Yesterday I posted the basic idea behind our thesis question. Today is an attempt at phrasing it following the "thesis proposal guidelines" we received. I've never done one of these before, so feel free to tear it apart. Be as ruthless as you wanna (keeping in mind that this is only a two month thesis... so more of a big report). Of course, this is not the proposal we will turn in, since that will have to be a group process to make one we all agree on, but this is my "suggestion".
Strategic planning for the individual: answering the question “What can I do to move toward sustainability?”
As advocates for sustainability, perhaps one of the questions we hear most often is “But what can I do?” The fact that this question is being asked can give us hope. It means that there are people who recognize the need for action, and feel a passion and desire to do their part. The question however, is one of despair, a plea for help.
Traditionally, sustainability and environmental advocates have respond with books and web pages offering simple suggestions and to-do lists. “7 things you can do to save the rainforests”, “ten steps to reduce your global warming impact”, “50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth”. Yet, even with so much information available, concerned individuals are still asking “But what can I do?”.
Is it that people are not getting the information? If so, all that is needed may simply be more money to publish more books and hire better marketing staff. We, however, think there may be another reason. While there is certainly a large group of people whom are still ignorant of the fact that personal change is needed, from our experience, the people pleading for an answer are not among them. Those who ask “but what can I do?” already know the seven tips to save the rain-forest. Some have adopted these steps to the best of their abilities, yet realize that it is not enough. They are really asking “But what else can I do?”. Some, know that the ten easy steps will help, but to them, the steps aren’t so easy. These people are really asking “But how can I do that?”
What is missing is experience using a strategic thinking process. An understanding of how individuals can make decisions with the end in mind, based on a whole systems view and backcasting from principles of success. While the benefits and implementation of strategic planning processes for business has been known, studied, and improved for years, little has been done to see how such a process can be used by individuals.
Considering the obvious impact and influence of business and manufacturing on social and ecological sustainability, this focus on strategic planning for organizational success is understandable. However, we feel that to discount the individual, believing that the most they can do is to follow ”ten easy steps” fails to take a whole systems view, missing the connection between individuals’ private lives and the roles they play in the organizations in the biosphere. We believe that an individuals planning strategically in their own lives, can not help but to have an effect on the numerous organizations and communities they are a part of.
We must also recognize that individuals are not organizations. The same strategic planning methods may not work for individuals who lead complex lives, filling many roles as parents, children, students, and members of multiple organizations and communities. What’s more, individuals rarely make decisions based on a formal planning process. Our research will focus on exploring how a strategic planning process, including awareness of the system, basic principles of success, and backcasting can best fit the diverse lifestyles and existing informal planning processes of individuals, as well as how effective strategic planning is in helping them move toward sustainability.
- How can a strategic planning process increase individuals ability to identify actions that move them toward sustainability?
- What impact does a strategic planning process have on the scale and scope of the identified measures? I.e. Did measures that were previously perceived as unrealistic come to be perceived as viable (scale)? Was the participant able to expand the perceived sphere of influence to identify new measures in areas previously not explored (scope)?
- What level of plan formality was optimal for various individuals?
- What delivery methods of the strategic planning process methodology worked well?
- High vs. low facilitation
- Individual vs group
- In person vs web based
- What are the stages of a strategic plan for individuals? And which stage of the process led to the largest increase in identified measures?
- Understanding the system / stakeholder analysys?
- Visioning (identifying values and goals)?
- Analyzing the current state?
- Brainstorming and prioritizing measures?
- What stages of the process could be aided by tools geared toward sustainability for the individual?
- To what extent did individual political affiliation or bias affect the number of identified results? How did the plan differ based on personal politics?
- Can a strategic thinking process create a an awareness of the need, and a desire to move toward sustainability in individuals where it did not exist previously?
The main evidence for our thesis will be derived through surveys, focus groups and case studies.
To create a baseline with which we can evaluate the effects of strategic planning on individuals’ ability to identify actions, we will survey a relevant number of individuals whom have expressed either a desire to make better decisions in their life, or have agreed to participate in good faith despite a general lack consensus of the need for change. The main output of this survey will be to:
- Identify current level of awareness of the system
- Identify any previous systems thinking or strategic planning experience
- Measure the number of measures the individual can identify
- Amount of time individuals would be willing to devote to further participation.
Between 20 and 30 individuals will be selected for further participation based on the responses to the initial survey, and the needs of various focus and subject groups. Individuals will be divided into groups of various makeup and size, such as small or large groups, groups of one, couples, families, online groups.
We will prepare different methods of presenting the strategic planning process to the groups. The variables in the presentation methodology may include
- Time allotted to complete process
- Depth of information
- Degree of facilitation
- Online vs in person
- Amount of assigned homework
The participants will be asked to undertake a strategic planning process consisting of four basic steps:
- Understanding the system
- Defining vision, values, and goals, success based on sustainability principles.
- Identifying current reality
- Brainstorming and prioritizing actions to move them toward vision
After each step of the process, the individuals will be
- Asked to identify measures
- Debriefed regarding their feelings and impressions of the process.
Time permitting, we will follow up with individuals to see if they are having success in the implementation of their identified measures.
Despite the limited time available to develop an in-depth plan, we expect that overall there will be a significant increase in the number of measures individuals are able to identify as realistic
Some other findings we expect include
- The visioning process will be the most difficult, but for those who are most able to adopt a systems perspective, this step will lead to a significant increase in identifiable measures
- Participants will better understand their own values and goals after a formal visioning process.
- Even individuals who may not have started with a sense of urgency of the problem will be able to identify some measures that have value to them. These measures will most likely be related to the well-being of the stakeholders nearest to them.
- Small groups meeting in person whom are familiar with each other, such as friends, families, couples will be able to identify more measures than groups of strangers and groups meeting online.
- Participants will have difficulty finding time to complete assigned homework. Most breakthroughs will happen during facilitation
- Participants will have trouble implementing and monitoring a formal plan, but the main value of the process will be from a raised awareness, and a general tendency to make unplanned decisions based on a future vision and principles.