Navigating the Future with Scenario Planning: A Guidebook for Librarians, edited by Joan Giesecke, Jon E. Cawthorne, Deb Pearson

I’m in the first cohort of the new Next Level Library Leadership Institute (NLLLI), which is a statewide leadership program that builds on the also fantastic Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute (SSLLI). The program follows a graduate course sort of format (more on the format/operations), and just places us all in position to have great conversations and learnings with the cohort, NLLLI team, and our coaches. In one of the sessions with Linda Bruno (fantastic Institute Facilitator), I shared on some of my bigger picture/longer term needs, and she shared about scenario planning in libraries. I love learning new-to-me processes that position our larger groups to think and work together, so I read Navigating the Future with Scenario Planning: A Guidebook for Librarians, by Joan Giesecke, Jon E. Cawthorne, Deb Pearson (2015). This is an excellent resource for folks considering scenario planning. Below are a few notes:

“Introduction” by Joan Giesecke and Jon E. Cawthorne, 1-10:

2: “In scenario-driven planning, leaders work together to develop plausible scenarios, or stories about possible futures. Using these stories, organizations can then design strategies that will help move the organization forward.[…] It is a disciplined planning metholodlogy for imagining multiple possible futures in which organizational decision making can be played out.” Other ways of imagining possible futures, including probable and preferable, “Scenario planning, on the other hand, includes identifying multiple futures or scenarios to encourage decision makes to look for discontinuities in today’s events and to speculate about possible changes in the environment that could have an impact on the organization.”

3-4: covers Thomas Chermack’s theory of scenario planning, with “six domains thata re the building blocks of scenario planning […] 1. Dialogue, conversation quality, and engagement […] 2. Learning […] 3. Mental models […] In scenario planning, group and individual learning takes place when often long-held assumptions or mental models are questioned. […] 4. Decision making […] 5. Leadership […] 6. Organizational performance and change.”

5: difference with strategic planning which “assumes that the future is an extension of past trends.[…] assumes a level of certainty in the environment to guide the planning.” Note: while I disagree with this for tech-fields done by folks who know the fields and assume lots of change, I think this is likely to be generally true (and even true in tech, depending on the people involved). I think this is a good reason to think in two sets of terms: one for planning that is more continguous and planning for higher levels of volatility.

7: importantly covers the difference betwen scenario planning and using scenarios in planning.

The rest of the book is very useful (and very handbook, so recommend that folks use the books with minor notes not as useful), covering process, examples, and considerations for leading change using scenario planning. I’m now not finding the exact page, but the book explains scenario planning as best for longer-term needs (think 5 years or more). My world is digital, so many projects age faster than dog years, so my rapid change, high volatility comes in easily within a single year (depending on area/need), and so this excellent book is best framed as complemented by technologist perspectives on scenario planning (that see a year as long term). I’m looking forward to thinking and working more on this, especially as I work on scenario planning for 100% remote and/or hybrid teams: what are the considerations for shorter and longer term, how do we support the work, and how do we best support workers (establishing and communicating on boundaries, etc.).

I’m really grateful to the NLLLI for affording me time and collaborators to reflect on planning processes and leading change!