Aalto community collaborated in identifying emerging trends affecting our strategic choices

During fall 2020, Aalto piloted a collective foresight process as part of its living strategy approach. After gathering over 100 weak signals and trends from the Aalto community, three key emerging trends related to Aalto’s operating environment were identified.
A yellow workshop wall with lots of sticky notes with text
Photo of a strategy-related workshop taken in 2019

In early 2019, Aalto University began to create a new strategy and decided to adopt a living strategy approach. In this approach, the university’s purpose, values, and way of working define our long-term direction while the strategic choices are proactively and continuously re-evaluated. As part of the strategy process, the major trends that shape the university’s operating environment were identified to provide a basis for strategic choices.

During fall 2020, Aalto University piloted a foresight process for identifying the most relevant weak signals and emerging trends related to Aalto University’s operating environment. This foresight process is called the University Preview and it will be carried out every fall as part of the university’s annual planning cycle.

The University Preview is a new phase in our planning process. Raili Pönni, Head of Planning and Leadership support, explains the role and purpose of the University Preview: “The University Preview was born out of the idea that we need a tool for examining Aalto University’s operating environment to be able to proactively respond to any occurring changes. The changes in our operating environment due to the covid-19 pandemic are a good example of a situation that urges us to revisit our strategic choices.”

Aalto community members have a key role in identifying and analysing weak signals and trends, since Aalto’s living strategy approach puts strong emphasis on collaborative strategy work.

Insights about the future from the Aalto community

During autumn of 2020, the university organised several events and workshops where insights about the operating environment were gathered. Weak signals and trends were also gathered through a survey and by using the conversation tool. Aalto’s academic and service personnel, students and alumni participated in the work. Also the Aalto University Board took an active role in directly discussing with community members in a community event with over 450 participants.

By involving its diverse community, Aalto University ensured it could identify the most relevant trends that may impact research and education in the future. Susanna Ritala, a manager in alumni engagement, who facilitated many of the foresight-related workshops described the value of the collaborative approach: “Our alumni are employed in a variety of fields which allows them to recognise weak signals and trends that may be difficult to identify from within the immediate Aalto community.”

The three most relevant emerging trends identified

The outcome of the University Preview was a set of seven trends that had emerged from the community input and workshop discussions. People logged in with their Aalto University account can view the full set of trends in the attachment at the end of this article.

At the end of the University Preview, the board and Aalto Management Team identified the three most relevant emerging trends of the seven trends. These three trends were named Leading the sustainable way, Opportunities of the future and Hybrid ways of working.

Person cycling on a road surrounded by trees

Leading the sustainable way

The climate crisis demands a faster move into more sustainable ways of living. This might disrupt current businesses as well as open up new research opportunities.

Large banner of the Designs for a Cooler Planet event with a few people walking around it

Opportunities of the future

A rapidly evolving world requires organisations and businesses to reimagine their way of operating. This means adopting innovative approaches and methods, collaborating with new parties, or tackling entirely new challenges.

Computer screen with a Zoom call

Hybrid ways of working

To some degree, virtual ways of working and studying are here to stay. Everything from studying to research and international collaboration have changed.

The three emerging trends described above serve two main purposes in our living strategy. They will be utilised to revise the major trends characterising the university’s operating environment in the current strategy as well as to guide the next phase of the strategic planning process, the University Dialogue. In this phase, during the spring in 2021, the strategic choices will be reviewed and, if necessary, updated.

A successful pilot of a collective foresight process

Last year’s University Preview was a pilot, which will be developed further in the coming years. Due to its novelty and the strategy process being in a transition phase during 2020, the first University Preview was kept fairly light. Also, the pandemic had an impact on how the process was managed as Raili Pönni reflects: “We wanted to ensure we didn’t make the already unusual year even heavier for our community members. Despite the lighter process, I think we were able to involve the community quite successfully and identify several relevant trends.”

In the future, the plan is to integrate the University Preview more tightly with Aalto University’s strategic planning processes as well as our existing organisational bodies and events. According to Pönni, this will allow the University to gain insights into weak signals and trends from an even wider variety of people from students to external partners.

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