A Free Software Toolkit

A serious scenario exercise is a complicated process that requires a number of supporting tools. Besides the tools used to prepare the scenarios themselves, software is needed to analyze, prepare and publish the results of the scenario.

This page presents a free software “toolkit” that can cover all aspects of a scenario exercise. However, it does not cover every kind of scenario exercise. Depending on the needs of your study, you may need to go beyond this toolkit. Also, depending on your needs, you may need to buy some software. But before you do, look at the tools available for free.

Scenario tools:

Other supporting tools:

Note that not everyone will need these additional supporting tools. For example, you may already be using Microsoft Office or the WordPerfect suite, and won’t need the Open Office suite. However, because this site is addressed to a broad audience with a wide range of experience and resources, alternatives are listed here.

Scenario Narratives

There are many guidelines and brainstorming techniques that people use to support scenario narrative generation. (See, for example, the recipes page on this site.)

There are also software tools for brainstorming and for organizing text in complex projects, such as the KeyNote editor, which allows text to be organized on different tabs and in a tree structure, and the FreeMind mind-mapping program.

A set of tools for use in scenario workshops and for supporting scenario narrative writing is available from the Scenario Toolkit web site.

Qualitative Modeling

Qualitative models are generally expressed in a diagrammatic form, for example using causal loop diagrams (see the links on the Modeling Methods page). There are several software tools (such as Vensim) that allow users to edit causal loop diagrams (as well as other diagrammatic models, such as stock-and-flow diagrams). The modeler can then enter parameters and initial values so that the qualitative diagram becomes a quantitative model.

As far as we know there are no software tools that directly support qualitative modeling. A useful substitute for a dedicated tool is a general diagram drawing program. A good drawing package is included in the OpenOffice suite. If the OpenOffice download of over 60 MB is too large, a standalone package that lacks some features but is very small and simple to use is the free Diagram Designer. It is a very small download (750 KB) and exports and imports to and from some useful file formats.

Quantitative Modeling

In contrast to the situation for scenario narratives and qualitative models, there are many software tools for supporting quantitative modeling exercises. Most are only available at charge, but some are available for free. Below is a list of free (or partially free) software.

For systems dynamics models, a (partially) free and powerful program is Vensim PLE. It is free for academic use and for nonremunerated work. (If you use Vensim for a paid project, then you must buy the program.)

The free and open-source IPAT-S modeling language, with its supporting software IPAT Studio, IPAT DX and IPAT Scenario Navigator, is specifically designed for scenario development. It can be used for both simple and complex projects, and can be used for a range of different types of models. The documentation includes a language reference, help file, tutorial, and “How-To’s”. The How-To guides include a step-by-step workflow for using IPAT-S software in a scenario study.

The International Futures (IFs) model is a complete global model, so it is not a general-purpose modeling tool. However, it is possible to change a great deal in the program, including parameter values and the choice of algorithm for selected submodels. Because of this flexibility, it is listed with general-purpose tools on this page.

There are several agent-based modeling environments available, many of them free of charge. The NetLogo environment is considered to be user-friendly while offering many useful features.

Bayesian belief networks are a platform for performing statistical inference. They also offer an interface that can be understood by people who do not have a technical background. The GeNIe Bayesian network software is available at no charge.

The Maxima package is a free and open-source computer algebra system, similar to the popular Mathematica package.

Scilab is a free and open-source platform for numerical computation, similar to Matlab.

The R software environment for statistical computing is open source and free. It has both built-in features and a programming language that can be used for data analysis and modeling. It also has a flexible and powerful set of graphics features.

Many phenomena follow an s-shaped path over time, increasing slowly at first, then rising quickly, and then slowing down as the natural limit is reached. The free Loglet Lab software is designed to analyze historical data series that have this structure, and more complicated series that are a combination of overlapping s-shaped curves.

Software for Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MDA) is available from the International Institute for Systems Analysis (IIASA). It is free for non-commercial work. However, note that it is difficult to set up and run.

In addition to these general-purpose tools, there are also topical tools available:

Note that different tools will be required for different projects. I recommend having a full “toolbox” from which you can draw the appropriate tool for different tasks.

Indicators

Scenarios are evaluated by identifying indicators that show the progress of the scenario over time. Sustainability is a complex topic, and the issue of sustainability indicators is similarly complicated. A freely-available tool for managing and viewing sustainability indicators is the Dashboard of Sustainability.

Once you have developed a set of indicators, and are ready to share them, the open-source Scenario Data Selector can be used to publish the data on the web using an interactive data browser, and he Dashboard of Sustainability can generate HTML files for posting on the web.

Project Management

There are many free tools for managing both large and small projects. For large projects, Open Workbench is intended as a direct replacement for Microsoft Project. It is free and open source, and has many of the features of Microsoft Project. The online help is not very well constructed, but the document “Using Open Workbench,” available from the Open Workbench site, is a pretty good introduction to the program.

For smaller projects, software like Open Workbench and Microsoft Project offers much more than is needed. The GanttProject program offers just the features that a small project manager might want - planning a timeline with a Gantt chart and keeping track of human resources. It is recommended for small and medium-sized projects.

Office Productivity

Manipulating data, writing reports, creating graphs - all of this is a necessary part of a serious scenario exercise. The premier open-source office productivity suite is the OpenOffice suite. It has word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and other software.

Document Preparation

You can produce quite presentable documents with free tools. The Open Office Writer program can be used to prepare the document itself. However, not everyone will have the Open Office suite, so before distributing the file you will need to convert it into a form that everyone can read. This can be accomplished in Open Office by exporting files to PDF format. For other programs, the free PDFCreator program can produce PDF documents.

PDF documents can be read by the free Adobe Acrobat reader. Many people have a copy of the reader already installed on their computer. An alternative, especially for people needing a smaller download, is the Foxit PDF Reader.

Graphics

The main open-source graphics program is the GIMP. It takes some patience to learn the interface, but the patience will be well rewarded, as it is a powerful graphics program. If you are using Microsoft Windows, then download the GIMP for Microsoft Windows. If you are not using Microsoft Windows, please see the GIMP homepage.

You will need to look in other resources to learn about graphics files in general, especially if you want to put graphics on the World Wide Web. Our brief advice is that you should not put any graphics up on the web without first learning something about them.

Web Production

The internet and the World Wide Web are inexpensive options for sharing the results of a study. To publish materials on the Web, you need Web authoring tools and Web hosting.

“Web authoring” means creating a document for the World Wide Web. Many good free tools are available. The Open Office suite has an HTML editor, and the GIMP (GIMP for Microsoft Windows or GIMP home page) can be used to edit the graphics. The Open Office editor is “WYSIWYG,” or “What You See Is What You Get.” This is the best option for novices. For more advanced users, HTML-Kit is a good, free (but not WYSIWYG) HTML editor.

Web hosting is generally only available at cost. Some companies will host your web site for “free,” but only if they can put advertisements on your site. This can distract greatly from your message. Prices for web hosting can be quite reasonable - look online for rates.

Note that while it is not difficult to make a web document, it is difficult for a novice to make a good one. Look around on the web (and in bookstores, if you live close to one) for guidance.

File Management

Most serious scenario exercises will generate a lot of files that will be shared between several people. If you do not have a system for managing them, then keeping track of files will quickly take up most of your time. Fortunately, version control systems have been developed to help people manage complex projects.

We highly recommend Subversion, Subversion is a powerful program available for free for most major operating systems. It also has a nice Windows interface, Tortoise SVN.


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