Transform the Future with Scenario Planning

Monarch ButterflyExecutives and Directors of non-profit organizations are being squeezed by increasingly complex challenges in the work environment and flat or decreasing resources with which to address those challenges. And there is tremendous pressure, especially on charities, to keep pushing expenditures ever lower. But continuing to do the same activities with fewer resources and then expecting acceptable outcomes is unsustainable even in the short term. In our current environment of accelerating change, smart non-profit leaders are looking for new tools and processes to transform their organizations and move forward with their missions.

Scenario planning is an excellent and, in the non-profit sector, underutilized process that can be used to bring profoundly positive organizational change -especially in uncertain environments. Scenarios are, “stories that can help us recognise and adapt to changing aspects of our present environment. They form a method for articulating the different pathways that might exist for you tomorrow, and finding your appropriate movements down each of those possible paths. “[i]

Taking scenario planning a step beyond merely understanding and “adapting” to possible futures, “transformative” scenario planning works to influence a situation or organization to bring about a desired future.

Transformative scenario planning follows five steps – convening a working group from across the whole organization; observing what is happening in the organization and environment; constructing stories about what could happen in the future; discovering what can and must be done to achieve the desirable future; and acting to transform the situation or organization. [ii]

Convening a working group from across the organization ensures a cross-fertilization of knowledge and perspectives is brought to the scenarios. It also allows the individuals to deepen their understanding of each other’s points-of-view, develops the trust and empathy necessary for collaboration and paves the way for shared intention to make change happen.

Close observation of the situation, environment, or system is a key step in the process and necessary for the construction of relevant and meaningful scenarios. Typically, participants create multiple stories as they explore the extremes of least and most desirable, and least and most probable, scenarios. A few of the most likely and desirable scenarios are selected for further study until participants agree on what must be done to bring about the desired future.

The non-profit and charitable sector is charged with transforming the lives of individuals, communities, and nations. In order to do this, non-profit leaders must also be willing to change their organizations. Transformative scenario planning works by creating positive change in organizations from the inside out to transform the future. And, isn’t that what non-profit missions are about?

[i] Peter Schwartz’s “The Art of the Long View”

[ii] Adam Kahane “Transformative Scenario Planning”

(Originally published for The Osborne Group’s Insights Blog )

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