February 19, 2013
THE ROLE OF THE SEARCH CONFERENCE (SC) AND THE REFLECTION AND DESIGN CONFERENCE (RDC) IN PARTICIPATIVE STRATEGIC PLANNING PROCESSES Jaime Jiménez, IIMAS, UNAM
The Search Conference (SC) is an effective method of participative strategic planning conceived as an answer to the failure of traditional bureaucratic top-down planning.
It has long been recognized that organizations are immersed in turbulent environments, characterized by increasing relevant uncertainty.
This requires active adaptation, and an adaptive organizational form.
As a temporary organization, the SC is structured on the second organizational design principle - redundancy of function.
The SC is a purposeful organization, a structure for learning and the emergence of ideal-seeking systems.
The SC has been extensively used in several countries, particularly in Australia, Turkey and North America.
Some Latin American countries have also used it, with Mexico being the country where it has most widely used.
Is it possible to carry out a SC in any country without having to make adjustments due to cultural differences?
Our experience in Mexico shows that, without modifying the essence of the SC, some changes result in a better adaptation to the Mexican organizational milieu.
The misuse in Mexico of the SC’s name to associate it with events that are a bad replica of the SC, has led us to:
adopt of a different name that conveys the two major stages of the Conference: reflection and design.
In addition, the time horizon has been shortened to a five year future, with which Mexicans feel more comfortable.
The Search Conference
The uncertainty in which organizations are currently immersed is mainly due to profound changes of people’s values and ideals since the end of WWII.
This has produced increasingly complex and sophisticated societies.
From the second half of the XX Century on, society has witnessed accelerated change processes taking place in technology and economy, as well as in social and political relations.
The generation and dissemination of information grow faster than the ability of individuals and organizations to analyze and assimilate it.
This is an additional source of uncertainty on the future of organizations.
It greatly reduces their ability to actively participate in the planning and construction of their own future.
Planning based on the gathering and analysis of past information is no longer enough under changing conditions:
....conventional methods are not appropriate to confront new challenges. Critical problems trespass the boundaries set forth by organizations and social groups. Stakeholders are physically and organizationally dispersed, limiting their interactions to ritual acts, without realizing how their interests are inter-linked, hence not developing effective strategies aiming at a common shared future. (Carvajal, 1994: 1, free translation).
Planning enhances the ability of organization’s members to better adapt to changing environments.
However, since the level of uncertainty is not predictable, planned courses of action must be oriented towards values and ideals giving sense and coherence in a direction commonly agreed upon.
The Search Conference (SC) is a method that leads social systems to become adaptive.
Adaptiveness is the ability of a system to modify itself or its environment when either has changed to the system's disadvantage.
To increase its efficiency with respect to its functions.
The SC has proved itself as a viable and adaptive way of planning for turbulent times.
Arising from the concept of an open system, the SC fits within the world hypothesis of contextualism, accepting change as a given.
It provides a social ‘space’ where reflection and design can be accomplished in an environment free of self-imposed constraints.
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