RLI 278 8
March 2012 research Library issues: a QuarterLy report froM arL, cNi, aNd sparc
Scenario Planning:
Developing a Strategic Agenda for Organizational Alignment
Deborah Ludwig, Assistant Dean for Collections & Scholar Services, University of Kansas Libraries
Jennifer Church-Duran, Assistant Dean for User Services, University of Kansas Libraries
The university provost role is without peer in the corporate world or any other sector
for that matter…[the] challenge is finding the right levers for getting the academic and
research enterprise to respond quickly to an emerging set of challenges—rising demands
on undergraduate education, declining research funding, the challenges of globalization,
and a chorus of outside voices demanding that universities demonstrate their value to
students, their communities, and the nation as a whole.1
apid change and university administration go hand in hand. Universities are challenged by
forces of economic and social change within the context of an increasingly global learning
and working environment. Research universities compete for shrinking federal funding for
research, for increased funding from corporations, for top graduate students, and for ways to advance
interdisciplinary efforts and multiply knowledge across institutions and sometimes across continents.
Residing within the broader context of higher education and the specific environment of their larger
institutions, research libraries serve as vital players in this ever-changing landscape. As universities
are called upon to demonstrate value, service, and innovation, research libraries must seize any and all
opportunities to align with the university’s strategic agenda. In order to plan effectively, library leadership
must be able to navigate the complex and uncertain environments in higher education. “Confronting
uncertainty in a rapidly changing environment is essential if research libraries are to continue to
be valued and valuable contributors to the advancement of new research and the creation of new
To address this critical uncertainty, and to support member libraries in planning for change, the
Association of Research Libraries (ARL) launched its scenario-planning project, Envisioning Research
Library Futures: A Scenario Thinking Project, in the early spring of 2010. The project began with a
scenario building retreat designed to create a resource for member libraries to use for enrichment in
strategic planning. ARL concluded that the project should expand beyond scenario development and also
include a selection of activities to assist members in learning about scenario planning and how best to use
the process to support their own organizational goals. In October 2010, ARL unveiled a user’s guide as a
central blueprint for the application of scenario planning.
In choosing scenario planning, ARL embraced a strategic process with a substantial history and
an expanding future. Used by the US military in World War II and further pioneered by the Shell
Corporation in the early 1970s,3 scenario planning continues to gain momentum with higher education
institutions, nonprofit groups, and research organizations. The International Council for Science (ICSU),
a non-governmental and global group of national scientific bodies representing 40 countries, has recently
developed a set of “foresight scenarios” based on what they believe are the primary drivers with major
influence for science in coming decades for the purpose of helping member institutions explore their roles
in international science.4
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