Scientists & Staff

Dave Bengston

David N. Bengston

Research Forester
1992 Folwell Ave
St. Paul, MN, 55108
Phone: 651-649-5162

Contact David N. Bengston


Current Research

My current research is in the transdisciplinary field of Futures Research (also called Strategic Foresight or simply Futures). Futures Research uses a wide range of methods and techniques to explore possible, plausible, and preferable futures. The goal is to develop foresight — insight into how and why the future could be different than today — to improve policy, planning, and decision making. Examples of Futures Research methods and my projects include:

Scenario Planning
is the most widely known and used Futures Research method. Scenarios are stories that describe a range of plausible futures, connect the present to the future using cause and effect links, and illustrate key events, decisions, and consequences in the narrative. Scenarios are not predictions. Rather, they are intended to portray an array of plausible futures to help decision-makers prepare for change in the face of fundamental uncertainty by building adaptive capacity and resilience. I have developed scenarios with research collaborators for North American forest management, wildland fire management, and wood-based nanomaterials futures.

Horizon Scanning
is a set of techniques for identifying, collecting, and exploring the meaning of emerging issues, trends, and other signals of change that may be relevant for an organization or an area of interest. The goal is to find indicators of change and create an early warning system to detect potential future opportunities and threats. The Forest Futures Horizon Scanning Project is an ongoing collaborative effort by the Strategic Foresight Group and the Foresight Graduate Program at the University of Houston to identify emerging signals of change relevant for forestry decision makers.

The Futures Wheel
is a structured brainstorming process that uncovers possible direct and indirect, positive and negative consequences of any type of change, such as the emerging signals of change identified through horizon scanning. Planners, managers and policy makers can use the results to help proactively consider longer-term and surprising effects of change to better prepare for it. I have facilitated many futures wheel exercises with diverse stakeholders, including explorations of the possible future impacts of abrupt climate change and the lack of age-class diversity in US Northern forests.

Serious Games
have been used in diverse fields for many purposes in recent years, including engaging communities, informing planning, educating participants, and solving real-world problems. An important rationale for the use of gaming methods in Futures Research is that active learning methods are often most effective, and gaming approaches have been found to be effective ways to get participants to "pre-experience" alternative futures and gain understanding about preferred futures. Strategic Foresight Group scientists created the foresight game "IMPACT: Forestry Edition" to help players see the intricate, intertwined impacts of change across society on forests and the goods and services they provide.

Why This Research is Important

Futures Research can provide a number of important contributions to planning, management, and policy in forestry, including:

Creating a longer-term perspective: The temporal scales considered in futures research are beyond the range usually used in planning and decision making. This longer-term perspective may help identify issues of concern as well as opportunities that could be overlooked in the prevailing shorter-term view.

Exploring key uncertainties and potential surprises:
Futures Research can help identify fundamental uncertainties and potential surprises, especially those arising from other domains that could affect forest management, thereby facilitating the development of policies to increase adaptive capacity to deal with surprises.

Decreasing reaction time to rapid change: Insights about possible and plausible futures can help decrease reaction time as events rapidly unfold. Decision makers can explore possible responses in advance and react swiftly to change as it occurs. A classic business example is Royal Dutch Shell's use of scenario planning and its subsequent quick response to the 1973-1974 OPEC oil embargo and price shock.

Anticipating unintended consequences: The methods of Futures Research can help identify potential unintended consequences of new technologies, proposed policies, and social and cultural trends. A better understanding of potential consequences of change can help in the design of strategies that will minimize negative consequences and enhance resilience.

Encouraging thinking big: Futures Research promotes thinking big in terms of multiple disciplinary perspectives, creative problem-solving, and a systems perspective, and can help all stakeholders take a broader and more creative view.

Shaping a preferred future: A preferred future or vision is a compelling statement of the future that a group or organization wants to create based on shared deep values and purpose. A clear, shared understanding of the preferred future enhances options and possibilities in the present.

Professional Organizations

  • North American Forestry Commission (2014 - Current)
  • International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) (2005 - 2010)

Awards & Recognition

  • Engaging Urban America Award, Northern Research Station, 2011 Research to develop culturally appropriate approaches to conservation education with non-Forest Service partners Michele Schermann, Foung Heu, May Lee-Yang, and MaiKia Moua.
  • Multicultural Achievement Award, Northern Research Station, 2011 Recognized for efforts in educating and connecting ethnic minority communities with nature and nature based activities.
  • Chief's Honor Award, USDA Forest Service, 2009 Recognized for research with the Hmong American community, "Listening to Neglected Voices: Hmong Americans and Public Lands in Minnesota and Wisconsin."
  • Excellence in Science and Technology Award, Northern Research Station, 2009 Development of methods to monitor the social environment for forestry planning, management, and policy.

Publications & Products

Research Datasets

  • Olson, Robert L.; Bengston, David N.; DeVaney, Leif A.; Thompson, Trevor A.C. 2014. Online discussions from a foresight panel: Wildland fire management futures. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive. https://doi.org/10.2737/RDS-2016-0017.
  • Potts, Robert S.; Gustafson, Eric J.; Stewart, Susan I.; Thompson, Frank R.; Bergen, Kathleen; Brown, Daniel G.; Hammer, Roger; Radeloff, Volker; Bengston, David; Sauer, John; Sturtevant, Brian. 2005. The changing Midwest assessment: data and shapefiles. St. Paul, MN: USDA Forest Service, North Central Research Station. https://doi.org/10.2737/RDS-2005-0003.

National Research Highlights

Children’s connections to nature prove to be lasting

Year: 2017

Childhood nature experiences have lifelong positive effects. Children’s voluntary engagement with nature, as opposed to exposure through schools and other organized programs, can result in benefits such as improved test scores, self-discipline, and reduced behavioral problems. This study examined different mechanisms through which children and youth are exposed to nature and the extent to which different exposure mechanisms are associated with such long-term benefits.

Nanocellulose facility at the Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisc. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Alternative Futures for Wood-based Nanomaterials

Year: 2016

Forest products researchers are exploring the potential of nano-products from wood. Possible uses of these renewable products could include high-end compostable electronics, paint-on solar panels, strong and lightweight materials for airplanes and cars, and hundreds of other uses. This research explored the possible transformative implications of wood-based nanomaterials on forestry, forest products, and society.

Contemplating the future of forests, Illinois, USA. International Society of Arboriculture

Scientists Examine the Future of Forests in the Anthropocene

Year: 2014

Forest Service researchers analyzed the major issues and factors affecting forests in the decades ahead: deforestation, mega-fires, urban forests and growing urban populations, the end of wilderness, and water. Potential "game changers" for forest ecosystems include bioenergy and wood-based nanomaterials, synthetic biology, and runaway climate change. Developing the necessary foresight and tackling these issues now is needed to pass on the legacy of a healthy natural world.

Environmental Futures Word Cloud. David Bengston, USDA Forest Service

Environmental Futures Research: Experiences, Approaches, and Opportunities

Year: 2013

A Forest Service scientist organized a conference session that explored the trans-disciplinary field of futures research and its application to long-range environmental analysis, planning, and policy. He discussed how futures research can offer perspectives and methods that help researchers, decision-makers, and other stakeholders explore alternative futures and gain environmental foresight. Futures research holds great potential for developing the forward thinking needed to meet environmental challenges of the 21st century.

Face of DVD titled The Wildlife and Wilderness Exploration Show. Forest Service

Culturally Appropriate Conservation Education for the Hmong American Community

Year: 2011

Forest Service researchers produced a conservation education DVD in partnership with the Hmong community titled The Wildlife and Wilderness Exploration Show. The DVD puts a modern twist on traditional Hmong storytelling, delivering key messages in entertaining and educational segments covering a wide range of topics. The educational messages were identified through interviews with Hmong natural resource professionals across the US.

Last modified: Thursday, March 05, 2020