Scenarios offer university of applied sciences Windesheim a language to speak about the future and a method to make lasting and steady state choices
In 2014 Windesheim, together with Jester Strategy, performed a scenario analysis of the future for the Higher Vocational Education. Together with Jan Willem Meinsma (member of the Executive Board), Jester’s Michiel de Vries and Linda Kaput looked back at the scenario process and what it has brought Windesheim.
Shutters open and look at the external environment
The reason to develop a set of scenarios for the future was a request of the Supervisory Board. The Supervisors considered it important that the Executive Board, after a period of internal focus, would open the shutters and look at the external environment. After all, there are many potentially disruptive developments that Higher Education is, and will be, facing, ranging from the impact of new technology to new competition patterns that may be expected.
Scenarios: a new language for strategic conversation
Although, with this, the Supervisory Board at first took the Executive Board out of its comfort zone, the directors soon saw the importance and power of scenario planning. Meinsma: ‘The approach was perfect for us, it gave us a new language. Thinking in images and stories enabled us to let possible futures for our institution really sink in. We could not have done this with the aid of only rational analyses’.
The Windesheim scenarios are still being widely used for strategic conversations about the future. It talks about, for instance, the extent to which the Windesheim Institution is prepared for the different possible future images.
Member of the Executive Board, Windesheim
The four Windesheim scenarios
The Windesheim scenarios are looking ahead to 2025 and have been realized in a careful process. Based on an analysis of relevant trends two key uncertainties have been identified, namely:
- the impact of technology: incremental versus disruptive
- the organization of the job market: flexible versus not flexible
Windesheim is best prepared for the scenario ‘Committed Constructor’, but at the same time preparing for the scenario ‘Virtual Explorer’.
Structured approach prevents running around in circles
Looking back, Meinsma indicates that the Jester approach works very well for an educational institution: ‘If we had looked to the future without such an authoritative approach we would have kept running around in circles. It has really helped us that the method in a number of steps imperatively leads to four future scenarios. Four is fine, it makes clear that the future is multi-sided, it is functioning effectively and easy to work with. Moreover, it is a tremendous help in making explicit assumptions, which everyone in our organization has about the future’.
Scenarios Windesheim form the basis for future vision and strategy
Scenario planning has been proved relevant within Windesheim, but above all this has to do with the fact that it was not just four exploratory images of the future. This was not a mere paper exercise. The Executive Board has clearly taken the lead in getting started with the scenarios and setting out a strategy in the area of IT, HR and housing. To be able to do this, the Executive Board has chosen the scenario for which it wants to be better prepared. The choice for the scenario ‘Virtual Explorer’ is done based on the expectation that this scenario has the most probability, but also because Windesheim is least prepared for this scenario. Meinsma: ‘The vision that we have developed based on the scenarios, gave us great direction for our change task. Yet scenarios not only help determining the direction and final objective. Also in defining the transition path scenarios are very helpful. It matters a lot how you move towards the ultimate goal’.
Scenarios are still proving themselves
Meinsma is positive about the contribution of scenario planning at Windesheim, but realizes at the same time that changing the organization takes time, effort and perseverance. ‘Although teachers definitely see the need for change, innovation itself is harder than it looks. The breaking of ingrained patterns is particularly difficult.’ The scenarios, however, retain their usefulness and are for instance used in conversations with teachers about their sustainable employability. Also when testing the innovation agenda scenarios remain powerful. According to Meinsma the key is to bring staff members constantly in motion. ‘The major focus on direct work within education is a particular challenge when it comes to innovation and change.’
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