Strategic Personal Planning

In order to complete a satisfying project you need to focus on something tight and do-able. Strategic Personal Planning allows you to arrive at this focus by first opening out and acknowledging a wide range of factors and wishes that your work could take into account.

Strategic Personal Planning is based on the strategic participatory planning workshop process developed by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA; see think-piece in Part 4 on Action Research and Participation). The basic propositions of the ICA workshop process include the following:
  • Notwithstanding any initial impressions to the contrary, everyone has insight (wisdom) and we need everyone's insight for the wisest result.
  • There is insight in every response. There are no wrong answers.
  • We know more than we are, at first, prepared or able to acknowledge.
  • When we are heard, we can better hear others and hear ourselves. This causes us to examine decisions made in advance about what the other people are like, what they are and are not capable of.
  • The step-by-step workshop process thus aims to keep us listening actively to each other, foster mutual respect, and elicit more of our insight.
  • Our initial conclusions may change, so we need to be open for surprises.
  • What we come out with is very likely to be larger and more durable than what any one person came in with; the more so, the more voices that are brought out by the process.
  • In particular, we will be engaged in carrying out and carrying on the plans we develop.
  • In sum, the workshop process aims for the “greatest input, with greatest commitment and the least confusion, in the least time.”

  • To adapt these principles to Strategic Personal Planning means that you should hope to come out with a plan for your project that is richer, deeper, and has more dimensions than what you came in with. The more angles on yourself that are brought out by the process, the more likely you are to create something you did not anticipate. The experience of that creativity, in turn, leads you to be more likely to carry out the plan you arrive at.

    The Strategic Personal Planning process begins with the “practical vision” stage. The idea is to generate a larger vision of your work that underlies the specific project you are undertaking. In that spirit, do not focus specifically on your project topic. Instead, consider a more global question: What is needed for your personal and professional development in [insert here: general area required to be addressed by the project]?


    Post-it brainstorming

    Undertake a Future Ideal Retrospective: Imagine yourself some time after the project is over looking back with a sense of accomplishment on how far you have come in the area of [insert general area required to be addressed by the project]. (Construe accomplishment broadly so it can include your own reflection and growth.) What happened to make this so?—What different kinds of things do you envisage having gone into or contributed to that personal and professional development? In preparing for this brainstorming, take note of the following:
  • These things can span the mundane and inspiring; tangible and intangible; process, as well as product; relationships as well as individual skills. (By mundane, think of all the different tasks on your plate—over and above those for this project—that potentially affect your ability to carry out your project in a way that is satisfying.)
  • Reread any externally-dictated context and requirements for the project (e.g., the description, objectives, or expectations given in a course syllabus).

  • Keeping in mind the question above, brainstorm your three to five word answers onto Post-its in block letters. (Alternatively, on your computer, you can make virtual Post-its that you can move around.)

    Pair up and get more ideas from hearing about the kinds of things the other person came up with. Make more Post-its. Once you have about 30 Post-its, move to the next phase.

    Clustering and naming

  • Move the Post-its around into groups of items that have something in common in the way they address the Future Ideal Retrospective question.
  • Describe the groups using a phrase that has a verb in it or, at least, indicates some action. For example, instead of “Holistic Artistic Survival Project,” an active name would be “Moving Holistically from Surviving to Thriving as Artists.”
  • Group the groups in pairs or threes and give these larger groups descriptive active names.
  • Group these groups and name them, until you arrive at a descriptive active name for the practical vision Post-its as a whole.

  • (The diagrams below illustrate the naming of the original groups of Post-its and the subsequent grouping and naming of larger groups. These clusters and names were developed using Post-its [not shown] from an entire class brainstorming on the question of what was needed for their continuing personal and professional development at the end of a course on Action Research and Educational Evaluation.)

    Pair up again and discuss your overall vision.

    After the session, redraw the groups in a neat form (without the original Post-its) so you can refer back to the vision chart as you define and undertake your project.

    Translate Strategic Personal Planning into a concrete Research and Engagement Design

    Quick option: Freewrite (for 7-10 minutes) on the specific actions you might take so as to complete a project that fulfills your practical vision as well as meets any more specific objectives and expectations. Keep these action ideas in sight, together with your practical vision, as you plan the remainder of your work (see Research and Engagement Design).

    More time-consuming option: Pursue the other three stages of Strategic Personal Planning, starting with brainstorming on the obstacles to your realizing this vision (Stanfield 2002). Re-vision those obstacles (perhaps with peer or advisor interaction) until you see the underlying issues and a gateway through to new, strategic directions, and then to specific actions that follow those directions.


    Naming of the original groups of Post-its and subsequent grouping and naming of larger groups. (Based on Post-it brainstorming by two classes concerning what is needed for their continuing personal and professional development at the end of a course on Action Research and Educational Evaluation.)

    Stanfield, R. B. (2002) The Workshop Book: From Individual Creativity to Group Action. Toronto: Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs.