Future Freight Flows
The future rarely moves in predictable, incremental ways. Often seemingly small changes in technology, demographics, regulations, economics, or a myriad of other factors have dramatic and unintended impacts on how companies source, manufacture, distribute and operate in general. These non-linear impacts are very difficult to predict using traditional forecasting methods and techniques since they, by definition, do not follow any historical patterns.
While any attempt at forecasting in this environment is difficult, planning for freight transportation infrastructure investments is especially hard. Infrastructure projects of any magnitude typically take decades to go from inception to actual use. Planners must satisfy and accommodate a wide variety of diverse and vocal constituents – most of which do not want development in their location but want the benefits of better infrastructure. Because freight moves in corridors from production to consumption, the infrastructure projects also usually involve multiple modes and cross numerous jurisdictions. Finally, and most importantly, as a derived demand, freight patterns (and the resulting infrastructure) are subject to numerous exogenous and uncontrollable factors ranging from fuel costs to trade agreements to consumer whims.
The Future Freight Flows (FFF) initiative was launched as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 20-83(01). Its objective is to provide the planners and decision-makers at the federal, state, regional, and local levels with a better method of strategic planning for freight infrastructure investments. The primary deliverable from this project is a self-contained Scenario Planning Toolkit that is available here. The toolkit contains guidebooks and collateral for running a scenario planning engagement to include Powerpoint presentations, detailed future brochures, and custom videos.
How does it work?
The Future Freight Flows initiative is primarily concerned with improving the way in which any organization makes long term investments and strategic plans. It is not an “official version” of the future. Instead, it provides a set of customized tools and procedures that can be adopted and immediately implemented by the various decision-makers across the stakeholders. The primary methodology used is called Scenario Planning. Scenario Planning is a technique that overcomes the challenges associated with the long-term planning of complex projects that involve a large number of diverse stakeholders. Rather than trying to predict “the” state of the world thirty or more years in the future, Scenario Planning allows one to prepare for a range of plausible futures. This plays to the strengths of the planners and allows for comparison of strategies and investments across a variety of possible outcomes.
- Phadnis, S., Sheffi, Y., Caplice, C., & Singh, M. (2017) “Strategic Cognition of Operations Executives,” Production and Operations Management, Vol 26. No.12, pp 2323-2337.
- Phadnis, S.; Caplice, C.; Sheffi, Y. (2016) “How Scenario Planning Influences Strategic Decisions,” MIT Sloan Management Review; Cambridge Vol. 57, Iss. 4, (Summer): p. 24-27
- Phadnis, S., Caplice, C., Sheffi, Y., & Singh, M. (2015) “Effects of scenario planning on field experts’ judgment of long-range investment decisions” Strategic Management Journal, Vol 36, No. 9, pp. 1401-1411.
- Phadnis, S., Caplice, C., Singh, M., & Sheffi, Y. (2014) “Axiomatic foundation and a structured process for developing firm-specific Intuitive Logics scenarios”, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, vol. 88, pp. 122–139.
- Caplice, C. & Phadnis, S. (2013) “Driving forces influencing future freight flows”, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies.
- Sánchez-Valero, Miguel Ángel (2011) Merging qualitative and quantitative criteria for freight investment using scenario planning. MIT Thesis.
Dr. Chris Caplice
Dr. Shardul Phadnis
Associate Professor and Director of Research
Malaysia Institute for Supply Chain Innovation (MISI)
Dr. Roberto Perez-Franco
Senior Research Fellow
Center for Supply Chain and Logistics at Deakin University
Dr. Mahender Singh