What's The Plan?

December 2, 2009 7 Comments

Come meander with me!

I’m reflecting on World AIDS Day.? The World Health Organization established World AIDS Day in 1988, and it’s been observed on December 1st ever since to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic. In the early years, some museums would have “A Day Without Art,” shrouding artwork to demonstrate the impact of the epidemic.? And there were many other ways of observing – e.g., candlelight marches, displays of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, local awareness-raising or fundraising events around the globe.

I’m reflecting on the early days – and where we are today.? I was remembering that for those of us doing AIDS work in the 1980s and early 1990s, the idea that we would be entering 2010 with big advances in prevention and treatment but with the epidemic still raging, without a vaccine and without a cure, seemed impossible.? We planned and organized, thinking we would end the epidemic, not set up institutions that would last more than 30 years. And yet, here we are, having been through what people around the world have been through, lost the millions we have lost, and with an estimated 33 million people living with HIV worldwide. And with amazing, dedicated people around the globe doing their all to halt the spread of HIV and end the epidemic – continuing to adjust, change tactics, learn and expand what’s possible.

And so, in my mental meander today, I’m reflecting on the idea of planning and thinking of the challenge the concept presents in many of the social justice movements we work in. In so many realms, constant change is the reality. And yet, what is often expected is a fixed plan for moving forward. I was reading Jack Ricchiuto’s blog post “Breaking Through: Beyond Goals and Plans” in which he calls us to move toward creating more adaptability and strategic action and fewer plans. I was considering what is needed for a middle way between planning and allowing for emergence.? Gibrán Rivera has talked about “strategic sketching” and many of us at IISC see the critical need groups have to set shared direction.? But I’m wondering about how much planning – and how much adaptability. What’s the right mix for creating the kinds of movements we need to take us forward? What do you think? What’s your experience?


  • Jen Willsea says:

    Thank you so much for this reflection in the context of the past few decades, Linda. And thank you for your excellent articulation of the question about balancing planning and adaptability. I’ve been thinking about that too…

  • Gibran says:

    Thanks Linda for the work you have done in your lifetime! Amazing! And yes, thank you for the shout out. At my most intense moments I want to throw out planning all together, and yet I know that it would not be the wisest move. It’s almost like what I really want to challenge is how we relate to the process of planning as well as to our plans. That’s why I like to sketch instead, to articulate vision, purpose and intention, follow that with identifying benchmarks, and then continually be in the process of re-telling the story of where we are going, always shaping it by whatever conditions are current…

  • Linda says:

    Gibran and Jen,
    I also have started wondering – along the same lines as my post last week (“Stay, Stay, Stay”) about what groups of people need to develop to stay in the adaptability, the uncertainty of adjusting to the transitions. As always, great to be on this exploratio journey with you all!

  • ellen says:

    Thanks Linda for this thoughtful piece. I also think a lot about planning and i like the juxtaposition to adaptability. I wonder if how we think about leadership also needs to be rewired. It is the age old question – do we continue to plan to build institutions – or can we build movements that are adaptive? what kind of leadership will it take. what should “leadership development” really look like? Can we really create a different narrative??? let’s try!!

  • Curtis says:

    I’ve been reading some interesting work by researchers on innovation who say that while improvisation is the highest form of innovation, it is also highly inefficient. For this reason setting some constraints and having some structure can be helpful and even necessary. I’m wondering if planning (a very linear approach) needs to give way to prototyping in complex/non-linear situations. To me the planning, then implementing approach is problematic. Innovation seems to happen when these two things happen concurrently.

  • Jen Willsea says:

    I am also so grateful to be on this journey with all of you. And I’ve been wondering, is it really worth while for folks spending a lot of time crafting mission, vision, values statements for their organization? Is there a more facile way to create meaning and direction together kind of like doing strategic thinking rather than strategic planning??

  • Linda says:

    Thanks Ellen. Great to have fellow travellers!

    Curtis, I’d love to read the research you’ve been reading. Can you send along references? I love to dig deeper.

    And Jen, these are great questions. We’re in the midst of shifting views on all of this. And personally, I’m really enjoying the exploration!

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