There is something about having a plan. Plans are almost universally seen as ‘good things to have’. Even a bad plan is seen as better than having no plan at all – a truth of which the UK is demonstrating in its current ‘Brexit’ negotiations. Even Baldric had a plan. Personally I have an abiding interest in plans. In an earlier life I worked as a field archaeologist, and as such have planned the excavation, and therefore destruction, of innumerable features and sites. Archaeology is a profession where ‘no plan’ inevitably results in data without context and poor post excavation analysis. It is also worth noting that the purpose of archaeology is, more often than not, to identify and understand the plans of those who once built their homes and lived their lives on the sites we excavate. It seems humans have always liked plans.
Plans are how we as individuals, families, communities, organisations and businesses operate. Not surprisingly plans come in all shapes and sizes. Try listing up the number of adjectives that you can put in front of the word ‘plan’. You can start with ‘cunning’ if you enjoy Blackadder and end with ‘scenario’ if you like long term planning with options.
Sometimes we make plans ourselves. Sometimes we make plans for others. One common factor in successful planning is that those involved ‘buy-in’ to the plan – something that becomes ever more important, and more difficult to achieve, the larger and more disparate, or indeed more engaged, the group. Few successful organisations really have ‘top-down’ command systems. In our experience creative business or heritage organisation are invariably a dynamic blend of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ working.
Over the years we have been involved in producing many different types of plan – for ourselves and for others: business development plans, community plans, interpretation plans, strategic plans, change-management plans, etc., the list, as noted, is long. There are, however, certain recurring attributes to a successful plan and many of these lie in its creation. First there has to be the right balance between top-down and bottom-up thinking and all organisations and projects have different mixes here. Then there has to be the correct emphasis given to real-world activities (buildings, collections, physical engagement) and digital activities (social media, web, content development and management). Thirdly, although probably most importantly, it is about getting the public engagement right over the life of the project. Finally there are the implementation mechanics – the budget plans, design options, architecture, staffing and so forth.
It is sometimes difficult for an organisation to achieve a productive balance of all of these factors and hence outside facilitators such as ourselves are called in to help. We can also be called in where external skill sets are needed for larger projects or for plans that look into complex places or the far future. The international dimension of our team is particularly important for plans that need to consider complex user trends or the longer term. Where digital activities are as significant part of the plan then ‘longer term’ may well mean between five and ten years! The fact is that both economically and socially public use trends are a global phenomena. Understanding and planning for these is often a balance of regional demographics and economics within an framework of international technological and changing patterns of personal leisure and work.
After working for over 25 years in the field of culture and technology our specialised knowledge of what changes and what stays the same is exceptionally well grounded. For us it has always been about what you do not how you should do it. It is then about the real world and content rather than software or hardware. So it is important, for instance, to know what will be best practice for the copyright of cultural content in 10 years. It is important to know that 2D image technologies are now (for almost all practical purposes) stable while 3D image technologies are still developing. It is even more important to know what users will expect over the next ten years – for instance is there going to be a push towards an analogue leisure life to balance an ever more digital work life?
Finally there is the fact that the future is not written. Plans are all about influencing our future. Creating a world that we want to live in, not just accepting what is trending or being sold to us. For heritage organisations this has to be one of our most fundamental reasons for making plans. We are not here just to record what has happened. We are here to influence what will – by making and implementing our plans.