In the earliest phase of work with each school with which I engage, I ask the site leader (principal, head of school, superintendent) to come up with a set of “boundary conditions” that will guide and govern a process of expansive strategic design. Boundary conditions set out both the limits and expectations of a project. They are as expansive as possible and as prescriptive as needed; they allow the participants maximum flexibility of both thinking and imagination without going so far afield as to become purely theoretical, totally whimsical, or anarchical.
Boundary conditions are put forward by the site leader to the community of stakeholders at the start of strategic design. There is no one set of boundary conditions that works for a process of strategic design for all schools, but I am finding some coalescence around a list that I am now sharing with some of my client site leaders as a place to start their thinking. I expect you to think big, and even to dream.
- The core of our mission is student learning; nothing should stand in the way of us providing the best possible learning for students.
- We have to prepare for a future that is far less certain than it has been in the past.
- We will create the future together; it will not be handed to our community by one person or a small committee.
- Our aspirations cannot be resource limited; we will find the resources to be who and what we need to be.
I think initial boundary conditions like these define the fundamental difference between the approach that I am calling “strategic design” from traditional school strategic planning. The later have tended to be largely framed within an existing set of operational assumptions that limit, or even block, the kind of expansive thinking wherein most true innovation lies.
What would happen at your school if you started a process of long range planning with only these as initial boundary conditions? How might the results differ from those in your current strategic plan? What points would you delete and what would you add? What opportunities for the future might be revealed with these as the limits of your community of thought?