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“We want desperately to take the uncertainty out of the future. But when we take the uncertainty out, it is no longer the future. It is the present projected forward.”

Peter Block from
Community: The Structure of Belonging

By Abby Straus

We are living in exciting and challenging times. Until recently, strategic planning during a global pandemic would have been unthinkable; yet here we are making the best of it as people on a mission to create a bright future for libraries and their communities. As well as COVID 19, we are experiencing unprecedented rates of technological and social change, some of which—like a new awareness of systemic racism—are rocking the very foundations of American society. We are fortunate to stand on the shoulders of academics and practitioners who have studied this brand of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (known as “VUCA”) and who have developed frameworks that help us navigate such unfamiliar and changing terrain.

One thing we know for sure: In light of accelerating rate of change, we can no longer create static plans where we invest large amounts of energy up front and then simply implement. Rather, we must work from first principles that we know will stand the test of time, and then build strategies and action plans, revisiting them frequently, and testing them for relevance and feasibility. We must establish dynamic control by using a probe-sense-respond methodology, where we try new things, feed what works and remove resources from what does not. We must be adaptable in our thinking as well as our action and be willing to pivot when the situation demands.

That having been said, as organizations with jobs to perform, we need concrete direction for how to proceed day-to-day. Here are some tools that support us in understanding the territory and creating a roadmap to the future we desire.

Tools for Navigating VUCA

The Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin (pronounced Kin-e-vin) framework, created by systems thinking expert Dave Snowden, helps us understand the thinking and action necessary to deal with VUCA. Much of traditional planning lives in the right-hand quadrants and is based on the premise that the future will be enough like today that we can successfully meet our challenges and opportunities by relying on what is known and the advice of experts.

For some time now, however, we have been living in complexity (upper left quadrant) surrounded by unpredictability and rapid change. Add COVID 19, and we are catapulted into totally novel, or chaotic, situations (lower left) where it is impossible to tell with any certainty what the future will bring. Will libraries once again be places where people gather? How might services have to change to address the new needs of communities? What will happen to budgets? To jobs? To the health of our citizens? Will there be a “new normal” and, if so, what will it be?

In this environment, we can only speculate about what will happen next. Therefore, the action we take must be based on a very different kind of thinking. We must cultivate a high tolerance for uncertainty and the means to try new things. This will undoubtedly involve creating new organizational structures to maximize adaptability and minimize red tape, so that we can quickly, and with the least resistance, develop and implement novel solutions to challenges as they arise.

Will we still operate in the simple and complicated domains where best practices and the advice of experts suffice? Of course we will; but we must also become good at navigating the complex and, if recent history is a guide, the chaotic dimensions as well in order to develop the agility necessary to thrive today and tomorrow.

Scenario Planning

Scenario Planning is an activity we can engage in to use what we know today to imagine and plan for the future. This framework consists of four steps:

  1. Identify driving forces: What is going on in our world (society, economics, technology, etc.) that is having or will have a big effect on our organization
  2. Identify critical uncertainties: Which two to three of these will have the most influence on your organization?
  3. Develop plausible scenarios: How might these uncertainties combine? Develop up to four scenarios describing what might happen.
  4. Discuss the implications: How will these scenarios affect your organization, it’s mission and strategy?

It is important to remember that we cannot predict the future; we can only develop a sense of what might happen based on the knowledge we have now. This process is particularly useful when we have clear trends to work with, the increasing use of online platforms, for example, or the certain demise of an industry. When we have less definitive information, it is frequently wiser to use techniques to help us understand the kind of adaptive capacity we need to build in order to address a range of eventualities. One way to do this is to use the four-step environmental scan described below.

Environmental Scan

  1. What can we control that affects performance and outcomes?
  2. What can we influence (outside our sphere of control) that affects performance and/or outcomes?
  3. What are we concerned about in our environment (outside our spheres of control or influence) that affects performance and/or outcomes?
  4. How can we adapt our strategy and/or actions to take advan­tage of the opportunities and manage the risks identified in this environmental scan? 

KAIR or Dynamic SWOT

Keep-Abandon-Invent-Reinvent (KAIR) is a process for deciding how to create positive change. You can use it as an individual, in a team, or throughout an organization. It is a dynamic, adaptive version of the traditional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis that generates immediate calls to action.

The tool has four parts:

  1. Keep strategies or activities that are working well
  2. Abandon strategies or activities that are a barrier to future success
  3. Invent new solutions that have not been previously considered
  4. Reinvent activities or solutions that could benefit from improvement

The KAIR process is useful for individuals, teams, and organizations, as an after action review or as part of a planning process.

All of these practices—and others—may be used together as part of an effort to get our minds and hands around our future. Regardless of the method we choose, it is vital to constantly uncover and test our assumptions. We must ask

As we said, the shift in thinking lies in learning to hold our plans lightly enough that we can allow change as it occurs rather than wasting energy with anything proven not to be viable. It takes some practice, but the rewards are huge. We can create our new path one step at a time by testing the ground as we go. In order to create the future, we must be able to dance with uncertainty, knowing that we have what it takes to navigate VUCA together.

 

From our partners at Camoin Associates:

The Challenge

With a population of 10 million people, Los Angeles County is the most populous county in the nation. The county includes 88 cities that span an array of  industry clusters, diverse occupational profiles and numerous cultures that contribute to the region’s exceptional character. The County faces pressing challenges in housing, transportation, and the environment, which must be mitigated to support a high quality of life for all residents. With a portfolio that spans housing development, grant management and business support activities, the Community Development Commission (CDC) of Los Angeles County desired a comprehensive strategic planning document to assure economic resiliency and growth for the next five years.

The Solution

Camoin, along with project partner Maverick and Boutique, was commissioned to prepare a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (“CEDS”) for the CDC. The project team will conduct numerous multidisciplinary workshops with stakeholders to uncover the sectors with the greatest market potential and determine how the CDC can strategically allocate resources. Findings from these workshops will be combined with quantitative data and analysis to create actionable strategies that are grounded in reality and leverage the County’s numerous existing assets.

The Impact

While this project is still in progress, we anticipate that these multidisciplinary meetings will spark productive conversations between policymakers and County leaders. In addition to completing the CEDS report, Camoin is responsible for completing annual updates for the next five years. Camoin’s agile approach to this strategic planning process will allow our team to actively respond to changing market conditions as the plan is updated.

Keep checking back for updates on this project!

As we discussed here on May 5, the consensus seems to be that there’s no “going back to normal” after the COVID19 disruption. The ways we work and live will inevitably be changed. The question is how, and what role each of us—and all of us—will play in determining what comes next.

A psychotherapist friend of mine said that she’s speaking with her clients about what she calls the “infinite potential” that exists in the limbo we’re experiencing between the past and the future. She went on to say that we can’t realize that potential unless we take action to bring something into being.

We’re at a choice point where we can wait and react to whatever comes at us, or we can be deliberate in identifying the future we want to live. We can decide what to Keep from our past and present, what to Abandon that no longer serves us, and we can identify what needs to be Invented or Reinvented to realize our vision. From there, we take action.

This sequence will look familiar to M&B friends and colleagues as the KAIR methodology we use in strategic and other planning activities. We have replaced the traditional SWOT analysis with this dynamic, appreciatively-oriented method that supports people in moving quickly to action. In these uncertain and rapidly-changing times, we need to design our way forward, try out our ideas, and adapt as we go. We have found KAIR to be an excellent tool both for planning and for checking along the way.

You may want to try KAIR with your team as you plan for your future. You can also use it to assess where you are now: how remote work has been going, for example. Any time you want to get a bead on where you are and generate ideas, KAIR is your friend.

We’ve created a worksheet to guide you through the KAIR process. You can download it here.

Opportunities & Challenges:

The Paterson Alliance was founded in 1998 by five nonprofit agencies in the City of Paterson, New Jersey, who came together understanding that collectively the Paterson nonprofit community needed to set an agenda that would advance the quality of life in the City. The Alliance has grown to a membership of more than 70 organizations. With budgets tightening and the needs of citizens greater than ever, it is essential to align passion, talent and capability to produce the highest and most effective outcomes for Paterson. Hence the need for a creative and inclusive strategic plan.

What We Did

M&B facilitated a strategic planning process based on collaboration between Alliance members and community leaders. The process included a series of “Community Café’s”, where participants shared their vision for Paterson and their understanding of current reality, and collectively designed a way forward. Once the plan was created, we held an event, where champions of the plan came together to prioritize action items and recommit to collaboration.

Results:

The Paterson Alliance continues to be an anchor for the nonprofit community, which is stronger than ever. The planning process helped to galvanize members for collective action and reinforce a new narrative for Paterson, one of optimism and success. Programs like the flagship “Think Pre-k” early childhood initiative, and the Paterson Full Service Community School Nonprofit Collective Impact Project are making a huge difference to the people the Alliance serves.

M&B continues to work with the Paterson Alliance to support collaboration and the development of initiatives.

M&B recently wrapped up worked on the COZBY LIBRARY AND COMMUNITY COMMONS, STRATEGIC PLAN 2017-2020 in Coppell, Texas. Check out this article, from the local Coppell Gazette, highlighting the new energy and excitement around the library!

 

Cozby Library reaching new levels of success
By Victoria Atterberry
Coppell Gazette 

The Cozby Library and Community Commons’ strategic plan is working out well and has received a positive response from the community.

Monday, the library board met with the Coppell City Council and the Parks Board to update the city on its progress. Library leaders said it has been successful, and many people are benefiting from the new additions and amenities.

“The community loves what’s happening at the library,” said Adrienne Morton, vice chair of the Coppell library board.

The first goal the library adopted centers on collection building and services innovation. The goal primarily focuses on growth and how to better serve the community.

“(Our) efforts there are to offer collections and services that are highly relevant to the community needs and to incorporate innovative collections and programs with those that are popular, valuable or enduring,” Morton said.

Early literacy backpacks, TAMS science boxes and Lions Club game collections for the visually impaired are a few of the new additions that came out of this plan. These new services have been popular among the community and are in high demand.

The second goal the library adopted focuses on resources, buildings, technology and systems.

“The focus here is meeting the evolving and diverse knowledge, creative and learning needs of the community by offering innovative spaces, technologies, methods and delivery systems,” Morton said.

Some of the programs that came about through this plan are the teen zone, toddler zone, study rooms, business center, meeting rooms, commons area and a drive-through book drop off. Morton said the drive-through book drop is one of the most popular features of the library.

The library also added self service checkout, laptop checkouts and catalogue tablets for easier checkouts.

“The idea is to make it easier for people to get in and out of the library and get what they need. It’s all about convenience for the community,” Morton said.

The library will soon be adding digital media workstations that will have audio, video, graphic design software and web design software.

The strategic plan includes four more goals focusing on volunteer efforts, advocacy, professional development and funding.

The library was also able to add a number of new building enhancements. Victoria Chiavetta, director of library services said the library was fortunate enough to have extra money in the budget to add these new enhancements.

New podiums have been added in meeting rooms as well as new jacks and network cables. Additional speakers were added throughout the library. The library purchased a third service desk and is also looking to replace staff desks. Since many visitors complained about noise levels within the building, the library is also planning to install new sound masking equipment.

Over the past year, library activity has grown. More and more people are participating in programs and enjoying all the feature the library has to offer.

“We love to see (residents) there,” Chiavetta said. “The library is getting used well and is quite busy.

Check out other examples of and commentary from M&B’s near decade of work in strategic planning for our libraries!

In our work in economic development and complex project management, we often encounter failed projects and programs, that came to grief due to community opposition to the proposals, and which we are sometimes asked to  resuscitate.

One of the causes of failure is the long standing engineering practice of first designing a project and then trying to “sell” it to the community.

This is why many new critically important infrastructure projects don’t get done, and the whole community ends up paying for it in increased costs and greater inefficiencies. The extra costs are often not immediately obvious until a factory closes because it is not competitive, an environmental mishap endangers lives, or an infrastructure failure disrupts commerce.

The conventional approach to designing and selling projects has been around forever, and you will find the “achieve stakeholder buy-in” in almost every request for proposal.

Instead, we use an approach called “strategic doing” which involves key stakeholders in the process of creating projects or sub-projects connected to the main project. The projects become part of a ecosystem of synergistic/self-supporting activities.

People agree to proceed with the cluster of projects — including the main project — because they have an interest or stake in the outcome. They also get to have a say in the design.

When we approach projects this way, the opposition to projects evaporates because the projects, are designed to benefit all stakeholders, are more meaningful and relevant. Rough edges are removed that would otherwise be a sources of irritation or dissatisfaction.

We adopted this “join in” approach on a recent strategic planning project for two counties — Steuben and Chemung –along the I-86 corridor in Western New York  and their seven municipalities bookended by Corning and Elmira.

We worked with 70 or so local government, community and business leaders in two sets of highly intensive three day workshop sessions just three weeks apart, to design some 50 projects to achieve their goals of developing an “innovation corridor” and simultaneously creating a more vibrant community.

The region was successful, along with the Binghamton area (known collectively as the Southern Tier), in securing one of two $500 million investments by the State of New York, in competition with other regions across the State.

We also spent a  considerable amount of time helping our client develop a governance strategy. How do you set up a multiplicity of projects for success, each with a multiplicity of different stakeholders interests?

For a start, you need a project manager at the core that can see the big picture and is determined to get things done, to work closely with each of the project teams, just as you do with complex major projects or systems of systems engineering projects. You also need the owners of each of the community sub-projects to have both a degree of autonomy for decision making but also responsibility to the greater whole. This demand clear set of rules of engagement about how each of the project teams will  coordinate with others, including a requirement to report progress to the project manager, or to seek help when difficulties are encountered.. It’s a kind of community systems-of-systems economic and community development approach.

Naturally, we have used our knowledge of how to run complex major projects, to help our community clients successfully handle the big and the complex.

Here’s a link in the a case study in the Systems Engineering Book of Knowledge about some of our methods.

The kinds of questions we ask about governance issues include:

Resources: What human, physical, financial, knowledge, support, temperaments and other resources will you need to undertake this project, who owns or has control of them, and how could you acquire them?
Optimal outcome: What is the ideal outcome from this project? What does “success” look like?
Structure: What structure will you adopt for the project that will ensure that those responsible for carrying out the project report to all key stakeholders, rather than a select or influential few?
Ownership: Who is the ultimate owner of the project and how might you obtain their support and commitment?
Mobilizing: How can we tap into the passions of people so they not only support the project, but actively help to win support for its political acceptance and implementation?
Commitment: How will we foster a sense of ownership and or “join in” so people unite behind a decision?
Hearing and acting on concerns: How do we provide greater certainty for quietly harboring doubts? In situations where consensus is not possible, how do we ensure that all voices have been heard OR people feel heard? How will we act on concerns?
Attention to results: How can we balance the needs/outcomes for the individual, the community and the organization?
Sustainability: How will we ensure that the changes that occur as a result of implementing this project will be adopted and sustained, beyond our tenure or involvement in the process?
Accountability: How can we go about flagging unacceptable behavior and actions when it may have serious repercussions/downsides for the project or the community?
Governance Innovation: How will we know when the system we set up to govern the project is not working (is not meeting the needs of the stakeholders)? How should we plan to renegotiate the way the project is managed to ensure success?

 

Opportunities & Challenges:

Revitalize 19 cities and towns in North Central New Jersey, on the verge of re-urbanization, but saddled with home rule political processes, the buildings and the infrastructure are still in place from a time when America was first settled (the 1600s), when New Jersey factories were a powerhouse of the Industrial Era (the 1800s) and when families flocked to newly created suburbs on the borders of decaying urban centres (the mid-1900s).

What we did:

In collaboration with Camoin Associates, Maverick & Boutique facilitated a two year program to develop a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the North-Central Region of New Jersey via the John S. Watson Institute, a policy arm of the Thomas Edison State College that provides support for the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association.

The project was conducted in three overlapping phases – research, planning and implementation, so that teams recruited to help plan new initiates, were also being encouraged to begin the process of implementation – otherwise known as Strategic Doing.

The first stage of the project involved a study of the industry, employment, wages, and occupational base for the 19 municipalities that make up the region, a study of the business climate of the region and the municipalities including: infrastructure, labor, incentives, taxation, buildings/land and  a review of opportunities for private investment leading to job creation, especially in emerging industries, such as advanced manufacturing, “green” construction, environmental services and alternative energy.

During the second stage, M&B facilitated the work of a region-wide strategy 50-member planning committee of business, political and community leaders as well representatives from critical infrastructure and government services organizations. The committee met on a regular basis, both as a committee to develop the overall strategy, and as task forces to scope initiatives in six focus areas – training as an economic engine, infrastructure renewal, small business development, implementation assistance under a formal regional organization structure and a collective modular marketing program. As the programs develop, new people with the necessary skills, knowledge or access to resources were invited to join he effort.

In a third and overlapping stage, we helped Watson Institute staff recruit Community Implementation and Planning Teams in each of the municipalities; identify and design shovel- ready projects; and help each community develop local versions of the regional initiatives.

Deliverable:

Read the 2015 Urban-Focused Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the North-Central Region of NJ here!

 

 

Meet Interaction & Intervention Innovation (i2), a new type of process improvement, which has joined the ranks of proven innovation methods like product, service, business process and business model innovation. This one helps people experience new ways of interacting in order to create new knowledge and innovate successfully in the midst of emergence, complexity and uncertainty, the “new normal” for business today.

The closing session at the 2013 Hargraves Institute conference was an excellent example of this fast-paced, dynamic process. In just 90 minutes of intense conversation, sixty people working in teams created eight clever prototype concepts for healthy living products and services. The high-energy finale was designed just-in-time. The presenters, having met for the first time over lunch, quickly combined their talents to design and jointly facilitate the session without any rehearsal.

John Findlay & Abby Straus of Maverick & Boutique  contributed the Zing collaborative meeting system (which uses the i2 process), their Complexity Model of Change and improv games to warm up the crowd. Michelle Williams, of Ideaction  contributed the guest speaker to brief the audience, a 5-step design process and five customer profiles representing key markets segments, for which participants would design.

Here’s how it went:

The session began in a conventional way, with a five-minute talk by healthy living expert, Peter McCue, head of Healthy Planning, a state-wide New South Wales program designed to deal with the challenge of obesity in modern life.

Next, John Findlay and Abby Straus introduced their Complexity Model of Change to explain the “the obesity epidemic”, which has occurred, in part, as consequence of widespread adoption of brain work and the replacement much physical work in the Knowledge Age. Another key factor is the invention of labor saving tools and transportation methods that enable people to get only a fraction of the daily exercise our ancestors got just a century ago.

The Zing wireless keyboard collaboration system and i2 methodology were used to help participants create a rich picture of health trends and issues. Then, Michelle Williams stepped the teams through five rapid-fire, five-minute long mini-activities, with each team designing a product or service that would appeal to one of five customer profiles representing the different market segments.

The teams were encouraged to use any medium at hand to present their prototypes: poetry, improvisation, movement, graphics, etc. The new concepts included:

  • An exercise cycle to generate electricity in order to watch TV,
  • Trekking adventures for life fulfillment and purpose,
  • A spiced-up date night event app with options for romance, active and casual interactions,
  • A smart phone pedometer app that delivers a daily report on diet and exercise,
  •  A life coaching service for a healthier lifestyle taking in the outdoors, dog walking, food education and prioritizing relationships, and
  • A Lifestyle Innovation program for women to achieve a better life-work balance with child care support provided by the employer.

Participants used Zing and i2 to capture ideas and report back on their new products and services. They also gave lively and entertaining demonstrations of what they had in mind.

i2 is increasingly being used by conference organizers to switch the focus from sessions dominated by experts to interactive events, such as this one at the Hargraves Institute conference, where the audience is facilitated in creating new knowledge on the spot.

The i2 method is built on two key concepts:

1. “Simple rules of interaction” (SRI): a concept, borrowed from the science of complexity, which we commonly observed in nature when birds flock and fish shoal. Following just three simple rules—stay a fixed distance from others, fly/swim at a specific angle and turn when others do—huge groups of animals are able to execute breathtakingly beautiful and complex feats of coordinated movement.

Examples of SRI in human interaction are the “Yes-and” rule from Improv that encourages people to add value to each other’s ideas and the Talk-Type-Read-Review etiquette, designed for the Zing team meeting process, which helps dozens to hundreds of people work efficiently and productively on the same issue at the same time.

2. The conversion of models, methods and thinking processes into a series of rich, open-ended questions, which encourages each person’s brain to become his/her own “personal Google”. Participants make creative connections and develop new ideas, which they share with others in conversation in small groups, and then with the larger group in a process of synthesis and integration. When everyone works in parallel this way, they are able to perform complex thinking and creative tasks with surprising ease.

When events are conducted using this method, everyone in the room interacts in a synchronized way, no one talks at cross-purposes and all interests are valued and recognized. People from diverse disciplines and community groups can reliably deal with any kind of complex problem, even “wicked” ones, and reach broad agreement about what to do.

Shifting between the collective wisdom of the group, provided by the Zing collaboration method and localized team work, provided by the 5 step rapid fire sessions, allowed a shift from macro/big thinking to micro perspectives of problem solving and innovation.

With Zing, the participants can see the entire community’s collective wisdom and build on those ideas for this process. The report is easily generated after the session allowing for extra analysis together with a plan for immediate action. The 5-step process allowed everyone to work on a wicked problem that affects everyone in a way that removed people from their current mode of thinking outside the restrictions of KPI’s set by their organizations. It also helped the participants innovate more deeply and in more detail and develop their personal capacity for creativity and innovation.

The fields of mathematics, biology, neuroscience, psychology and systems thinking are fertile ground for the new conversation and decision methods developed using i2. Sources of inspiration include academics and thought leaders, especially those who present at Aspen Institute, PopTech or TED.com conferences. You can see examples at www.colorfulconversations.blogspot.com.

Common examples of these methods are SWOT Analysis, Six Thinking Hats from Dr. Edward De Bono, Polarity Thinking from Dr. Barry Johnson and The Choice Trilogy of Keep-Abandon -Reinvent from Maverick & Boutique.

Workshop

If you would like more information about Interaction Innovation or to engage Maverick & Boutique or Ideaction to design and facilitate a workshop, seminar or other or interactive event. Here how it works:

1. Create customer profiles, for example:

  • Mary: 65 years retiree. A bit overweight. Enjoys gardening. Likes swimming and dancing. Wants to lose weight so she can live a long and productive live. Takes walks in the park.
  • Tom: 55 year-old, former construction worker, with bad back, now on light duties in the warehouse. Weights 120 Kg. Drinks lots of beer. Watches the football on TV.
  • Samantha: 22 year old girl about town. Works in public relations. Time poor. Always eating out. Exercises seven times a week.
  • Jane: 35 years old, fitness instructor. Eats a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, meat, grains and nuts. Has not yet met the man of her dreams, who also has to be fit and eat well, but not a narcissist or macho man.
  • John: 30 years old manager on the way up. Works 70-80 hours a week. Numerous meetings, often early and late. Eats out, or buys take-away on way home. Kids are in bed when he arrived home. Wife also works. No time for play. No time for exercise.

2. Ask each group to choose a role.

3. Ask a series of questions, one question per five minutes.

  • Context: What are major trends (e.g. time pressures, new and growing lifestyle diseases) occurring in the world around health, lifestyles, quality of life etc.?
  • Challenges: What lifestyle or health challenges might your customer demographic face? What personal challenges might they face?\
  • Needs/interests: What are the likely unmet work/home/life needs or interests of your customer demographic?
  • Product/Service: What kind of product or service would appeal to your customer segment that helps them deal successfully with their life/work situation? Think outside the box.
  • Prepare for Report back: What novel, unusual way could you report back. Song, Dance, Improv, Movie, Skit, Poem, Report, Haiku. You have sixty seconds.

4. Report back: Report back in any way you like – Song, Dance, Improv, Movie, Skit, Poem, Report, Haiku. You have sixty seconds.

5. Ask the question: What did we learn from this experience?

 

Just watch this!

It can be challenging to interact with people whose perspectives and opinions differ from ours, but there are many benefits, including making us smarter. In this Washington Post entry, Gregory Rodriguez explains why this is so.