“Strategic Planning” or “Strategic Futuring”: what is the difference and which is should we use?

Strategic Futuring can help communities chart a course to achieve their vision through successful collaboration and consensus building.

As defined in Wikipedia, the key components of “strategic planning” include an understanding of an organization’s vision, mission, values and strategies. Strategic planning is the process of defining an organization’s strategy (or future direction) and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. To be successful, it is necessary to understand the organization’s current position and the possible avenues through which it can pursue particular courses of action (determine where an organization is going – potential future) over the next year or - more typically - 3 to 5 years (long term).

Generally, strategic planning deals with at least one of three key questions: “What do we do?”, “For whom do we do it?” and “How do we excel?”

In contrast, “Strategic Futuring – Resources for Working with Communities and Organizations”, published by Michigan State University Extension in November 2001, states that strategic futuring is an adaptation of strategic planning that emphasizes a process to help communities, organizations, boards, councils and other voluntary groups, proactively create their future. Strategic Futuring is a vision-centered planning process that is customized, creative, flexible and especially focused on strengths, opportunities, capacities, visions and dreams. Deliberate, systematic implementation and regular follow-up are crucial elements for process success.

In an article on strategic visioning, Dr. Janet Ayers, Purdue Extension Specialist, describes how this approach offers communities an opportunity to address current world challenges.

“The strategic visioning process allows the community to stretch beyond what exists now to reach new potential in the future. Through collaboration and consensus building, diverse sectors are brought together to determine what they want the community to be in the future. Differences between various interests give way to a single community vision… Innovative, creative solutions that meet the changing times are developed through the interaction of leaders and citizens working toward common goals. People become empowered through their active participation in creating the community’s future and thereby become more adept in dealing with change.”

To begin a strategic futuring process, official support and participation of local elected and appointed leaders is critical. Community leaders should form a steering committee to include key decision makers in the most powerful segments of the wider community of interest. Meeting with the steering committee to consider motivations, needs, issues, goals, history and the quality of internal and external relationships is one way to anticipate and divert potential challenges or roadblocks. Gathering this background information and building relationships through personal meetings is important groundwork prior to beginning the process. In addition, there must be a positive commitment of resources necessary to proceed with community visioning, reaching consensus, developing mutual goals and action-oriented objectives and full plan implementation. 

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