Emphasis on rural development by the European Commission has renewed the need for tools that can help in determining local development options. Incentives that encourage multifunctionality would be aided by ascertaining the strengths and weaknesses of a region. This article provides a methodological framework for identifying local development capital using scenario storylines, maps and visualisations of possible development outcomes to prompt discussion with local stakeholders about regional potentials. Result from a case study in Northern Portugal show that these tools are particularly suited to gaining a richer understanding of development assets and constraints and for providing insight in the role of spatial variation within regions, which is rarely addressed in scenario studies. The spatial heterogeneity of human, policy and environmental factors are shown to determine where different types of rural development are possible. We conclude that these tools can be used by local government agencies and land managers to develop policy interventions that consider local human capacities, willingness and environmental considerations. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.