trade-offs or synergies between environmental health and human well-being. This project-based course will provide practitioners and advanced students a conceptual and practical understanding of the intersection of scenario planning and land use modeling in the context of natural resource and environmental planning.

This Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) course is taught as an intensive 6-day fulltime residential session, incorporating lectures, discussions, and computer exercises. It is held in Room 101, the Computer Lab at the Academic Center of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, located at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, VA, USA. The course is designed and led by Iara Lacher, PhD of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) Forest Ecology Lab, Tom Akre, PhD., Wildlife Ecologist and Director, SCBI Virginia Working Landscapes Program, and Bill McShea, PhD, Ecologist, SCBI Conservation Ecology Center.  The course runs from 9:00am Monday September 11, 2017 until 3pm, Saturday September 16, 2017.

This course combines traditional teaching methods with project-based learning and expert panel discussions. Through a mock-workshop, course participants will learn how to use stakeholder input to develop plausible future storylines, or scenarios. Participants will work through guided exercises to learn modeling essentials using the environmental and socio-economic landscape of Northwestern Virginia as a case study.

We will use Dinamica EGO (a free open-source land use land change modeling platform), R (open-source statistical coding platform) and ArcGIS, a geospatial analysis and mapping platform that is the industry standard. All exercises involve modifying existing models and code, therefore participants should be able to read R code and have a basic understanding of spatial data analysis and model building. Data will be provided, all sourced from publicly accessible databases:

Learning Outcomes:  Each participant is provided with his/her own desktop computer for all lab exercises. By the end of this course, participants will:

  • Have a fundamental understanding of the considerations that go into building a land use model, including issues of data availability, scale, and landscape patterns.
  • Understand the underlying structure of Dinamica EGOs most essential parameters, how they contribute to model outcomes, and how to modify them using R
  • Learn how to build and run a Scenario Building workshop with stakeholders through immersion in the mock workshop.
  • Discuss the opportunities and challenges of scenario planning with regional experts
  • Learn about how information can be communicated to various audiences

Prerequisites: This course requires participants to have a solid understanding of fundamental statistical concepts, at least a basic understanding of spatial statistics, the ability to read R code (database manipulation, for loops, functions), and some experience in a geospatial mapping program like ArcGIS, QGIS, or GRASS. Previous courses or work experience may fulfill the prerequisite requirement; provide this information at the corresponding question in online course application form.


September 11-16, 2017


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, USA

Application Procedure

Stakeholder-Driven Scenario Models  for Strategic Conservation Planning is offered through the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation as a professional training course. Applications should be submitted using our Online Application Page. Before beginning our online application, please have .pdf or .doc versions of your updated CV and of your Personal Statement of Interest and Qualifications (maximum 350 words). You’ll be asked to attach these with your application.

For first consideration, apply before July 7, 2017

Course Costs

Payment Deadline: July 21, 2017.  Your acceptance to the course does not guarantee you a seat in the course. Seats are allocated as registration payments are received, and prompt registration is strongly encouraged to ensure your space in the course.

The total cost for this six-day course is $1944.50 (Course fee of $1500 + Housing and Dining Package of $444.50). Those applying as citizens of “less-developed” nations qualify for a reduced course fee of $850 making the total cost including housing (shared double room) and dining package $1294.50. Click HERE to check if your country of citizenship qualifies you for the reduced course fee. Your total course payment includes:

  • Course enrollment fee
  • Instruction, electronic course manual, and any other course materials
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off shuttle service at Dulles International Airport (IAD), the only Washington, DC-region airport for which SMSC provides ground transportation shuttle service. Shuttle pick-up date at Dulles (IAD) will be Sunday, September 10 and the time will be 4:30pm (16:30h). Individuals whose flight options are limited should plan to arrive the night before (September 9) and book into overnight accommodation in the Dulles-Washington, DC vicinity, so they can meet this Sunday afternoon shuttle. Otherwise a taxi can be privately arranged by participant for approximately $140. Drop-off shuttle departs from SMSC to IAD on Sunday September17th, at 8am.
  • Transportation for course activities
  • Daily full-service buffet-style dining at the SMSC Dining Commons – Dining begins with dinner on Sunday, September 10, and ends with breakfast on Sunday, September 17th.
  • Housing at the SMSC Residential Facility, including shared room with bathroom (single rooms available at extra cost) – Lodging begins Sunday, September 10 and check out is Sunday, September 17th.


A very limited number of partial or full scholarships may be available on a competitive basis for eligible course applicants. Note: In no case will any SMSC scholarships for this course cover flights, visas, or other costs of transportation to the course. Click HERE for more information on scholarships.


With course coordinator’s written approval in advance of registration/payment, local participants may elect to stay off campus, waive the housing and dining package, and commute to this course. Meals in the Dining Commons can then be purchased individually as needed.