Background

The Vice-Chancellor's desire to use futures approaches in this university's strategic planning resulted in the development of a scenario planning project, which aimed to provide the context for the review of its top level strategic directions statement. An earlier limited scenarios project had demonstrated the value of scenarios for the university, and a second, more formal project project was subsequently accepted.

Process

This project was managed by the university's planning office, which had been charged with 'doing foresight'. The relative 'newness' of futures approaches was the key factor in deciding to hire an external futurist to facilitate the scenario planning project. The project ran for six months and included the following stages:

  • internal interviews with a range of senior managers to develop an issues agenda,
  • a strong environmental scanning process which saw a detailed database of scanning 'hits' developed,
  • two workshops with senior managers to
  • a number of open workshops with university staff, and
  • a communication strategy to publicise the scenario project outcomes to the university community.

Outcomes

The final report of the consultants was a stand-alone document that detailed the process followed, the environmental scanning 'hits', the thinking around the development of the scenarios, and the scenario narratives. Several presentations were made to university committees on the project outcomes, after which it was decided to further develop the range of strategic options available to the university to increase the usefulness of the outcomes. The movie titles used to 'name' these strategic options were well received, although it was less clear whether the implications of each option were equally well understood.

The environmental scan - trends and drivers of change - was published as a separate document for use by individual units in their strategic planning workshops. This publication proved popular, and was readily accepted by staff and units within the university as valid - probably because it was presented in terms that were understood and known.  A self-directed workbook was also produced so that units who were interested in using the scenarios to trigger discussions about longer term planning were able to do so.

The project had a number of significant outcomes, including providing a shared and agreed image of how the work of this dual sector university could be understood, and a re-affirmation of the major elements of existing university strategy. The original purpose of the scenario project - to provide the context for the review of the university's top level strategic directions statement - did not, however, eventuate. In hindsight, it is possible to attribute this outcome largely to the impact of organisational politics and personalities, and ultimately to the arrival of a new Vice-Chancellor, who did not see the value in futures processes for strategy development.