Ecology and SocietyEcology and Society
 E&S Home > Vol. 24, No. 4 > Art. 30
The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Pedde, S., K. Kok, K. Hölscher, C. Oberlack, P. A. Harrison, and R. Leemans. 2019. Archetyping shared socioeconomic pathways across scales: an application to central Asia and European case studies. Ecology and Society 24(4):30.
Research, part of a special feature on Archetype Analysis in Sustainability Research

Archetyping shared socioeconomic pathways across scales: an application to central Asia and European case studies

1Soil Geography and Landscape Group, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands, 2Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT), 3Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland, 4Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland, 5Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, 6Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands


The complex interactions of drivers represented in scenarios and climate change impacts across scales have led to the development of multiscale scenarios. Since the recent development of global shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs), which have started being downscaled to lower scales, the potential of scenarios to be relevant for decision making and facilitate appreciation and inclusion of different perspectives has been increasing, compared with a single-scale global scenario set. However, in practice, quantitative downscaling of global scenarios results in narratives that are compressed from the global level to fit the local context to enhance consistency between global and local scales. We brought forward the concept of scenario archetypes to analyze multiscale SSP scenario narratives and highlight important diverging assumptions within the same archetype. Our methodology applied scenario archetypes both as typologies, to allocate specific cases of scenarios into existing scenario archetypes, and building blocks, conceptualized with worldviews from cultural theory. Although global SSPs generally match existing archetypes and tend to be well defined, the socially unequal SSPs at subglobal scales are more nuanced, and dominant worldviews are much less straighforward to interpret than in global scenarios. The closest match was the great transition–sustainability (SSP1) archetype, whereas the most divergent was the market forces–fossil fuel development (SSP5) archetype. Overall, our results highlight the need to improve uptake of bottom-up approaches in global scenarios to improve appreciation of different perspectives as sought after in multiscale scenarios.
Key words: multiscale scenarios; narratives; scenario archetypes; shared socioeconomic pathways; worldviews


A key aspect to understanding the potential consequences of high-end climate change impacts is the exploration of uncertainty in long-term alternative socioeconomic futures, generally undertaken through the use of scenarios (IPCC 2014). The complex interactions of drivers represented in scenarios and climate change impacts across scales has led to the development of multiscale scenarios (Biggs et al. 2007, Kok et al. 2007). However, scenarios at subglobal scales are frequently inconsistent with global scenarios, limiting coherence in the use of multiscale scenarios (van Ruijven et al. 2014; Pedde, Clarke, Rounsevell, et al., unpublished manuscript). We utilize scenario archetypes and cultural theory to demonstrate how the archetyping of the global shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) along with their worldviews supports consistency in multiscale scenario development.

Multiscale analysis has evolved from its early system theory conceptualization developed in the 1980s as part of ecology hierarchy theory by Allen and colleagues (Allen and Starr 1982, Allen and Hoekstra 1992). According to this theory, components of complex systems are organized hierarchically based on multiple spatiotemporal and functional scales. Spatiotemporal linkages within socioeconomic, political, and biogeochemical systems (Gibson et al. 2000, Gallopín et al. 2001), sometimes known as “dimensions” (Vervoort et al. 2012) or levels (positions on a scale; Gibson et al. 2000, Cash et al. 2006), have also evolved in scenario exercises. Multiscale scenarios have the potential to be more relevant for decision making than single-scale global scenarios and facilitate appreciation and inclusion of different perspectives (Zurek and Henrichs 2007). However, different strengths of linkages across scales in scenarios are possible, from fully equivalent to loosely linked scenarios, depending on their desired outcome and purpose (Biggs et al. 2007, Zurek and Henrichs 2007). More precisely, the strength of the linkages depends on whether drivers and constraints from higher scales are included via downscaling (tight links) or whether they simply provide a broad conceptual framework but the overall narrative differs across scales (loose links; Biggs et al. 2007).

Multiscale scenarios, both tightly and loosely linked, tend to include stakeholder engagement to better understand impacts because of socioeconomic, political, and natural, e.g., climate and ecological, processes at different scales (Biggs et al. 2007, Kok et al. 2007). To date, the practice of multiscale scenario development often involves tight links. These links consist of quantitative downscaling of global scenarios, to define a suitable scale for impacts and vulnerability assessments. However, the subglobal scenarios often do not match the global scenarios because the scenario elements, such as narratives, assumptions, and model quantifications, were not developed to explore variations in factors relevant to impacts and vulnerability assessments (van Ruijven et al. 2014).

The new global SSPs have been developed with the aim of providing socioeconomic pathways of key socioeconomic drivers along the dimensions of challenges to mitigation and adaptation, which are scalable to different regional contexts (Kriegler et al. 2012). The global SSPs have been designed as “pathways” exploring the relevant uncertainty space of challenges to mitigation and adaptation to climate change (O’Neill et al. 2014, 2017). The design of the global SSP narratives is suitable for developing consistent cross-scale global and subglobal socioeconomic narratives (Ebi et al. 2014, O’Neill et al. 2014) because they include global-scale indicators, which are relevant to subglobal analyses (van Ruijven et al. 2014).

Recent examples of the application of global SSPs include subnational and subsectoral SSP narratives for the southeastern United States (Absar and Preston 2015) and Latin America (Jones and Kok 2014), coastal SSPs (Merkens et al. 2016), and more recently, deltas across West Africa and South Asia (Kebede et al. 2018) and European heat-stress SSPs (Rohat et al. 2019). These applications differ in sectoral and geographic scope but are methodologically similar in that they develop subglobal narratives that are “nested” within, i.e., are consistent with, the scenario logic of the global SSPs. One challenge with nesting scenarios is the practice of maintaining the overall global scenario logic, determined by quantitative variables, within the subglobal scenarios. The dominance of the quantitative variables in this process means that, de facto, the global SSP narratives are “compressed” from the global level to fit the local context and enhance consistency between global and local scales (Nilsson et al. 2017). In this process, narratives are reduced to single variable trends, generally classified into five categories, the so-called STEEP: society, technology, economy, environment, and policy (Hunt et al. 2012). We expand the concept of scenario “consistency” from consistency with scenario variables at the global scale to holistic consistency of the narratives that drive the logic of quantitative variables, which contain further linkages and complexity that are not captured by (modeled) quantitative variables (Rasmussen 2005).

One method for exploring consistent narratives and variables is the identification of commonalities in global-scale scenarios and grouping them into scenario families (van Vuuren et al. 2012) or archetypes (Hunt et al. 2012). Existing scenarios share common elements, i.e., similar assumptions on the trends of key variables (Hunt et al. 2012, van Vuuren et al. 2012). However, the concept of “scenario archetype” is used interchangeably with “scenario family” to indicate scenarios sharing a similar logic that translates into similar quantifications (van Vuuren et al. 2012). This loose conceptualization potentially hides subjectivity behind the transparent process of downscaling quantifications, in that the full uncertainties and meaning of the narratives are not fully explored. By linking the scenario narratives more strongly across scales using the concept of archetypes, the meaning of scenario consistency across scales can be redefined.

We develop the concept of scenario archetypes to analyze the consistency of multiscale SSP scenario narratives and the importance of diverging assumptions within the same archetype. The methodology builds on two existing approaches to analyze scenario archetypes. First, the qualitative scenario mapping of global SSPs onto existing scenario archetypes is based on a deductive approach and assesses whether SSPs can be inductively categorized within existing scenario archetypes. Second, to assess the scenario archetypes, global and subglobal SSPs are analyzed using cultural theory to systematically compare similarities and divergences and extend the discourse on archetypes to better link the global and subglobal scales. We then discuss the importance of understanding subglobal heterogeneous worldviews, typical of bottom-up approaches, to promote a holistic understanding of the concept of consistency in multiscale scenario development.


Theoretical concepts: archetypes and scenario archetypes

The most recent analyses of scenario archetypes use the words “archetypes” and “scenario family” interchangeably. For example, scenario archetypes have been defined as those scenario families that share similar narratives or logic, which are reflected in similar types of quantifications (van Vuuren et al. 2012). Our methodology combines this definition of scenario archetypes with existing archetypal social visions on how the future might develop (Hunt et al. 2012). Crucially, such visions have been developed from scenarios at different scales and assume that existing scenarios tend to fall within archetypes (Hunt et al. 2012). Therefore, the scenario archetypes apply to both global and subglobal scenarios.

The scenario archetypes we analyze have a similar focus on narratives (as van Vuuren et al. 2012), i.e., on a qualitative analysis focusing on scenario logic. Alternatively, in sustainability research, archetypes have been analyzed as either typologies of cases or as building blocks (Oberlack et al. 2019). In the building-block approach, each case constitutes a combination of one or more archetypes (Eisenack 2012), whereas in the case typology approach each case is categorized into one archetype. We apply both approaches. First, global SSPs are assigned to scenario archetypes serving as a typology of cases. The cases are socioeconomic pathways, and each scenario archetype characterizes essential features of a pathway. Subsequently, we link the case typology and building block approaches through cultural theory. Specifically, we have conceptualized different worldviews as the building blocks that can belong to one or different scenario archetypes.

Archetyping the global shared socioeconomic pathways as a typology of cases

To link scenario archetypes to the SSPs, we map the global SSP narratives to established scenario archetypes. The SSPs better address challenges to mitigation and adaptation than previous scenarios such as the previous IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES). Compared to other scenarios, the SSPs solely focus on socioeconomic drivers and thus have the advantage of being separate from greenhouse gas emission scenarios and policy assumptions. This means that the uncertainties explored by the SSPs solely focus on socioeconomic and environmental sustainability (lifestyle, awareness, and natural resources) drivers. Because the SSPs consist of socioeconomic and environmental (but nonclimate) elements (O’Neill et al. 2017), they can be more easily mapped onto well-established archetypes of global socioeconomic and environmental scenarios (Hunt et al. 2012).

We focus on four of the five SSPs (O’Neill et al. 2017), excluding SSP2, “middle of the road,” because the global SSP axis conceptualization, similar to Figure 1, locates SSP2 in the middle with intermediate challenges to mitigation and adaptation, at the intersection of the other four SSPs. SSP2 is often represented as “closest to model baseline” (Raskin 2005, O’Neill et al. 2017), and its narrative makes it challenging to define a clear identity in participatory exploratory scenario development (Kok et al. 2019). All the other SSPs (SSP1, SSP3, SSP4, and SSP5) have a clear direction, at the global level, of socioeconomic, technological, institutional, and environmental trends in SSP challenges to mitigation and adaptation uncertainty space. SSP1 is a sustainable scenario with effective collaboration across all actors of society; SSP3 is a socially fragmented and environmentally challenging scenario; SSP4 is a high-tech, green, and institutionally effective for a globally connected elite scenario, but with high inequality across and within society; and SSP5 is a fossil fuel, market-driven, and reduced-inequality scenario. For the full global SSP narratives, we refer to O’Neill et al. (2017), and for an overview of the European and central Asian narratives, we refer to Appendix 1.

To archetype SSPs as a typology of cases, we mapped the SSP STEEP drivers onto the established global scenario archetypes produced by the Global Scenario Group (GSG) published in Raskin (2005) and subsequently tested with a > 160 subglobal scenario subset by Hunt et al. (2012). There are four GSG archetypal social visions:

  1. A world that evolves gradually as a result of market forces (market forces)
  2. A world that is influenced by a strong push for sustainability (policy reform)
  3. A world with novel approaches to develop new human values (great transition)
  4. A fragmented world with environmental and institutional collapse (barbarization)

We first mapped the global SSPs against the GSG scenario archetypes and assessed to what extent the SSPs fit within these existing archetypes. This was undertaken qualitatively, i.e., by interpreting narratives and qualitative trends against each other. This methodology, although simple and rather subjective, is well established in the scenario literature (van Vuuren et al. 2012), especially when the narratives are limited to generic depictions of the future and take into account the same type of variables.

Second, to assess the fit of subglobal SSPs to scenario archetypes, the SSPs were analyzed across narratives at lower spatial scales. These included the pan-European scale, based on European versions of the global SSPs developed to be “equivalent” to the global SSPs and transferable across scales (Kok et al. 2019), and three geographically and culturally different regions within Europe: the Iberian Peninsula, Scotland, and two municipalities in Hungary. Finally, the archetypes were assessed at the macroregional scale for the region of central Asia, based on a set of common SSP narratives for five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The subglobal versions of the SSPs were developed by the nesting process where the local/regional scenarios were contextualized within the larger (global) scale SSPs (Absar and Preston 2015). However, the approach for developing the European and central Asian SSPs differed from Absar and Preston (2015) in that stakeholders were involved in the development of the narratives. Stakeholders could choose the drivers for their scenario and match them afterward to the global (or European) SSP (Biggs et al. 2007, Zurek and Henrichs 2007). This has the advantage of leading to more relevant scenarios for the stakeholders, but the disadvantage of resulting in numerous narratives. This disadvantage is reduced by professionally facilitating the stakeholder scenario cocreation process (Gramberger et al. 2015).

The process in all cases resulted in subglobal, stakeholder-led scenarios developed to represent local and specific drivers nested within higher-level trends, such as internationalization, trade barriers, and so forth. The subglobal scenario narratives and driver trends are reported in the respective sections of Appendix 1. For more details on the process of developing the subglobal scenarios and stakeholder mapping, we refer to Gramberger et al. (2015).

From global to local shared socioeconomic pathways, worldviews as building blocks

Worldviews framed in cultural theory and conceptualized as building blocks were used to analyze the global and subglobal scenario narratives against the global GSG scenario archetypes. Cultural theory (Thompson et al. 1990) aims to explain how social aspects and cultural adherence determine people’s worldviews. The basis of cultural theory is the grid-group typology of Douglas (1978). According to this typology, worldviews depend on the degree of freedom of individual choice as bounded by the social prescription (low or high “grid”) and on the degree of involvement and solidarity among members of society (low or high “group”). According to cultural theory, thoughts about nature and other people are interwoven with worldviews and ways of life. Cultural theory identifies four worldviews (summarized in Table 1): hierarchist, egalitarian, individualist, and fatalist.

Table 1 links the four worldviews with different trends of the scenario-relevant STEEP indicators. Trends for the STEEP indicators were extracted from analyses and tables published in the literature cited in Table 1 (“Source” column). The STEEP indicators for each worldview allowed us to match the worldviews, as building blocks, to each SSP. In this way, worldviews were used to compare and assess similarities and divergence across SSP narratives.

Consequently, the statements in each global and subglobal SSP narrative were matched to the STEEP indicators in Table 1 and their respective worldviews. This “coding” method (Beumer and Martens 2010), which consists of matching each global and subglobal SSP narrative statement against the STEEP indicator trends in Table 1, was applied by three experts, individually, in parallel.

For transparency, all individual results are reported both in the Results (coding by expert 1) and Appendix 1 (coding by experts 2 and 3). Similarities and differences are discussed in the Results. The analysis assumes that STEEP drivers are influential at both local and global scales (Hunt et al. 2012, Wardropper et al. 2016), but local stakeholder perceptions of change may diverge from the global pathways (Wardropper et al. 2016). Cultural theory facilitates systematic interpretation of beliefs about society and nature at each scenario scale (Boschetti et al. 2016).


Global shared socioeconomic pathways and scenario archetypes

The global SSP narratives map well onto the GSG archetypes (Fig. 1): great transitions (GT), barbarization (B), conventional policy reform (PR), and conventional market force (MF; Raskin 2005, Hunt et al. 2012). The MF scenario archetype matches most of the STEEP indicators for SSP5, with an emphasis on cost-effective technological development, strong economic growth, and faith in markets rather than social and environmental policies. The only mismatch is the perception of how society changes. Although in both SSP5 and the MF archetype the emphasis is on individuals and consumerism, such trends are associated with a “worsening of society” in MF (Hunt et al. 2102), but an increase in human and social capital in SSP5 (O’Neill et al. 2017). The GT and B archetypes match in all STEEP indicators with SSP1 and SSP3, respectively: in GT and SSP1, all indicators improve, whereas in B and SSP3 all the indicators worsen. The main diverging match is between SSP4 and the PR archetype. Although they both assume strong government-led policies to achieve sustainability, the main difference is the interpretation of the effect of such a top-down policy approach in society. Whereas PR assumes that an equitable society is part of the sustainability narrative (Hunt et al. 2012), the SSP4 narrative couples green development with societal inequality and effective international cooperation aimed at, for example, climate change mitigation in a socially unequal world (O’Neill et al. 2017).

Worldviews across European scenarios

Combinations of worldviews for the five subglobal versions of each SSP are presented in Figure 2 and Appendix 1 and discussed subsequently to summarize trends across the three independent codings for each narrative and each scale. We also coded the global SSP narratives from O’Neill et al. (2017) in the last row of each quadrant in Figure 2 to compare across scales and assess divergence and similarities from the archetype typologies.

The global SSP narratives tend to be overall more homogeneous, i.e., characterized by an overall agreement on one dominant worldview for > 70% of the narratives. This is in-line with the good match between global SSP narratives and GSG archetypes shown in Figure 1. In SSP1 and SSP5, the worldviews are fully homogeneous, with 100% egalitarian and individualist, respectively (Fig. 2 and Appendix 1). This is in contrast with the more nuanced combinations across the other case study scales. In SSP3 and SSP4, the mix of two worldviews, fatalist and hierarchist, is more representative of the nuances of the subglobal-scale narratives.

The sustainability scenario, represented by the match between SSP1 and the GT archetype, combines an egalitarian worldview with, to a lesser extent, a hierarchist worldview in all case study scales and all time slices. Compared with all the other SSPs, SSP1 is the most homogenous scenario, in terms of worldview combinations, with the two worldviews being dominant across case studies. The egalitarian worldview is represented by statements in all scenarios on human and social development, green technology, equity, and the perception of nature as vulnerable. The Hungarian and Iberian narratives largely represent the egalitarian worldview. In the Scottish and pan-European narratives, hierarchist elements are stronger, reflecting the combination of high-tech green development and belief in governmental regulation together with egalitarian values. Elements of individualism are also identified, related to statements on economic growth (European case study), and a focus on business and diversified economy (Scotland) and internationalization in free market economies (both Europe and Scotland).

The regionalization scenario, represented by the match between SSP3 and the B archetype, presents common traits with dominant fatalist characteristics such as a “return to a day-to-day mentality” (in Scotland) and an emphasis on surviving and coping strategies in a fragmented society. These elements are often associated with hierarchist elitist worldviews and social inequalities, and less often with the temporary environmental countermovements associated with egalitarian (Iberia and Hungary) or individualist (Europe) worldviews or both (Scotland).

SSP4, only partly matched with the PR archetype, shares characteristics of SSP1 and SSP3. On the one hand, similarly to SSP1, SSP4 contains hiearchist and egalitarian views. On the other hand, similarly to SSP3, SSP4 contains strong fatalist and hierarchist worldviews. Overall, SSP4 across case studies contains a mix of these combinations: for instance, hierarchist and individualist in Europe; hierarchist and fatalist in Iberia; hierarchist-individualist, individualist-fatalist, and fatalist-egalitarian in Scotland; and hierarchist-individualist and fatalist-egalitarian in Hungary. The fatalist-hierarchist and fatalist-egalitarian combinations are dominant and visible in all local case studies as a result of perceived top-down enforcement and strongly hierarchist governance components. Interestingly, this combination is less visible in the European case study, where only the hierarchist component emerged more strongly with individualist elements.

Finally, SSP5 is very heterogeneous. A strong individualist perspective is present in the European case study, hiearchist and individualist are both dominant in Scotland, and in the Hungarian and Iberian case studies, individualist and hierarchist perspectives shift to egalitarian and fatalist perspectives in the later time slices.

Generally, the interpretation of the narratives, combinations of worldviews, and governance emerging from the SSP narrative analysis are consistent with cultural theory (Wildavsky 2018). The egalitarian/hiearchist combination, which emerged from SSP1, corresponds to the social democracy model, which is the closest option among those available to the participatory forms of governance sought in the SSP1 narratives. The fatalist/individualist and hierarchist/individualist combinations, emerging from SSP3 and in some cases SSP5, are associated with state capitalism, which corresponds to the power of a few actors and weak governments. Fatalist/hierarchist, emerging from most of the SSP4 narratives, is typical of totalitarianism, which is close to the top-down, repressive governments of SSP4. Finally, the association of individualism/egalitarianism corresponds to the American individualist belief that equal opportunity leads to equal results (Wildavsky 2018). This combination is less visible, and only partly identified in the European and Scottish SSP1.

Overall, the results highlight that the global scenarios SSP4 and SSP3, characterized by social inequality, are more nuanced, at the subglobal scale, than the SSP1 archetypes (GT). Although, globally, the GT, B, and MF archetypes tend to match well (Fig. 1) according to the STEEP analysis, the dominant worldviews and combinations are not as straightforward across subglobal SSPs. The disagreement on associations between the individualist and other worldviews in SSP5 is visible in the different interpretations of the scenarios across scales (Fig. 2). The expert coding also resulted in larger disagreement on the interpretation for SSP5 than for other scenarios (Appendix 1).


Toward consistency of scenarios: archetyping shared socioeconomic pathways across scales

We assessed the consistency of SSPs with the GSG scenario archetypes across multiple scales from global to local, in two ways. First, we related the global SSPs with the scenario archetypes (Hunt et al. 2012). The results show a good match between the two, with only a few deviations. Second, we analyzed both the global and the subglobal versions of SSPs from the perspective of worldviews, to compare deviations across different combinations of worldviews in scenarios within the same archetype. The analysis of worldviews embodied in scenario archetypes has highlighted sources of inconsistencies in scenarios across scales. The divergence of SSP narratives within the same archetype is because of differences in worldviews within local characteristics rather than considerations of internal consistency (Hunt et al. 2012, Price et al. 2014) or modeling framework requirements (Kebede et al. 2015).

Consistency of scenario archetypes across scales can be strengthened by developing scenarios in a bottom-up manner to match global archetypes, i.e., by using and refining global scenario archetypes in contextualized scenario development. Examples include archetypal scenarios of the Anthropocene in southern Africa through transformative visioning (Pereira et al. 2018), as well as the case of a regional watershed scenario project in Wisconsin, USA, where local perspectives on how change occurs were used to emphasize and contextualize three global archetypes (Wardropper et al. 2016). Unlike the latter study, ours focuses on scenarios understood as exploratory futures.

Limitations and benefits of the applied approach

Our study has several limitations. First, the coding of the global and subglobal SSP narratives against the STEEP indicators is subject to interpretation (e.g., van Vuuren et al. 2012). To minimize this, we selected experts that were familiar with the SSP narratives and cultural theory and that would have a similar understanding of both. This, therefore, limited the number of experts to a small subset of the author team rather than a larger coding team. Second, through choosing cultural theory, our analyses were limited to four worldviews, but a larger number of worldviews may be more realistic (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2008). Third, the building blocks in Table 1 were selected based on available information in the existing literature. These decisions were made because a choice had to be made between enriching Table 1 with additional categories, fully based on interpretation, or excluding important information from the SSP narrative coding. To limit additional interpretation, we chose the latter option. As a consequence, key SSP uncertainties could not be categorized into the four worldviews. For example, key SSP uncertainties relating to international cooperation and population growth could not be attributed to a specific worldview and were therefore excluded from the coding. This had an impact on the final composition of the narrative building blocks. It was, however, not our aim to quantify the exact composition of the worldviews in the narratives, but rather to analyze emerging patterns across SSPs. Additionally, most SSP trends could be reflected using the elements in Table 1, and therefore, the coding resulted in a reasonable representation of the overall narrative for each SSP. In spite of its limited categories, cultural theory is a well-known approach in scenario analysis that combines environmental modeling with social-science-based analysis. The availability of extensive applications of cultural theory in previous studies meant that it was possible to extract the statements in Table 1 directly from existing scenario literature, with little additional interpretation.

A further consequence of limiting the statements in Table 1 is that some SSP statements may overlap or partly mismatch with multiple worldviews. For example, the “environmentally care-free” statements in most SSP5 narratives could be attributed to either fatalist or individualist worldviews and relate to the (subjective) interpretation of strong economic development and the meaning of governmental investment. Therefore, coding diverged most for SSP5 and least for SSP1. Such divergence may also indicate that SSP5 is less homogenous, especially at the subglobal scale.

In addition, there is an inevitable bias because of the participatory and more bottom-up approach used to develop the SSP narratives in Europe and central Asia. This results from the focus on the narratives, which drove the coding, especially in SSP3 and SSP4. For example, in the same narrative, the coding might change if it considered different parts of the society, e.g., if the focus was separately on elites (interpreted as hierarchist or individualist) or the poor (generally fatalist, but also egalitarian when proactive). The repeated mention of strong government, or lack of it, has an effect on the proportion of the hierarchist worldview within the same case study: hierarchist worldviews are comparatively strong in SSP1 and SSP5 for Scotland among all case studies we assessed, and lowest in the Scottish SSP3 and SSP4. However, this bias also suggests different worldviews in the local case studies, which could be more directly linked to the personal and cultural background of the stakeholders who created the narratives. This is potentially a useful attribute, particularly if the SSP narratives are utilized to identify challenges and opportunities to address environmental problems robustly across SSPs.

Contextual aspects

In this way, the heterogeneity of worldviews shows that the same SSP across scales potentially accounts for different regional contexts in the variation of worldviews and that cultural theory can structure the analysis of archetypes to link worldviews in SSPs across scales. For instance, policy development based on scenarios with strong individualist worldviews is less likely to succeed in countries with strong egalitarian values (Corner et al. 2014). The contextual aspects can be identified also within the most homogeneous SSP1. For example, the central Asian SSP1 narrative is more focused on a stronger government intervention to drive sustainability compared with the European (and global) SSP1. These differences also indicate that obvious and simple relations across socioeconomic and, consequently, other STEEP variables, identified at the global scale, should be carefully interpreted both in multiscale scenario development and quantitative impact analyses, and that cultural theory can complement STEEP variable interpretation. The analysis also showed that more detailed narratives, such as the Scottish SSPs, are characterized by more realism, which resulted in a more nuanced mix of worldviews for each of the European and central Asian SSP narratives, in contrast to the simple global SSP narratives.

The combination of two archetype approaches, framing archetypes as a typology of cases (the GSG scenario archetypes) and building blocks (the worldviews), demonstrates their complementarity. The narratives and the multiple worldviews in subglobal SSPs show, for example, the nuances within the same archeytpe that would not be captured by matching SSPs only as a typology of cases with a priori archeytpes using STEEP drivers. For instance, our results show that even the most homogenous GT archetype does not consist of only egalitarian worldviews, as in the global SSP1 narratives, but also of hierarchist and individualist worldviews, as in the European and central Asian SSP1 narratives.

Relating scenario archetypes to other archetype analyses in sustainability research

In sustainability research, archetypes have been used for pattern identification, with nuanced meanings and different research practices (Oberlack et al. 2019). Pattern-identifying studies reveal archetypes inductively by using comparative or statistical methods for analyses of empirical data (Oberlack et al. 2016, Sietz et al. 2017, Levers et al. 2018). Archetypes function as diagnostic tools, if well-established knowledge on archetypes is used to diagnose the system of concern or assess hypothesized causal effects in new empirical research (Banson et al. 2016, Mokhtar and Aram 2017). In both functions, archetypes refer to empirically validated, recurrent patterns of the phenomenon of interest (Eisenack et al. 2006).

Scenario archetypes, by contrast, refer to a set of internally consistent scenarios with common narratives and characteristics, often developed with stakeholder engagement in futures research (Hunt et al. 2012). We have identified scenario archetypes as having similar diagnosis and pattern identification functions as archetypes in sustainability research because well-established archetypes guide empirical analysis and can, in turn, serve as diagnostic tools to test understanding of the system. Better interplay of these strands of archetype research could strengthen the knowledge claims embodied in archetypes in at least two ways. First, scenario archetypes could help frame the research questions of interest for empirical and diagnostic sustainability archetype research. Second, empirical archetype analyses could help validate the causal effects or mechanisms assumed in scenario archetypes.


We illustrate that existing scenario archetypes are relevant for assessing scenario narratives developed across multiple scales. Furthermore, it shows that different archetype approaches can be conceptually connected, such as through using scenario archetypes as a typology of cases, which is then further interpreted using worldviews as building blocks. The analysis demonstrates that existing scenario archetypes relate to global SSP narratives sufficiently to conceptualize scenarios as a typology of cases. The analysis of cultural theory with worldviews as archetype building blocks reveals patterns, which strengthen the scenario typology, but also important divergences, which highlight the importance of including contextual knowledge and allowing for variance, such as in the SSP5 narratives. Scenario narratives have been employed to capture complexities at multiple scales and to complement the STEEP approach based on driver trends. These findings can guide future bottom-up adoption and development of global SSP narratives at subglobal scales to better capture different contexts and emerging patterns.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.


The research was financially supported by the IMPRESSIONS project, funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development, and demonstration under Grant Agreement Number 603416. We are very thankful to the IMPRESSIONS colleagues and stakeholders who participated in the codevelopment of the scenario narratives during stakeholder workshops and to two anonymous reviewers for their very constructive comments.


Absar, S. M., and B. L. Preston. 2015. Extending the shared socioeconomic pathways for sub-national impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability studies. Global Environmental Change 33:83-96.

Allen, T. F. H., and T. W. Hoekstra. 1992. Toward a unified ecology. Columbia University Press, New York, New York, USA.

Allen, T. F. H., and T. B. Starr. 1982. Hierarchy perspectives for ecological complexity. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Banson, K. E., N. C. Nguyen, and O. J. H. Bosch. 2016. Using system archetypes to identify drivers and barriers for sustainable agriculture in Africa: a case study in Ghana. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 33:79-99.

Beumer, C., and P. Martens. 2010. Noah’s Ark or World Wild Web? Cultural perspectives in global scenario studies and their function for biodiversity conservation in a changing world. Sustainability 2:3211-3238.

Biggs, R., C. Raudsepp-Hearne, C. Atkinson-Palombo, E. Bohensky, E. Boyd, G. Cundill, H. Fox, S. Ingram, K. Kok, S. Spehar, M. Tengö, D. Timmer, and M. Zurek. 2007. Linking futures across scales: a dialog on multiscale scenarios. Ecology and Society 12(1):17.

Boschetti, F., J. Price, and I. Walker. 2016. Myths of the future and scenario archetypes. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 111:76-85.

Cash, D. W., W. N. Adger, F. Berkes, P. Garden, L. Lebel, P. Olsson, L. Pritchard, and O. Young. 2006. Scale and cross-scale dynamics: governance and information in a multilevel world. Ecology and Society 11(2):8.

Corner, A., E. Markowitz, and N. Pidgeon. 2014. Public engagement with climate change: the role of human values. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 5:411-422.

Douglas, M. 1978. Cultural bias. Royal Anthropological Institute, London, UK.

Ebi, K. L., S. Hallegatte, T. Kram, N. W. Arnell, T. R. Carter, J. Edmonds, E. Kriegler, R. Mathur, B. C. O’Neill, K. Riahi, H. Winkler, D. P. Van Vuuren, and T. Zwickel. 2014. A new scenario framework for climate change research: background, process, and future directions. Climatic Change 122:363-372.

Eisenack, K. 2012. Archetypes of adaptation to climate change. Pages 107-122 in M. Glaser, G. Krause, B. M. W. Ratter, and M. Welp, editors. Human-nature interactions in the Anthropocene: potentials of social-ecological systems analysis. Routledge, New York, New York, USA.

Eisenack, K., M. Lüdeke, and J. Kropp. 2006. Construction of archetypes as a formal method to analyze social-ecological systems. In IDGEC Synthesis Conference of the Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (Bali, Indonesia, 6-9 December 2006). International Human Dimensions Programme of Global Environmental Change, Bonn, Germany. [online] URL:

Gallopín, G. C., S. Funtowicz, M. O’Connor, and J. Ravetz. 2001. Science for the twenty-first century: from social contract to the scientific core. International Social Science Journal 53:219-229.

Gibson, C. C., E. Ostrom, and T. K. Ahn. 2000. The concept of scale and the human dimensions of global change: a survey. Ecological Economics 32:217-239.

Gramberger, M., K. Zellmer, K. Kok, and M. J. Metzger. 2015. Stakeholder integrated research (STIR): a new approach tested in climate change adaptation research. Climatic Change 128:201-214.

Hoekstra, A. Y. 1998. Perspectives on water: an integrated model-based exploration of the future. International Books, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Hoekstra, A. Y. 2000. Appreciation of water: four perspectives. Water Policy 1(6):605-622.

Hunt, D. V. L., D. R. Lombardi, S. Atkinson, A. R. G. Barber, M. Barnes, C. T. Boyko, J. Brown, J. Bryson, D. Butler, S. Caputo, M. Caserio, R. Coles, R. F. D. Cooper, R. Farmani, M. Gaterell, J. Hale, C. Hales, C. N. Hewitt, L. Jankovic, I. Jefferson, J. Leach, A. R. MacKenzie, F. A. Memon, J. P. Sadler, C. Weingaertner, J. D. Whyatt, and C. D. F. Rogers. 2012. Scenario archetypes: converging rather than diverging themes. Sustainability 4:740-772.

IPCC. 2014. Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part A: global and sectoral aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Jones, L., and K. Kok. 2014. Scenarios for use in ROBIN (Deliverable 2.3.1.). NERC (Natural Environment Research Council), Swindon, UK.

Kebede, A. S., R. Dunford, M. Mokrech, E. Audsley, P. A. Harrison, I. P. Holman, R. J. Nicholls, S. Rickebusch, M. D. A. Rounsevell, S. Sabaté, F. Sallaba, A. Sanchez, C. Savin, M. Trnka, and F. Wimmer. 2015. Direct and indirect impacts of climate and socio-economic change in Europe: a sensitivity analysis for key land- and water-based sectors. Climatic Change 128:261-277.

Kebede, A. S., R. J. Nicholls, A. Allan, I. Arto, I. Cazcarro, J. A. Fernandes, C. T. Hill, C. W. Hutton, S. Kay, A. N. Lázár, I. Macadam, M. Palmer, N. Suckall, E. L. Tompkins, K. Vincent, and P. W. Whitehead. 2018. Applying the global RCP–SSP–SPA scenario framework at sub-national scale: a multi-scale and participatory scenario approach. Science of the Total Environment 635:659-672.

Kok, K., R. Biggs, and M. Zurek. 2007. Methods for developing multiscale participatory scenarios: insights from southern Africa and Europe. Ecology and Society 13(1):8.

Kok, K., S. Pedde, M. Gramberger, P. A. Harrison, and I. P. Holman. 2019. New European socio-economic scenarios for climate change research: operationalising concepts to extend the shared socio-economic pathways. Regional Environmental Change 19:643-654.

Kriegler, E., B. C. O’Neill, S. Hallegatte, T. Kram, R. J. Lempert, R. H. Moss, and T. Wilbanks. 2012. The need for and use of socio-economic scenarios for climate change analysis: a new approach based on shared socio-economic pathways. Global Environmental Change 22:807-822.

Levers, C., D. Müller, K. Erb, H. Haberl, M. R. Jepsen, M. J. Metzger, P. Meyfroidt, T. Plieninger, C. Plutzar, J. Stürck, P. H. Verburg, P. J. Verkerk, and T. Kuemmerle. 2018. Archetypical patterns and trajectories of land systems in Europe. Regional Environmental Change 18:715-732.

Merkens, J.-L., L. Reimann, J. Hinkel, and A. T. Vafeidis. 2016. Gridded population projections for the coastal zone under the shared socioeconomic pathways. Global and Planetary Change 145:57-66.

Mokhtar, A., and S. Aram. 2017. Systemic insights into agricultural groundwater management: case of Firuzabad Plain, Iran. Water Policy 19:867-885.

Nilsson, A. E., I. Bay-Larsen, H. Carlsen, B. van Oort, M. Bjørkan, K. Jylhä, E. Klyuchnikova, V. Masloboev, and L.-M. van der Watt. 2017. Towards extended shared socioeconomic pathways: a combined participatory bottom-up and top-down methodology with results from the Barents region. Global Environmental Change 45:124-132.

Oberlack, C., D. Sietz, E. Bürgi Bonanomi, A. De Brémond, J. Dell’Angelo, K. Eisenack, E. C. Ellis, G. Epstein, M. Giger, A. Heinimann, C. Kimmich, M. T. J. Kok, D. Manuel-Navarrete, P. Messerli, P. Meyfroidt, T. Václavík, and S. Villamayor-Tomas. 2019. Archetype analysis in sustainability research: meanings, motivations, and evidence-based policy making. Ecology and Society 24(2):26.

Oberlack, C., L. Tejada, P. Messerli, S. Rist, and M. Giger. 2016. Sustainable livelihoods in the global land rush? Archetypes of livelihood vulnerability and sustainability potentials. Global Environmental Change 41:153-171.

O’Neill, B. C., E. Kriegler, K. L. Ebi, E. Kemp-Benedict, K. Riahi, D. S. Rothman, B. J. van Ruijven, D. P. van Vuuren, J. Birkmann, K. Kok, M. Levy, and W. Solecki. 2017. The roads ahead: narratives for shared socioeconomic pathways describing world futures in the 21st century. Global Environmental Change 42:169-180.

O’Neill, B. C., E. Kriegler, K. Riahi, K. L. Ebi, S. Hallegatte, T. R. Carter, R. Mathur, and D. P. van Vuuren. 2014. A new scenario framework for climate change research: the concept of shared socioeconomic pathways. Climatic Change 122:387-400.

Pahl-Wostl, C., D. Tàbara, R. Bouwen, M. Craps, A. Dewulf, E. Mostert, D. Ridder, and T. Taillieu. 2008. The importance of social learning and culture for sustainable water management. Ecological Economics 64:484-495.

Pereira, L. M., T. Hichert, M. Hamann, R. Preiser, and R. Biggs. 2018. Using futures methods to create transformative spaces: visions of a good Anthropocene in southern Africa. Ecology and Society 23(1):19.

Price, J. C., I. A. Walker, and F. Boschetti. 2014. Measuring cultural values and beliefs about environment to identify their role in climate change responses. Journal of Environmental Psychology 37:8-20.

Raskin, P. 2005. Global scenarios in historical perspective. Pages 35-44 in Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, editor. Ecosystems and human well-being: scenarios. Island, Washington, D.C., USA.

Rasmussen, L. B. 2005. The narrative aspect of scenario building - how story telling may give people a memory of the future. AI & SOCIETY 19:229-249.

Rohat, G., J. Flacke, A. Dosio, S. Pedde, H. Dao, and M. van Maarseveen. 2019. Influence of changes in socioeconomic and climatic conditions on future heat-related health challenges in Europe. Global and Planetary Change 172:45-59.

Sietz, D., J. Ordoñez, M. T. J. Kok, P. Janssen, H. B. M. Hilderink, P. Tittonell, and H. Van Dijk. 2017. Nested archetypes of vulnerability in African drylands: where lies potential for sustainable agricultural intensification? Environmental Research Letters 12:095006.

Thompson, M., R. Ellis, and A. Wildavsky. 1990. Cultural theory. Westview, Boulder, Colorado, USA.

van Asselt, M. B. A., and J. Rotmans. 2002. Uncertainty in integrated assessment modelling. Climatic Change 54(1):75-105.

van Ruijven, B. J., M. A. Levy, A. Agrawal, F. Biermann, J. Birkmann, T. R. Carter, K. L. Ebi, M. Garschagen, B. Jones, R. Jones, E. Kemp-Benedict, M. Kok, K. Kok, M. C. Lemos, P. L. Lucas, B. Orlove, S. Pachauri, T. M. Parris, A. Patwardhan, A. Petersen, B. L. Preston, J. Ribot, D. S. Rothman, and V. J. Schweizer. 2014. Enhancing the relevance of shared socioeconomic pathways for climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability research. Climatic Change 122:481-494.

van Vuuren, D. P., M. T. J. Kok, B. Girod, P. L. Lucas, and B. de Vries. 2012. Scenarios in global environmental assessments: key characteristics and lessons for future use. Global Environmental Change 22:884-895.

Vervoort, J. M., L. Rutting, K. Kok, F. L. P. Hermans, T. Veldkamp, A. K. Bregt, and R. van Lammeren. 2012. Exploring dimensions, scales, and cross-scale dynamics from the perspectives of change agents in social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 17(4):24.

Wardropper, C. B., S. Gillon, A. S. Mase, E. A. McKinney, S. R. Carpenter, and A. R. Rissman. 2016. Local perspectives and global archetypes in scenario development. Ecology and Society 21(2):12.

Wildavsky, A. 2018. Cultural analysis. Volume 1, politics, public law, and administration. Routledge, New York, New York, USA.

Zurek, M. B., and T. Henrichs. 2007. Linking scenarios across geographical scales in international environmental assessments. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 74:1282-1295.

Address of Correspondent:
Simona Pedde
PO Box 47
6700 AA Wageningen
The Netherlands
Jump to top
Table1  | Figure1  | Figure2  | Appendix1