A Scenario Based Approach to Post-Secondary Planning

Like so many other institutions, the day to day reality at Columbia College has changed dramatically over the past year. We’re incredibly proud of the unique and rapid supports we made available to students through the pandemic: an emergency response fund, free laptops to students, a tuition freeze, and an astounding array of support services to transition to learning in an online environment.  

Despite these efforts it’s clear that what happens in the next 6 months to 3 years will be anything but predictable. In this context, it was difficult to conceive how to go about long term strategic planning. How do you do a SWOT exercise (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) when the world is changing every week?  

At the suggestion of one of our Board members we came across a three horizons, or scenario-based, planning approach. Over the coming months we’ll be using this framework to have all members of the College community consider provocative questions over three time horizons depicted in the chart below.



After a series of preliminary planning and info sessions, our team selected three titles to capture key driving forces across each time horizon:

1) Sustaining Innovations: what about the College is likely to remain relevant and mission-critical as the world continues to change?

2) Big Shake-Up - Education is Online: This is intended to capture the reality that online learning is no longer an optional service for select institutions; this methodology and reality is now ubiquitous across the globe and sector (though access to online learning remains severely unequal).

3) Education is Reimagined and Redistributed: this horizon is intended to capture the possibility of completely new educational delivery models, and to encourage our team to grapple with future possible roles for the College in the educational paradigm of the future.  

Across each time horizon, different scenarios are contemplated using provocative questions such as: How might teaching and learning change in the next 3 years? How will the student experience evolve? What services should be modified or converted into new services? What types of institutions will lead educational service delivery in the next 3-5 years?  

Equipped with this framework and questions we can contemplate different possible responses or priority areas for the College across the three different timelines above. Already our instructors have begun generative new ideas around service delivery, our facilities and infrastructure, and the role of technology in learning.  

Rather than a static plan, the hope is the process will equip our team to continue meeting the needs of aspiring students from across the globe to access the education of their choice – a new key element in the organizational Vision of the College. As work progresses we’ll share our insights!  

What questions, or time horizons, are driving your thoughts about the future?  

Scenario Planning Framework