Predicting the future

Recently I have cause to review the schools 5 year plan for IT with a view to updating it however in doing so I have come to question the process.

Part of the reason for questioning the process lies with my recent reading of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and also The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb which I am currently reading.    In both books the author examines our ability to predict the future, with both authors arriving at the same conclusion, being that human beings track record in relation to future predictions is generally poor.    Both authors cite a variety of projects, where predictions in relation to costs and timescale in particular are required.   In each of the examples the project either ends up taking significantly longer or costing significantly more than anticipated.

Thinking about my own context, I oversaw an IT overhaul in a school back in 2007.   This was very much focused around updating the existing server and client PC infrastructure and developing a long term, 5 year plan for maintaining and renewing the equipment.   Had I been able to predict the iPad and its potential applications in education, which was only 3 years away and therefore well within the scope of my 5 year plan, my plan and also some of my actions may have been significantly different.

Given the above I have taken a different approach to my new 5 year plan.   I now accept that the further away from today, the more variable and unpredictable the future is.    Reflecting, this should not have been a surprise as unpredictability is compounded, like financial interest over time.   If you look at your mortgage bill and the total repayment amount you can see how a few percentile points compounded over a period of time can result in a significant increase on the original figure.   So a small percentage of unpredictability played out across a number of years would result in a significant level of unpredictability.

My new 5 year plan has a lot of detail in terms of what is planned for the coming 12 months.    Planning for the 2nd 12 months contains less items as this period is more difficult to predict, with planning for the 3rd year and beyond being progressively less detailed in line with the increasing level of unpredictability.

Now my thinking thus far has been focused on longer term planning in the magnitude of around 5 years with quite clear implications for periods extending beyond 5 years however is a similar issue applicable to short periods?    Can we accurately predict things within a single academic year?  If the answer to this is no then what implications might this have for planning within schools?    I also wonder about lesson planning however that may be for another posting.

How often do you engage in long term planning and in doing so have you considered quite how unpredictable the world is?



Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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