Dave Wegge & Randall Lawton, Envision Board members and Strategic Foresight Consultants

This month the Green Bay Botanical Garden will welcome the community to its new Carol and Bruce Bell Children’s Garden, five times the size of its predecessor! The 47-acre, community-owned garden is open daily for a variety of activities that connect people with plants, hoping to enrich the quality of life in the upper Midwest. It sits on land that was, 30 years ago, an undeveloped area full of potential. Fifty years ago it was merely an idea in search of partnerships and hard work. Today the Garden hopes to be the leading educational, recreational, social and horticultural destination in the upper Midwest.

With a permanent staff of 32 (65 seasonally), the Garden is intent on making its next 50 years happen purposefully. CEO Susan Garot completed Strategic Foresight training with Envision and then sought further support through Envision’s fairly new consulting services. She is determined to lead the Garden toward a bright future, using the tools and skills she learned from Garry Golden.

Having offered Strategic Foresight training to leaders in the Greater Green Bay area for five years, the Envision board has discovered that trained leaders, returning to their organizations, sometimes need professional assistance to help their teams implement foresight tools into their planning processes. Recognizing this need, Envision began offering assistance and consultation services by three members of the Envision leadership team certified in Strategic Foresight through the University of Houston. To date, Envision has provided consulting services to Casa ALBA Melanie, the Green Bay Botanical Garden and Lindquist Machine Company.

To meet the needs of organizations wanting to implement Strategic Foresight, Envision provides additional step-by-step training for an organization’s Strategic Foresight Team. The Botanical Garden project serves as an example. The Garden’s president, executive leadership team, and board leaders wanted a forward-looking view of their sector in the non-profit world.  The first step in the process is for the organization to create a diverse team – individuals who lead various aspects of the organization and have an interest in exploring the future. In the case of the Garden, Susan Garot, President and CEO, created a Foresight team of 5 staff members and 10 members of the board of directors. The project was led by Envision facilitators Randall Lawton and Dave Wegge, with assistance from Phil Hauck and Steve McCarthy. Envision facilitators took the Garden Foresight Team through seven sessions following the University of Houston’s Foresight Framework process: 1) Engaging in background research by the Envision team; 2) Framing the project; 3) Assessing current conditions; 4) Learning to scan for signals of change; 5) Identifying key drivers of change; 6) creating scenarios of plausible futures; 7) Assessing implications and developing options.

Guided by the facilitators, the Garden team created a Domain map (see above) to represent the key factors that could drive the future of the Garden. Using their newly learned skills in scanning for signals of change, the Foresight Team began to identify signals that informed them of changes that might impact the future of the Garden. Several new tools were used in the scanning process such as the Social Technological Economic Environment & Political (STEEP) framework, Google alerts, following future thinkers on Twitter & LinkedIn, and then archiving and cataloging all of the signals on the diigo platform. From over one hundred signals, four plausible futures of the Garden were crafted:

  • A baseline continuation future in which the Garden would keep doing what it is doing now and not make any changes in response to multiple internal and external forces
  • A constrained growth/new equilibrium future in which the Garden takes advantage of new short-term opportunities in response to external forces it is encountering. This brings the Garden to a new equilibrium level and then it plateaus once again.
  • The decline and collapse future, generally one that most organizations want to avoid. In this scenario the organization ignores the signals of change that might ultimately lead to the complete demise of the organization.
  • The transformation future in which the organization makes significant changes to position itself for 5-10 years into the future.

Producing these four scenarios creates powerful stories and visions of plausible futures of an organization. Scenarios must not be pie-in-the-sky, completely low probability possibilities. Rather they are the fruits of all of the signal scanning that identify key drivers of change. The team, individually and in small groups, set up their scanning searches, collected the information, analyzed the information, decided what information was most relevant, placed variables into a probability versus impact quadrant, determined the drivers, wrote the key concepts used in scenario development, and came to consensus about changes needed in the Four Futures scenarios.

In evaluating the project, all members (100%) of the Garden Foresight Team agreed that they have had a significant mindset change in the way they think. They believe that Strategic Foresight can give the Garden just what it needs to plan for the future. They say they now consume information with an eye to the future and plan to continue to scan for signals of change that might impact the Garden. The team believes that Garden leaders are now more prepared to think about the future of the Garden and that the Envision project either met or exceeded their expectations.

The Garden project was a learning experience for the Envision facilitator team as well. Perhaps the most significant challenge in the process is teaching and engaging an organization’s Foresight Team to scan effectively. Scanning is really the underlying research foundation for the entire Strategic Foresight process. If an organization cannot engage in regular effective scanning that looks beyond their routine sources, then the key drivers of the future might be missing.  The Envision team is currently refining our consulting process with careful attention to how we teach individuals to scan effectively.

Having this ability widens the success corridor for the Garden or for any organization. It focuses investments on strategic initiatives and will lead to a renewable thriving economic and social culture in Greater Green Bay. “Board and staff participation in Strategic Foresight brought us the level of energy which we needed to push our Garden into the future,” she said. “We are now enrolling our next level of staff members to participate in the Young Professionals workshop this spring in the hopes of getting broader buy-in and greater signals monitoring. We have also started asking staff and board members to share a signal at each board meeting, much like is done at the Envision Board meetings.”