Before embarking on the development of rural areas or regions it seems necessary to answer the following key questions: what goals of the parties involved can be realized, and where, when and how? To tackle these questions we have developed a 'roadmap', as part of an overall sustainable development procedure for physical planning and spatial management in rural areas. The roadmap is a tool for the process manager and the people involved. It helps to find the way in the exploration of the potential social, economic and ecological benefits of developing the area or region. The purpose of using the roadmap is to alleviate doubts about the advantages of cooperating in pursuit of sustainable development. A back-casting approach is applied to create appealing visions of the future and visualize Mutual opportunities worth implementing. In this article we first describe the need for this new roadmap. We then describe its use, step by step and in some detail. An example of the exploration process is described and the strengths and weaknesses or the roadmap are discussed. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.