In 2016, Professor Louise Knight and Dr Jo Meehan conducted a piece of research with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) to explore how the future supply landscape might change, and what this might mean for purchasing and supply management (PSM), as a field, and for practitioners.
This was the first major academic study CIPS has commissioned on the future of the profession since 2003. The acceleration of a number of megatrends – for example, the climate emergency, artificial intelligence, robotics, and health and wealth inequalities formed the backdrop to the study. From the start of the study, the ambition was not to just come up with a list of issues, but to promote a rich, diverse, and critical conversation that brings academic and practitioners together. The research has led to two reports published by CIPS, and a Notes and Debates paper in the Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (JPSM) on the potential of scenario methods to PSM futures research.
Jo and Louise adopted a method commonly used in strategy, natural sciences and engineering research, but not used in PSM - scenario development. Scenarios do not attempt to predict the future. The method allows participants to develop several plausible futures. Doing so helps reveal the often-hidden critical uncertainties that need attention. Rather than looking backwards at dominant themes/voices to linearly predict futures, scenarios encourage consideration of complex, interacting factors with an explicit recognition that the future is malleable and open to influence.
Working with CIPS has enabled an ongoing effort to disseminate the findings and use the findings in practice. The empirical research was conducted before Covid-19, yet the work remains a popular and influential resource for CIPS and its members. More than ever businesses are grappling with unprecedented uncertainty. The issues explored in the research’s contrasting scenarios – technology and supply markets – resonate with topics trending in the news today including the market power of big business and the role of regional business communities.As stated in the JPSM paper (p.8), “Science is not limited to meticulously developing a better understanding of what is extant or has previously occurred. It is a fundamental function of science to imagine and engage with the unknown and what has not (yet) happened. Scenario planning is a valuable research technique to anticipate, shape and develop the future of PSM”. A good scenario is not about prediction – it should be thought provoking to seed rich debates. Sheena Donaldson, CIPS’s Knowledge Manager said: “The paper remains a core compass to our changing profession and is very much standing strong”.