Scenario planning for agile strategic alignment

By Tamryn Lee Fourie, Jerusha Govender and Khotso Tsotsotso

For CIVICUS, and civil society as a whole, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically shifted the way we work, and the world we work in.  Keeping this in mind, moving towards the end of the Alliance’s current Strategic Plan 2017-2022, we asked ourselves – how can we stay strategically relevant, given the lack of clarity on what lies ahead, and realising the already stretched capacity of staff and membership?

In these uncertain times, Foresight Approaches such as scenario planning, are one potential tool for strategy development, and is a key element of CIVICUS Alliance current strategic realignment process. 

Across February and March 2021, we engaged Data Innovators to review existing foresight analysis and scenario planning documents from members and partners, interact with CIVICUS members, and produce future scenarios related to civic space and citizen action. We then sense-checked these scenarios with allies from other sectors to identify potential disruptors and strategic opportunities that we may have missed. 

The Scenarios 

Four scenarios emerged to guide CIVICUS leadership and support other CSOs in similar stages of reviewing strategy, documented from the perspective of ‘Olwethu’, a civic activist and our persona. The four scenarios are summarised below:

scenario planning blog

Read more about the scenarios here

These scenarios are helping CIVICUS to unpack necessary amendments to our existing strategy, use the four potential futures to open discussion on where specific implementation focus is needed, and keep our constituents (i.e. “Olwethu”) at the centre. Similarly, other CSOs may also find these scenarios useful when considering strategic refinement.

How you can use these scenarios to realign your own strategies:

This exercise stress-tests current strategies for different contexts. It is good practice to identify "No brainers,” - strategies robust across the range of scenarios. However, scenarios may also be sufficiently diverse to require strategies unique to each context. 

Recommended steps to test strategies against these scenarios:

Step 1: Take one scenario at a time, for a moment, assume this scenario occurs. Discuss and explore different aspects, ensuring all participants understand the critical elements.

Step 2: Once the scenario is understood, pose the following questions and document the responses:

  • Is your set of strategic objectives appropriate in the scenario?
  • What obvious gaps are there in the current strategy for the scenario?
  • What additional/alternative strategies should be developed to close the gaps?
  • Considering the gaps/alternatives, how should the Theory of Change (ToC) be adjusted?

Step 3: Repeat steps one and two for each scenario until all scenarios are covered.

If you have sufficient time, move on to step 4…

Step 4: Stand back, look at the lists of strategic options for each scenario. Identify those that show up on all or most scenarios. These are the "no brainers," the strategic options that look good in all scenarios. Start working on a consolidated Theory of Change that draws on the common strategic options, with gaps covered/replaced by alternative strategies. Take steps to address potential bias by asking those outside your regular “circle” to review and validate your work.

Step 5: Test the ToC for logic and refine it. And finally, update the current strategy.

We hope you find these useful! Please let us know if you have any feedback on how you have used these scenarios in your strategy reviews. We would be most interested to hear your experiences and insights!