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Navigating Uncertain Times: A Scenario Planning Toolkit for the Arts and Culture Sector 

10-26-2020 15:35

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its course in 2020 and the national conversation on racial justice raises important questions about equity, arts organizations face a volatile ”new normal” with few certainties and many questions.  This toolkit, describing various paths the future might take, can help arts organizations make their way through the unknowns so they will be better prepared to succeed whatever may happen.

Created specifically for the arts sector, the toolkit presents four scenarios for the possible turn of events from 2020 to about 2025.  Each scenario is based on a different outlook for two factors: the pandemic’s course and how people respond to it, especially in their attitudes toward in-person gatherings.

The toolkit is divided into three parts, each a separate document:

  • Overview. An introduction explains scenario planning and describes the four scenarios and their implications.
  • Detailed Scenarios. Intended to span the five years from 2020 to 2025, the scenarios, described in detail, take into account arts sector trends as well as larger societal forces in the United States and around the world, including creativity, technology, the economy, the environment and politics.  Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the arts and cultural sector as a whole are identified for each scenario.
  • Planning Worksheets. This set of 21 exercises, with prompts and questions, is designed to guide organizations as they consider how they might be affected under each scenario and how they would respond.

Although the type of planning envisioned by the materials could be carried out by a single person, the authors recommend involving people throughout the organization in the endeavor, and they suggest ways to conduct planning workshops over a half day or full day or in multiple short sessions over a longer period. Through discussion and deliberation, the participants can pinpoint the assumptions and related analyses behind each scenario and then adjust them, if necessary, to fit the organization’s circumstances. Once they revise the scenarios as needed and discuss how they would respond to each one, the planners can turn to the worksheets to identify actions they can take, or to determine if they need more information. 

The authors have also compiled a summary of research and other resources about scenario planning—including articles about best practices and links to scenarios already put together by a number of academics, business consultancies and nonprofits.  

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