March 2012 research Library issues: a QuarterLy report froM arL, cNi, aNd sparc
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BRinging ScenARio PLAnning Home To KU
Skillful facilitation and preparation helped bridge this gap and advanced the viability of the scenarios.
At KU, we worked to build a foundation of understanding by pre-assigning staff to a specific scenario
and working group and requesting that participants undertake advanced and in-depth study of the
narratives. However, the most effective preparation for staff was a pre-workshop assignment to research
and uncover early indicators that lent plausibility to each scenario. Staff explored the current literature
and carried out a brief climate study, gathering evidence of future scenario characteristics already at
play in today’s environment. This early-indicator work brought in the driving forces and current trends
that originally shaped the scenarios, generating stronger “buy-in” and closing the credibility gap. It also
demonstrated the interrelated dynamics woven through the scenario set, as some indicators apply across
The KU workshops were launched by sharing the early-indicator research. The resulting
conversations continued to reinforce the viability of the scenarios as planning tools. This transitioned to a
“deep-dive” activity: small group exploration and analysis of the assigned scenario. The resulting analysis
proved quite successful in brainstorming and developing strategies that would work well within that one
possible future represented by the assigned scenario.
The last, crucial step was the more challenging: the transition from small-group, deep-dive analysis of
a single scenario to the use of the scenarios as a comprehensive set. The purpose of this final stage was to
identify actions that could work across all possible futures and strategically place KU Libraries in a highly
flexible, adaptable position when change occurs. The outcome is a strategic agenda robust enough to align
present action to a broad range of future challenges and opportunities.
As the ARL 2030 Scenarios User’s Guide notes, a successful agenda is shaped by these key
• Robust—works across a divergent and challenging set of scenarios.
• Distinctive and Advantaged—leverages the distinctive competencies of the organization toward
achieving an advantaged position in the external research environment.
• Inspiring—delights the end-use customer and inspires the staff.
• Focused—requires strategic choices of things to do and things not to do, assessed against a realistic
understanding of capabilities and resources.2
In the KU workshops, both the participants and the facilitators struggled with the development of a
robust strategy. During the deep-dive process, each working group developed a rich array of possibilities
to position the libraries for the potential that existed within the assigned future. This process, while
incredibly valuable, tended to lock participants into thinking centered primarily on one scenario. Moving
into the creation of a robust agenda required searching for points of overlap and mutual benefit that
support all potential futures.
Stretching the conversation to a broader view of interlinked futures demanded substantial intellectual
work. During the phase of “Identifying Robust Strategic Options,” the participants in both workshops
experienced confusion and uncertainty on what was being asked of them and the intended final
outcomes of this stage. This frustration was increased by how differently the groups organized their
content from the earlier deep-dive analysis. There was significant variance in the level of detail each