Making the leap into California’s future — and the unknown

An illustration of the unknown road ahead. (Image: Pro-Studio, via Shutterstock)

California faces many challenges now. One is the climate emergency. Another is economic recovery. Add COVID-19 positivity. That is a partial list. You get the picture. Why imagine scenarios for the Golden State over the next decade or century?

We turn to Marina Gorbis. She helms the Institute for the Future (IFTF), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group in Silicon Valley. The IFTF partnered with California 100, an initiative launched jointly with the University of California and Stanford, to release “Mega Scenarios: A Toolkit for the Future of California” recently.

Each of the Mega Scenario’s 13 reports contain four future scenarios that the Golden State might face.

Mega Scenarios is not a set of future predictions, according to Gorbis. “The future is not preordained,” she told Capitol Weekly. Instead, Mega Scenarios is a guide for policymakers, thought leaders, and decision-makers to explore urgent potential opportunities and risks for all residents of the Golden State.

Karthick Ramakrishnan is a professor of public policy at the University of California, Riverside. He is also the executive director for California 100.

“Our toolkit comes at the end of 13 reports that we have produced in collaboration with research centers throughout California,” he told Capitol Weekly. “Henry E. Brady, who is the former dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, is our director of research. His team helped to coordinate those reports.

“Each of the reports takes a different topic to think about past trends and then project them into the future in terms of what California might face. For example, we have reports on housing and transportation, energy and the environment in California. The reports take a step back to think about scenarios that cut across these issues.”

A younger generation is taking a leadership role here. Half of the commissioners are age 35 or younger.

Marina Gorbis of Institute for the Future

Look back, for instance, at the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, weak preparation worsened this public health crisis in 2020. How? A demand for personal protective equipment (notably in health care) outstripped the supply. Why? In part, an industry practice of just-in-time inventory management drove shortages of masks and test kits. That history, potentially, could inform preparing for future public health crises in California.

Each of the Mega Scenario’s 13 reports contain four future scenarios that the Golden State might face. “We are in the early stages of using them for virtual listening sessions,” Ramakrishnan told Capitol Weekly. “Our commissioners will be using them with stakeholders across the state.” The latter will be from government agencies, industry, advocacy, philanthropy and applied research centers statewide.

“We want the stakeholders to think about their ideal solutions for the future of California,” according to Ramakrishnan. “And then to go through each of the scenarios and figure out how they might modify their solutions on any issue for, say, housing and transportation. That is a way to figure out what are the ideas that could work well or prove very challenging in most of the scenarios.”

There is a 26-member commission, two for each of the 13 reports. A younger generation is taking a leadership role here. Half of the commissioners are age 35 or younger. They are the state’s next generation of leaders, according to Ramakrishnan.

Studying the future is not an academic discipline, according to Gorbis. The IFTF launched in 1968, a year of tumult in and out of the U.S. The postwar economy of shared prosperity was ending. The Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements were strong. Two years later, author Alvin Toffler published Future Shock. His popular book, which millions of people have read, focuses on the mental state of individuals and society as changes accelerate.

Does that sound familiar? Think of the changes to daily life in 2022. Consider coronavirus variants and vaccines. Is it hyperbole to describe them and others such as drought and wildfires in California as momentous in quality and quantity? The uncertainty about where things are going for the Golden State is intense. That intensity defies one-dimensional thinking that fails to or partially sees such situations as drought and wildfires isolated from housing and transportation.

“If you want to think about the future of the state,” according to Gorbis, “thinking about combining areas, e.g., the climate emergency and economy, we developed mega scenarios, looking across different domains, to discover the potential possibilities for California.”

Mega Scenario listening sessions will occur throughout this summer and early fall. After generating insights from the listening sessions, the next step is to do a deliberative democracy exercise in early 2023, according to Ramakrishnan. “That will be an opportunity for us to take all these ideas about California’s future and share them with a sample of everyday state residents,” he told Capitol Weekly. “We want to see how they react to the different scenarios and ideas about them regarding what is more or less desirable. What tradeoffs should we be thinking about to make for a stronger California?”

For more information about “Mega Scenarios: A Toolkit for the Future of California,” email

Editor’s Note:  Seth Sandronsky reports regularly for Capitol Weekly. Contact him at


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