Creating a Collaborative Conception: Facility Futures: by Bob Valiant


In this era of top-down reform and rapid change in many aspects of education, facility planning might be likened to completing a jigsaw puzzle of a motion picture while the film is still running. Before the pieces for one image can be put in place the projector has moved to the next frame. So it is with school planning. Technology, curriculum, instruction and school organization are in a state of flux and planners are compelled to deal with each of these factors while developing a long-range plan or the design of a particular school.

One strategy for dealing with confused circumstances is to seek high ground to get a view of the entire picture and perhaps to see what is ahead. This article seeks to provide the reader with a path to the high ground. From this vantage point participants can develop a collaborative conception of what future schools could be like. We will begin by examining current social trends and the conditions they create. This will be followed by a description of a process for developing a future vision shared by the various stakeholders. The final section is a nuts-and-bolts discussion of the activities required to successfully complete the process.

Trends and Conditions

Examination of the trends affecting the lives we lead discloses four with dominant impact. Demographic changes, economic restructuring, globalization, and technological advancements each are creating special needs for working and living in the future and for the educational systems that prepare people for their adult roles. Let us look briefly at these trends and some of the conditions that result.

Schooling as well as life in general are being drastically altered by kaleidoscopic changes in demographics. Altered family patterns, the numbing level of poverty among children, children having children, growing numbers of the elderly and increasing ethnic diversity all add to the complexity of human interactions. New models are needed to deal with the wave of diversity where each ethnic and social group is viewed as a resource and differences are valued as advantages.
Changing demographics has created a need to refocus policies on families and communities and to guard against rising inequality. This includes a need to provide programs and services for at-risk children and adults.

A second trend, economic restructuring, is rapidly transforming the workplace and creating the need for new skills in the work force. Moving from an industrial economy to one based on information and service has placed great strains on the infrastructure that supports this new economy. An information society requires workers to think critically, solve problems, and make on-the-spot decisions. Schools must focus on long term as well as short term learning outcomes and to become places where adults and children learn together to become knowledge managers.

While we change demographically and our economy is being restructured we are caught up in a third trend, that of global interdependence. Communication and transportation advances have erased the lines on maps for many aspects of human life. World markets have developed at a dizzying rate, but the trend is not localized to the economy. Ecological changes, ethnic conflict, terrorism, disease control, and drug traffic prevention require international cooperation. Given this new world order, it is important for each of us to understand other cultures and to learn from them. We need to identify global issues and focus on them in school programs.

The rapid encroachment of information technology into virtually every aspect of our lives is the fourth dominant trend. It is somewhat different from the other three in that it is so heavily embedded in every aspect of life including the other three trends. Technology is both a problem and a solution. New ways to manage technology are needed because our ability to invent new technology is outstripping our ability to cope with the newly created problems. We also need to find new ways to use information technology to improve learning and to provide information to help the public understand technological issues.

It should be clear that the many changes outlined above call for new roles for schools and educators. Planning for schools of the future must take the new order into account.

Creating a Collaborative Conception

How then can we design programs and facilities to meet these new needs? This section outlines the primary components of a strategy to create a shared vision of what is coming and how schools can cope with the changes. It also sets the stage for the planning effort that will result in a written description of the school of the future.

Two critical aspects of the vision design process are the involvement of all stakeholders and development of a trust relationship among all of the participants. The most common method used to address these two issues is to form a representative work group with many chances for input from various constituencies and a steady flow of information to everyone who is concerned about what is happening. Acceptance of ideas to be considered is important, but democratic group action on decisions is critical. If members of the work group or other concerned parties perceive they are being manipulated they will lose interest, drop out, or openly oppose the outcome.

It is important to set the tone of shared decision making from the outset. There should be a well-defined selection process for representatives to the work group that allows stakeholders input. The initial charge to the group must stress the concept of shared wisdom. The participants cannot, of course, work in an information vacuum. State of the art research and background data must be provided. If bias is present in the information it should be clearly identified and when group members ask for information it must be made available, even if it is not convenient to do so. A feeling of candor and openness must be perceived by everyone connected with the project or it is likely to fail.

Nuts and Bolts

Most of what has been presented to this point has been soft and fuzzy. Although it is critical to develop the relationships described, just feeling good doesn’t get the job done. This section will present some activities that have been used to lead up to the publication of vivid descriptions of what schools can be like in the 21st Century while ensuring that this vision is shared by the many people who are likely to be affected by the outcome. These activities will be presented in loose chronological order and are not meant to be all encompassing. They should be modified to fit the individual needs of schools and school districts.

  • A work group needs to be selected from among the various stakeholders. Ideas for forming such a group are contained in the section above.
  • Provide a full day for the opening session. Comfortable surroundings and lunch are well worth any extra cost.
  • Present trends information to the group. The discussion provided above is a start, but the latest trend data from The World Future Society is valuable information that can be added.
  • Form a small group for each of the trends identified and brainstorm needs that each trend creates for your school or district. Collect these from each group and develop a composite list with the total group.
  • Set up small task groups for each area of identified need.
  • In a central location develop a concept map of ideas generated by each task group.
  • At the end of the day call everyone together to debrief using the concept map as a resource. Prioritize areas to focus on for the “Future Vision” and assign writing teams to develop a narrative that describes the school of the future. This will include descriptions of activities that are occurring, written in the present tense as though it were already happening.
  • One person is assigned the task of collecting the written statements and putting them into a common format for publication of the first draft of the vision statement.
  • The Vision Team is called together to review the completed draft and to make suggestions for improvement. This can be accomplished in a few hours. The second draft, clearly marked as a draft edition, should be disseminated widely for review and comment. A cover letter describing what has gone before and what is yet to be done can be attached along with a brief response sheet.
  • Two or more rounds of draft revisions may be necessary before a finished document is ready for dissemination. This version is still not “final” in the sense that it should be revisited from time to time to ensure that it still reflects current trends and reflected needs.
  • Conclusion

    Production of the document described here, if widely distributed and discussed periodically, will influence many decisions that are made in the school district and in the community. It should certainly influence the educational specifications for any new school since, if done well, it will describe things going on in the school environment in a way that makes building function apparent. It will serve as a tour guide for your school district as you journey into the future.

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