Scenario Planning Provides a Framework for Associations to Pivot

We heard a lot about how quickly associations made hard pivots to perform during the pandemic. What if getting there didn’t have to be so hard? Experts suggest using scenario planning to create a strong underpinning that allows your association to be nimble in uncertain times.

Many associations were able to pivot quickly last year to deal with the changes forced by a global pandemic. The efforts included addressing member needs to generate new revenue or provide resources. And while the changes were quick, they don’t have to feel abrupt and out of the blue, say two association professionals who will be speaking at ASAE’s Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference (MMCC) next week. They recommend using scenario planning to set up a strategic framework that will allow your association to be better prepared for the next unexpected crisis.

“Prior to last year, scenario planning might have been small things because we hadn’t experienced anything hugely significant,” said Debbie Greif, director of corporate relations and business development at the American Society of Anesthesiologists. “This past year has made scenario planning more relevant. Organizations have to ask, what is the next really big, huge, scary disruptor that could happen again?”

Greif and Nikki Haton Shanks, CAE, strategist at Association Laboratory, will be leading the MMCC session “Scenario Planning: The Solution to Uncertainty for the Association Executive.” With scenario planning, associations take a holistic look at different scenarios that could affect their organization, industry, and members.

“Scenario planning is really designed to be a decision-making tool to help identify, assess, and adapt to risk and uncertainty,” Shanks said. “So, when it comes time to think about what an association’s members are facing, the association is in the best position to address it.”

How it Works

According to Shanks, scenario planning has three main steps. The first is to identify the challenges that are on the horizon. “Having a really good sense of what the challenges their members are experiencing is the first step with this whole process,” Shanks said. “Identifying the issues and challenges that are most critical to their members and what the implications of those challenges might be in their association space.”

The second step is identifying a timeline for those challenges. Is it something that needs immediate action or something that is expected to hit critical mass in a year or two?

“The third step is actually conceptualizing this and applying what you’ve learned—what you’ve thought about from the challenges, implications, and timeframe—to an actual scenario and solution,” Shanks said.

To figure out those issues, associations will need to communicate well with staff, members, and the board. Shanks and Greif said it’s crucial to get a diverse range of perspectives on the future, to give organizations the best shot at seeing what might be coming.

As organizations think through potential challenges, Shanks said it’s also important to keep an open mind.

“The future is neutral,” she said. “There is no good future. There is no bad future. If we think that it’s one way or the other, it really can prevent us from seeing all of the potential opportunities that could exist.”

Greif agreed, noting that when her association upped its offerings during the pandemic, they had to acknowledge that while the pandemic was bad, they couldn’t find solutions coming from a place of negativity.

“It was an opportunity for us to meet the needs of our members,” she said. “That’s our purpose, our mission. All we did was stick to our mission and deliver what we needed to deliver—education and resources—to help our members through a pandemic.”

With scenarios in place, organizations can more easily figure out where to place their energies and focus on multiple solutions.

“Maybe some of the challenges that have been identified aren’t really challenges the organization feels it needs to address,” Shanks said. “As you’re going through the process, you’re narrowing the focus. It’s a funnel that gets you to the most critical areas that the organization should be in the best position to address. There could be a lot of solutions to funnel in under that.”

How does your association plan for unexpected changes on the horizon? Share in the comments.

(JuSun/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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