Thinkfest!
New Planning Model: A Matter of Cycles
by Dr. Larry S. AndersonFounder/Director, National Center for Technology Planning (NCTP)
MultiMedia Schools • November/December 2001 
In this installation of the "ThinkFest" column, we will take a brief glance back at the accountability matrix I offered last issue and see how it fits into the grander scheme of a new technology planning model. Before getting into the thick of the new model, though, we need to agree upon some ground rules.

Ground Rule #1: Suspend Disbelief! Yes, it's easy to be a doubter when new ideas come along. It's common to hear people say things like, "It'll never work," or, "You've got to be kidding!," or, "I don't like that." Some of the best ideas to impact our civilization throughout history have been notions that many people thought were nuts when they first heard the idea. However, aren't we glad the visionary dreamers didn't give in to public pressure? So, I ask you to put your disbelief machine on hold, at least for the duration of our time together this month.

Ground Rule #2: We Must Be Willing to Try! I admit that it is often much more comfortable to sit on the sidelines and just watch while others try new things. We are afraid of failure. We are reluctant to risk looking silly in case things don't go as we hope they will. On the other hand, we realize that the bold pioneers and adventurers are the ones who have brought great discoveries to our society. So, we must determine to try to make our new ideas work. If we fail, even dismally, we should pledge to learn our lessons and take corrective action. How sad it would be, though, if we never tried!

Ground Rule #3: This Is Only Part of the Picture! A very important reality that we must adopt is that anything discussed here is only a partial explanation. There's more to the matter than we mention here. Charts and diagrams that are used to portray the concept of a new planning model do not in any way provide the complete information. So, we should take what we are given, consider it carefully, then apply that knowledge to our practices. One of the worst things we can do is to think that my words to you dictate a "one size fits all" solution.
 

Process Makes Perfect
Remembering the words of Stephen Covey, author of the now-famous Seven Habits series of books and programs, we shall "begin with the end in mind." By this, I mean that we will step back, examine the planning process as a whole, then chart an action plan that considers our desired end results from the outset. To conceptualize that, I have devised a very simple graphic (see Figure 1).

The new planning model appears quite simple. On the surface, it doesn't look revolutionary. I suspect that when you examine the model, you will nod your head, agreeing that this all makes perfect sense. Be cautious, though. You may discover, upon a closer look, that there are some ideas embedded that go against tradition—that aren't like we've always done it. Never fear; it's for the better.

Much has been made about the concept of reengineering modern organizations. This revised planning model represents a reengineering of the process. The new process model involves an intense focus upon accountability at the outset. A paramount question we ask ourselves is, "If we had absolutely no boundaries, what kind of system would we create that would allow us to demonstrate clear, irrefutable accountability at any point along the timeline?" Previously, the notion of accountability—especially as achieved through an audit—was an ancillary consideration, something that we would deal with only when and if any need ever arose. Now, though, we begin with accountability as a primary focus.

How, then, does the reengineered process function? Four basic phases constitute the new planning model.

Phase A: Technology Plan Creation
This represents a comprehensive process of technology planning with which we all are familiar. However, it is bundled into one diagram/model component. I propose that the contents of the tech plan created under this revised model will be improved substantially (compared to plans drafted under prior models that allowed for more helter-skelter planning). The basic premise of the new plan is that it will have a focus upon the desired outcome, that technology integration efforts are easily accountable.

It is necessary to make some rudimentary assumptions for this phase. Assumption #1 is that a shared vision is in place, that all stakeholders have expressed mutual consent for the direction the plan will take the school. This element was true for the original planning model, but it is even far more critical in the new model. Shared vision is absolutely and critically essential. First, the vision must be defined so sufficiently and so clearly that it can be articulated by stakeholders. Second, there must be formal agreement by all concerned that the vision represents the dreams and aspirations of the community served by the technology plan.

Assumption #2 is that a mission statement has been crafted to follow the intent of the vision statement. The same principles apply here as did for the original planning model that has been adopted by so many hundreds of schools. A primary difference in the new model is that the mission statement is pivotally critical. It is essential, because it can specify the direction a school takes in ensuring clear, strong accountability for technology use. Like the vision statement, the mission statement must describe and reveal the mission mutually agreed upon by stakeholder constituents.

Phase B: Audit
An audit can be conducted on an annual basis, at a minimum. Currently, no definitive model exists to provide guidance on what an effective audit should contain. Many wonderful people and organizations are involved in auditing schools for technology; however, the lack of consistency in the audit model is alarming. One central role that NCTP has been given, and has adopted, is the development and promotion of a clear technology audit model.

So, what would this give us? What are the benefits of an audit? Why should we even have an audit? What reasonable purpose can be served by our promoting the notion of an audit, especially when the very mention of "audit" sends shivers down people's spines and brings frowns to everyone's faces?

We have a choice. We can either fixate upon the negative idea of an audit, or we can choose to make the most of it. We can leverage the audit to provide maximum positive benefit for us. Also, we have a unique opportunity right now to make the audit a good thing.

One fact is clear: The federal government is sure to enact legislation requiring schools to demonstrate and report their accountability for technology dollars. And the audit appears to be the natural avenue for accomplishing it. Let's band together now to ensure that the audit—something that is sure to come to us—ushers in massive benefit to teachers, students, administrators, parents, and other concerned participants.

What do we audit? How long should the audit take? How should we structure the audit?

Let's reflect a moment upon the matrix that was included in my previous column (MMS, October 2001). Let's make this as simple as possible, allowing plenty of flexibility to expand our audit to become as comprehensive and complex as we desire.

Column 1 of the matrix showed a listing of the most essential goals/activities (taken from our technology plan) in which we want to engage. What should we enter into the cells of Column 1? Well, if we pick up our written technology plan and find the key activities for which we are planning, we can simply transfer these concepts into Column 1. Even the most exotic of plans should have no more than 10-20 items. OK, if you're determined to list every single idea in your plan, you might compile an exhaustive list of up to 50 items. It is my notion, though, that 50 items are way too many! How on earth can you focus upon that many key activities in a normal technology planning time frame? How can you expect to achieve success when your focus is so vague rather than pointed? I contend that brevity is a virtue, so I encourage planners to keep the list as short as possible, hoping that the brevity of the list will accentuate the potential successful accomplishment of the activities listed.

Now, when the audit team comes into the school district to begin work, the first-level audit elements should be those listed in Column 1 of the accountability matrix. The school will have recorded already its progress on the activities listed. Time frames will be shown, along with the person who is designated as the Directly Responsible Individual for monitoring progress on each specific activity. If the school has maximized the value of the matrix, it will have recorded a variety of other types of information, such as lessons learned, identified weaknesses/shortcomings, success stories, and costs associated with the activity. All this information will help inform the auditors, but it also will assist the school as a robust brag sheet is compiled.

This discussion represents only a bare synopsis of what can be accomplished positively in an audit. Much more detail can be provided regarding the specifics of the audit activity. Perhaps that would be an excellent topic for a forthcoming column. Would you find a discussion of the audit useful? If so, please e-mail me at larry@nctp.com.

Phase C: Revision
The plan has been written, approved, and implemented. Approximately 1 year has passed since it was launched. A thorough audit has been conducted, and the findings resulting from the audit have been shared with school district leaders and decision-makers. Conditions are ripe for a revised plan to be developed and distributed.

In the old model for planning, a tech plan was revised simply after the original plan had been implemented for a while and enough time had passed so that a revision was warranted, often by public opinion. A modicum of information was gathered from constituent partners, then an updated planning document was prepared.

If we admitted the truth, we would agree that many technology plans are revised/updated mainly due to a requirement imposed by regulatory authorities. It is rather easy to make a change here, a change there, and submit a new document that we merely label as a revision. It is no revised plan at all. Rather, it is the same plan with revised words! I realize I am portraying a stereotypical image, but as I have worked with and visited many school districts, I have found this scenario true. We can change this. We can improve our practice.

Under the new technology planning model proposed by NCTP, however, the revision process is not engaged until an audit has been conducted. The audit, coupled with sufficiently extensive interviews and other data-collection methods, will be of inestimable value to new planners.

I am excited to observe the appearance and success of technology plans that are revised when bold planners adopt the new planning model that incorporates an audit into their revision.

Phase D: Accountability
No more will accountability be a bad word! We can banish forever the notion that our having to demonstrate our accountability is a straightjacket to imaginative innovation. My desire is that educators will embrace this notion, viewing it as an opportunity to show off their measured successes.

Sure, we will have shortcomings—areas where we have not achieved our target goals. That is not a bad thing, though. It just allows us to reveal the progress we are making toward achievement, showing that we recognize our weak areas and that we have a plan for accomplishment.

We will have a continuous process in place to demonstrate that we are responsible stewards of tax funds and other resources. Just imagine for a moment that you are a school district technology leader. It is 10 a.m. and an auditor shows up at your door. He asks for a cursory status report, supported by documentation.

If you have followed the guideline principles proposed by NCTP—and addressed in this column—you will be wearing a smile and will gladly take him to your accountability matrix. You can show very clearly how your district is doing, and you will have a bundle of great stories to tell, to boot.

When the auditor prepares to leave you, he will have a smile on his face and you will be inviting him to come back anytime! You will have just succeeded in demonstrating not only an irrefutable accountability for technology expenditure, support, and progress. You will have personified your role as the poster child for educational achievement and advancement!
 

Previews of Coming Attractions
In the months ahead, we will examine other graphic representations for new technology planning models. There is no single, perfect planning model. Thus, we should examine a variety of possibilities. Perhaps there will be one that strikes your fancy and you will be able to adopt a new design. To that end, I encourage you to send me your diagrams and we shall put them on the metaphorical table as well.

If you have compelling questions, suggestions, or general comments, please feel free to send them to me. I look forward to hearing from you. Until next issue, stay tuned!



Communications to the author may be addressed to Dr. Larry Anderson, National Center for Technology Planning; e-mail: larry@nctp.com; Web page: www.nctp.com.

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