My child has just returned from camp. She excitedly tells me about her day which included catching a trout, rock-climbing and learning to wakeboard. Midway through a description about her big wipe-out, her belt chimes and her personal avatar reminds her, “two minutes until chapel begins – please return to your virtual chamber for login and re-sync”.
What will camp be like in the next 15 years? Bill Gates once said that we tend to overestimate what will change in the next two years, but underestimate what will occur in the next ten. This point is well illustrated by the iPod which debuted 11 years ago. Who would have guessed this device would evolve into the ubiquitous iPhone and iPad in under 10 years.
This year my graduate studies have introduced me to the subject of strategic foresight. Most of us are well-accustomed to strategic planning which we use to develop three to five year plans for our organizations. In contrast, strategic foresight looks 10-25 years on the horizon for game-changers which will shape our future organizations – changes such as the concept of a virtual camp experience!
A criticism of many strategic plans is that it uses historical data to help us predict what will occur in the future. For example, if summer camp attendance has increased by 3% per year for the past 5 years we then use this trend to predict future attendance and plan accordingly. In many cases this is helpful and reasonably accurate. However, what occurs when provincial youth demographic numbers plunge? Or when our rural location becomes too costly because of gasoline costs double? Or when sprawling suburbs give us access to a population we did not anticipate?
While these examples are fictitious, they demonstrate the benefit of using strategic foresight. By spending time thinking of possible futures, our minds begin to engage in a new way. Most strategic planning builds on current data to plan towards the future. An aspect of strategic foresight, backcasting, does the opposite. Backcasting establishes a future endpoint (a goal, event or circumstance), and then seeks to explain how this could come to pass.[i] This can help organizations determine how to achieve a chosen goal (e.g. – Kennedy stated in 1961 that there will be a man on the moon by 1969) or decide what is likely to happen (e.g. – virtual summer camps).
A common way to conduct foresight is through the use of the STEEP acronym. Here are some potential future issues that could affect the Christian camping ministry:
– Ageing: Given our aging population, what would a camp designed only for senior citizens look like?
– Youth: Since Canadian statistics tell us that we are entering a steady decrease of 16-20 year olds, what will High School camps look like in 10 years?
– Ethnicity: How do we achieve camper enrolment that reflects the ethnic diversity of Canada?
– Given the pervasive nature of technology, what would technology or communication free programming look like?
– On-line education continues to rise in popularity. What are the ingredients of a thriving on-line camp experience?
– How could crowdfunding be used to raise money for camp projects (e.g. – Kickstarter)?
– How would your camp change if the government removed your non-profit status?
– How are increasing levels of personal debt going to impact the camp ministry?
– How would food services change if there was a tax on high-fat foods?
– What would be required to make your camp energy self-sufficient?
– As environmentalism increases, what changes will need to be made in order to meet increasingly stringent regulations?
– What if 30% of your clientele were vegetarian or required special diets?
– As personal privacy decreases, what would occur if parents were able to electronically monitor their children while they attend camp?
– How will you respond to campers who blog, upload video and instagram about their camp experience all week?
– What if camps were asked to fill the void left by government decreases in social services funding?[ii],[iii],[iv]
As you read these questions you are likely thinking, ‘that is already happening’ and in other cases, ‘that would never occur’. However, each of these scenarios, whether projected from current circumstances, or envisioned as possible futures, engaged your minds and encouraged you to creatively think about the future. Doing this helps us develop plans for today which will have stronger relevance in the future. This is the intent of strategic foresight.
What role does strategic foresight have in a faith-driven organization? If God tells us that, “I know the plans I have for you” (Phil. 1:6, NIV), why do we spend time thinking of things which may or may not occur? A recent conversation with a colleague illustrates this question.[v] Charity is a Vice President of a Haiti relief organization. She laments that there is a current crisis of non-profits operating in Haiti that have hit the financial red zone. A lack of foresight has made these organizations successful in the short-term but unviable beyond 3-5 years. For lack of foresight, important projects are half-completed and Haitians are facing the consequences of organizations founded without a long-term plan. While God is in control, he has charged us to act as responsible stewards. When Joseph was given a vision of a future famine he used the seven years of abundance to prepare for seven years of famine (Genesis 41). Similarly, we must also use the knowledge at out our disposal to prepare for the future.
Strategic foresight is difficult because it takes time. However, it is an imperative exercise! Failing to do so means that we will fail to stay ahead of changes which are occurring at an increasing pace. The recent bankruptcy of Kodak, once heralded as the innovator in photography, is proof that relevance is earned and cannot be assumed.
If this stimulated your thinking and you would like to discover more, here is some suggested reading: The Extreme Future (James Canton, 2007) and A Brief History of the Next 50 Years (Richard Watson, 2010), Trends and Technology Timelines (www.nowandnext.com)
[i] Cornish, E. (2004). Futuring: The exploration of the future. Bethesda, MD: World Future Society.
[ii] Canton, (2004). The extreme future. New York, NY: Plume.
[iii] Watson, R. (2010). A brief history of the next 50 years. Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
[iv] Trends and technology timelines (www.nowandnext.com).
[v] Remington, C. (May 13, 2012). The state of non-profits in Haiti. Personal Conversation.
This article was written by Jeff Suderman. Jeff is completing his Doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University (Virginia). He is a higher education professional with more than 20 years of marketing and leadership experience. He operates a leadership consulting company near Calgary and does work with team-building, leadership development, strategic planning and foresight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.