An empirical analysis of a scenario-informed strategic planning process : a public sector case
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This thesis lies at the nexus of scenario planning and strategy. Scenario planning is a foresight activity used extensively in strategic planning and public policy development to imagine alternative, plausible futures as means to understand the driving forces behind the uncertainties and possibilities of a changing environment. Despite significant application in both private and public sectors, and a growing body of academic and practitioner-orientated literature, little empirical evidence exists about how organisations actually use scenario planning to inform strategy. Moreover, the emerging Strategy-as-Practice (S-as-P) perspective, which has exposed strategy to more sociological pursuits, presented a way of conceiving and studying strategy not as something an organisation has, but rather as something people do. By examining the activities of scenario planning, understanding its use as an example of episodic, interactive strategizing, S-as-P provides a theoretical lens through which to perform a much-needed empirical analysis of the scenario-to-strategy process. A second goal of the thesis is to advance understanding of the S-as-P perspective by addressing recent criticisms as well as contributing to the growing body of practice-based research. The central research question which guides the thesis is, how does an organisation use scenario planning to inform the strategic planning process? To answer this question, the research vehicle is a single, in-depth case study of community planning in Fife, which extends from 1999 until April 2008. A detailed, longitudinal narrative of Fife’s scenario planning and strategy process is presented before using empirical evidence from the case to understand how an organisation manages the scenario planning process, how scenario planning affects policy development, and how cognitive processes manifest physically in an organisation. The thesis concludes that scenario planning created a sensemaking/sensegiving framework that provided structural and interpretive legitimacy which facilitated communicative activities and helped the Fife Partnership understand and improve the interconnectedness of Fife’s public services and community planning process. While contributing to the S-as-P research agenda, the investigation of the scenario-to-strategy process also revealed, and solidified, a number of criticisms that challenge the theoretical, conceptual, and empirical validity of the strategy-as-practice perspective.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy