Strategic Planning: More than a roll of the dice

In an age when creating a future “something” is dominated by computer programming, CAD drawings, coding and algorithms, YouTube instructionals, and Internet searches for “How do I…,” the process dubbed in the 60’s as “strategic planning” is decidedly a people-with-people process that is as much an iterative process as it is deliberative.

In October 2019, the BCAE Board of Directors announced that it had engaged with a Boston-based company TDC to launch a strategic planning effort to determine its future direction. Faced with serious budgetary and programming challenges that had accumulated over more than a decade, a changing landscape of adult education and the emerging needs of Boston’s adults, the Board has boldly initiated a process to plan “What’s next” in BCAE’s 86 years of “becoming.”

What is strategic planning anyway?

While drawing on rich reservoirs of data from multiple sources, strategic planning is fundamentally a good old-fashioned process that starts with an organization’s senior leaders, internal and external stakeholders understanding the current state of an organization and analyzing its own performance and needs in the context of its external environment and opportunities. Using strategic thinking, leadership envisions a future, based on this comprehensive assessment and maps a path from Point A to Point Z.  The resulting plan strategically sets goals over a period of several years, allocates available resources and identifies new resources needed to meet those goals and sets forth a process to measure progress along the way.

Why does an organization engage in strategic planning?

Today most organizations, both public and private, for profit and not-for-profit employ some version of strategic planning.  Be they small start-ups or global giants, all organizations and enterprises will necessarily undergo change…they can either chart their own sustainable, successful course or allow external forces to dictate their future.  As Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher intoned: “The only constant in Life is change itself.” As true over 2500 years ago as it is today!

How does a strategic planning process work? 

Typically, an external, objective facilitator is engaged so that information is collected without bias or preconceived notions and the organization’s leadership can be supported in their deliberations to consider all the factors impacting its future directions, growth, and success.

Common elements of strategic planning include an entry phase when the questions to be explored are framed with senior leadership and their team and stakeholders are identified.

The strategic planning process itself is determined and timelines established.

An assessment phase then involves the collection of data from within the organization, both qualitive and quantitative, interviews and sometimes surveys of both internal and external stakeholders, and an environmental scan.  This scan results in an understanding of how external forces, trends, local resources and needs, population factors and competitive considerations each have bearing on the organization, its present and its future.

An analysis, based on all that was learned in the assessment phase, is conducted resulting in identification of the organization’s’ strengths, opportunities, challenges and resources that can be leveraged to its advantage.

An aspirational vision of the future state is created as leadership considers the results of the analysis. Informed by the vision, goals are designed to be accomplished over a period of years, with broadly encompassing, overarching goals to be accomplished by the end of the plan. Interim, measurable goals or “objectives” are established as benchmarks to manage the nature, sequence and pace of change.

Typically, a process is established to support and monitor the implementation of the strategic plan.

Where in the process is BCAE now?

BCAE has engaged a non-profit consultant firm, TDC, that has over 50 years of experience in helping to support and facilitate this kind of change process with non-profit clients. TDC began by posting a simple one question, confidential survey to several thousand recipients of a letter announcing upcoming changes in BCAE programming and the launch of a strategic planning process.  To date, it has received over 145 stakeholder responses from students, instructors and others who have been involved in BCAE in some way over decades. Sharing their experiences and suggestions, each one of these responses is being read and incorporated into the assessment. If you want to share your own response, pleas click here.

Dozens of in-person and telephone stakeholder interviews are being conducted by the TDC team. External stakeholders include but are not limited to civic leaders, foundation executives, interested community leaders and executives from a range of community non-profits.  Internal stakeholders include BCAE Board Members and staff.

An environmental scan of the trends and futures of traditional community adult education, and the emerging and unmet needs of Boston’s diverse adult populations is also being conducted.

What are some things to consider while evaluating possible future directions or growth of an organization?

As BCAE’s Board considers the results of the assessment, environmental scan and related analysis, it will be factoring in the decision-making process its:

  • Historical mission,
  • Core values and guiding principles,
  • Performance trends over the past 10 years
  • Resources and available assets
  • Boston’s emerging and unmet adult education needs

The Board will also consider:

  • The sustainability of options being considered
  • Partnerships that are possible
  • Unique ways to contribute to strengthening adult education for those who live and work in Boston considering those who have the least access

How are final decisions reached?

The BCAE Board of Directors are responsible for planning the future of the organization and its investment of its resources.  Facilitated by the TDC consultants and informed by its assessment and analysis, the Board will adopt a strategic plan that will map BCAE’s future direction.