Fore-sighting Can Become Score-sighting!
Today sees a Guest Article from REBUS67 suggesting a way forward for The Scottish Game. Nothing I can say by way of introduction could properly do it justice-other than to suggest that we need him back over here now!
As we work our way through the Covid-19 crisis spare a thought for those who administer our game. Yes, I know, but someone has to administer the game! Now they are faced with an even more uncertain future as individual clubs struggle with their costs with no appreciable revenue coming in. Whilst both the SFA and the SPFL have to deal with these current problems, the Covid crisis is an opportunity to reshape our game into a more relevant, more competitive format.
We have already had suggestions of league reconstruction which appears to suggest that there is awareness that change is necessary, even if the motivations of some clubs are self-serving. However, what we do not need is a quickly devised and poorly thought outreconstruction that is designed only for the short term. Planning for the long term is required if we are to see significant improvement in Scottish football. If we are realistic we should not expect to see significant improvements in the next few years.
Scottish football has been declining at both the national and club levels for quite some time. There is no quick fix. However, surely a plan can be put in place so that the quality of Scottish football, at both national and league levels can be improved. We only have to look to Belgium to see the positive effects that longterm planning can bring.
In the early 2000’s, Belgium appointed Michel Sablon as Technical Director with the remit to improve Belgian soccer at all levels…a tough order. By 2006 he had developed a vision and a plan that would fundamentally change Belgian football. As a result of Sablon’s plan, Belgium has produced “a golden generation” of footballers, including Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukakua. All of this from a country with a population of only 11m, with just 34 professional clubs competing across two leagues.
Belgium’s success did not come overnight. It took 10+ years for Sablon’s plan to bear fruit. This is the type of time frame that those that govern Scottish football have to consider. However, how does one plan so far into the future? Strategic plans are normally for 5+ but thinking in terms of 10, 15, even 20 years ahead requires a different approach.
One such approach is called Foresight. It is particularly appropriate in situations where new challenges are posed and the old ways of working may no longer be valid.
So, what is Foresight? Perhaps it is best to start by indicating what Foresight is not. It is not strategic planning, because it is more long term than that……10+ years as opposed to 5+ years. It is also not forecasting, although it can use forecasts. So, what is it?
It is a method that:
1. Explores possible futures for the game.
2. Provides descriptions of what these futures will look like.
3. Indicates what we have to do today in order to participate in a desirable future.
Foresight is not new but it is not used as much as other forms of planning. However, it has been used by many companies, regions and nations to help with the reshaping of economies, innovation and investment policies.
One country that has benefited from its use is Ireland. In an earlier comment on SentinelCelts I illustrated how it was used to reshape the Irish Economy. To show that I am not a one trick pony, I shall use another example from Ireland. I call it the BMW Foresight study. Nope, it is not what you think!
BMW stands for the Border, Midlands, and the West of Ireland. These are rural areas that felt that they were not getting the same economic benefits as Dublin and surrounding areas. These regions decided that they needed their own economic plan to promote their brand. They used Foresight to create a vision for the future and a plan to reach that vision. What follows, if you are still reading, is a rough outline of the process…..a process that I believe could be used in Scottish football.
One of the objectives of the BMW project was:• To prepare a commonly agreed development program amongst policy making bodies.
IMHO this is relevant for the Scottish game. The key words here are “commonly agreed”. This is one of the strengths of the Foresight process in that it creates consensus on a way forward……..not always an easy task.
The BMW process took 12 months to complete and it consisted of 4 Expert Panels of volunteers each with a particular focus, e.g. one focused on competitive aspects of the regions, another on aspects of innovation. Each panel met four times over the year.
You will have noticed that the SPFL has recently formed six expert panels to examine the impact of Covid on our game. For example, one panel will deal with necessary changes to regulations, another will deal with supporters’ issues. So, the League has the resources and the ability to create the expert panels that are required to run a Foresight on the game.
The process is complex but in summary it consisted of identifying the important forces that shaped the BMW regions. The first meeting is presented with these results and discusses them. At the end of the meeting, consultants create scenarios based upon the discussions. Usually, the number of scenarios is limited to 3-4. These scenarios are presented at the second panel meeting and refined by discussion.
At the third meeting, each scenario is considered separately. The panel is asked to imagine that this scenario represents the future. Participants are then asked to consider what must be done today to take advantage of the future outlined in the scenario. For example, the panel may examine what kind of player development program needs to be put in place. This is repeated for each scenario.
Consultants take these findings and examine them for overlap. For example, no matter which scenario considered, all of themmight indicate that foreign coaches need to be brought in. This would then be regarded as a key component of any player development program.
The final meeting considers all of the results, looking for overlaps and devises the elements of a plan. It may also discuss which of the scenarios is most desirable.
In the BMW study here is the main output:
1. A profile was developed for the regions, including what should drive policy.
2. An agreed vision statement was created.
3. Innovation was seen to be dominant, under all scenarios.
4. 10 strategic objectives were developed, with suggestions on how they can be measured.
5. 10 additional priority projects were described to be implemented now.
If we could get even some of that coming out of a Foresight study of our game, we would have a way forward.
I hope that the above has not been too technical. I think the time has passed when we merely call for change. We need to suggest how that change can occur. Our old friend, Machiavelli knew a thing or two about human nature. Here is one of his quotes which hits the mark:
“Shortsightedness is part of human nature,
which the wise princes have overcome through the use of foresight — “
Many thanks for this article,REBUS67. It is probably too much to hope that someone in Scottish football has the good sense to even attempt something as ambitious and successful. We live in hope.