RLI 278 12
March 2012 research Library issues: a QuarterLy report froM arL, cNi, aNd sparc
Bringing Scenario Planning Home to KU
Jennifer Church-Duran, Assistant Dean for User Services, University of Kansas Libraries
Deborah Ludwig, Assistant Dean for of Collections & Scholar Services, University of Kansas Libraries
E
nergized by the immersive learning process at the ARL scenario-planning workshop in March
2011, the University of Kansas (KU) Libraries decided to introduce scenario planning to library
staff later that spring, to support development of a new strategic plan. From the onset, using
scenario planning as an effective strategic tool required comprehensive preparation. The ARL 2030
Scenarios User’s Guide1 and related materials served as a valuable template, but the process necessitated
adaptation for our organizational climate. Joined by a team of energized staff with organizational
development and leadership interests, we prepared and conducted two workshops aimed at broad staff
participation. We reaped many benefits from the process, gaining valuable insights into the purpose and
practice of scenario planning. We also met with a few unexpected challenges.
Process
To kick off the project, we hosted several 90-minute brown-bag orientations for all interested library
faculty and staff. For most staff, scenario planning represented an entirely new model for strategic
thinking. As a result, the sessions offered a much-needed conceptual overview and the opportunity to
learn more, before committing to the extensive planning workshops that followed. We were delighted at
the turnout for these preliminary meetings and quickly capitalized on staff interest by offering two full
workshops, one held in May and another in July, with 43 participants total.
Time was a key factor in rolling out these workshops. To balance our operational responsibilities
with the opportunity for this strategic exploration, we modified the ARL proposed agenda of two
full days. Instead, we developed a half-day/full-day/half-day schedule. This adaptation proved to be
doubly beneficial, generating increased flexibility for attendance, while giving participants a chance to
decompress overnight and return to the process refreshed the next morning.
The conversation generated during the preliminary brown-bag sessions helped set the stage for
more detailed planning. The questions raised by staff illustrated both the advantages and challenges of
implementing a set of scenarios that were constructed without direct engagement by local participants.
The benefits were simple but substantial. In developing these narratives at the national level, ARL
effectively streamlined the workflow and greatly reduced the time commitment needed for local
implementation. Additionally, the resulting scenarios contained unique insights drawn from expertise
across the profession and throughout higher education.
However, there were also challenges created by disconnecting scenario building from scenario
planning. Constructing scenarios requires substantial intellectual engagement and a thorough analysis
of trends and driving forces. It starts to frame the “outside-in” thinking at the core of scenario planning
which, in turn, fosters a sense of ownership for the narratives when used in the later development of
scenario strategies. In the absence of this foundational intellectual investment, KU Libraries’ participants
were responding to the product of someone else’s thinking. This created a larger credibility gap—an
increased questioning of the validity of the futures described and less initial conviction in responding to
the scenarios.