Informed Insights about the Future

by Kathleen Trotter

Where are camps going? What should you be doing? What kinds of programs, facilities and resources do you need to meet the demands of the twenty-first century?

These are tough questions. The world is changing so fast that you can hardly keep up with today’s trends, let alone predict the impact of new discoveries and inventions on the future. Anticipating how today’s technology will influence your life personally and socially tomorrow is especially difficult.

Where will camps get resources? Who will be the workforce? How much can you shape your future, or are you simply at the mercy of factors out of your control?

Addressing these questions in a systematic way is futuring. Futuring is a discipline that uses various methodologies to anticipate possibilities based on current trends, to assess the likely impact of these possibilities on different aspects of people’s lives, and to establish responses that enable people to control the directions of their lives or to be prepared to deal with the uncontrollable consequences. A popular myth says that futurists predict what will happen, but this is not true — no one can know what will happen in the future. However, by using some common methodologies, futurists can anticipate tomorrow.

  • Trend projection: Statistically analyzing an issue based on current data, and extrapolating the results into the future.
  • Scenarios: Using the imagination to identify the likely situations that may arise out of a mix of variables and the likely reactions to the scenarios.
  • Consulting others: Establishing specific research techniques (e.g., Delphi Technique) for polling persons who have specific knowledge or information about a particular subject.
  • Models: Creating a written, graphic, or physical construct of an idea, building, or relationship to be able to study and understand it more completely.
  • Simulations: Enacting a pretend situation or game to determine the likely consequence of following a course of action. A simulation enables participants to identify the interrelated dynamics of a situation.
  • Computer simulations: Complex hypothetical situations often related to economic or financial matters that can be worked out on a computer by entering the parameters of the scenario and then plugging in various computations.

I have used a number of these techniques to help camp leaders anticipate the possibilities in their future. I have also listened extensively to others who have forecast the future both formally and informally. Following are some of the observable trends and their likely impact on the next decade of the camp industry. Since these are mostly big picture trends affecting the industry and society, they will have different affects on various camps and centers. The value of forecasting possibilities is to provide an opportunity for you to determine your response in your setting and to decide if this trend will influence your future.

Smaller Consumer Niches

Consumer niches are becoming smaller and smaller, Camps need to develop new and diverse program responses, which means they will have multiple identities. This trend will bring several challenges.

Since you can’t be everything to everyone, you will need to practice specialized diversification. Identify the two or three program or service areas that you can do best and that are compatible with each other in terms of staff, resources, and mission.

All program responses must be based on an identified market need, not just on the fact that your neighbors are doing this program (though observation is an excellent way to identify new opportunities).

You may find that the program responses take you outside your traditional identity and that "camp" no longer encompasses what you do. Wrestling with this new overall identity is one of the greatest challenges in the field at present. For many years, the typical related identities were retreat centers, conference centers, and environmental education centers. Now there are new designations. Girl Scout organizations are increasingly referring to their camp sites as "program centers"; others refer to "outdoor education centers" or just "centers."

If you have an established program, this growth inevitably leads to a re-evaluation of your original mission. In most cases, organizations will not change their core values and key competencies, but they will find it necessary to broaden the application of their traditional mission. If the stated mission is for a larger organization, the camp itself may need to write a specific vision and purpose statement for its unique application of that mission. If the camp mission statement has been constructed with narrow focus, the language may need to be revised to encompass additional audiences and opportunities. A good mission statement helps you focus on what is done and not done at your facility.

Diversifying Camp

The movement to diversify camp programs, sites, and styles will prompt new professional affiliations, networks, and interrelated resources.

Professional networking
Camps that have multiple program identities will continue to find it necessary to participate in numerous professional networks:

  • with their peers in the parent organization or trade association
  • with professionals related to their program specialty areas (e.g., National Association of Environmental Educators or Association for Experiential Education)
  • with professionals in their primary style of residential education (e.g., American Camping Association, Christian Camping International, or Retreat Directors International)
  • with organizations that train for or accredit key program elements (e.g., National Rifle Association, American Red Cross, Horsemanship Safety Association, or Project Adventure)

Changing association attitudes
Trade, professional, and training associations must learn to collaborate and network with each other so that the camp and center professionals they serve can reasonably be involved in as many of these groups as possible, changing the attitude that one association can provide all of the professional needs of the members.

Thus, professional associations must specialize, just as the camps do, claim their niche, and address the identified needs of their constituency by providing the highest quality leadership and resources possible within their targeted focus. As the options for specialization grow, camp and center professionals will increasingly reject generic or one-size-fits-all solutions. They will also resist the demand of an association to give total loyalty, reserving the right to draw on any source that provides useful support services.

Diversity Expands Market

In a world of increasingly diverse peoples, more audiences are available for you to serve if you can successfully attract them to your programs and sites and demonstrate that you can meet their needs.

Adult and family camps
Adults, baby boomers in particular, will continue to participate in active learning experiences — the perfect combination of needs to be served by camps and centers. However, these adults will not subject themselves to uncomfortable beds, group dorms and bathrooms, and systems and services that treat them like children. Camps and centers will have to adjust their program styles and leadership behaviors to successfully attract and serve this adult and family market.

Enriching the camp experience
As the population of the United States has become increasingly diverse, camp populations have not reflected the demographic mix. Both camp groups and camp leadership have a disproportionately small number of people of color. But this is not because ethnic people do not camp — they do! However, the patterns of programming and desired resources for these groups are different. Camps that have taken time to build relationships with ethnic groups have a higher volume of use and find that the diverse group of campers and staff enriches the camp experience for everyone.

Camps are increasingly serving campers and staff from around the world. As the opportunities continue to grow, our sites and programs will need to become very sophisticated in terms of cultural integration, social mores, international travel, currency, and language.

The Techno-Challenge

Given the power and availability of computer technology, you must learn to use technology to enhance rather than diminish your life.

Information processing
Most people regularly experience information overload. So much data and knowledge is available in print, on the airwaves, on web sites, and on the Internet in general. You need to learn skills and techniques for sorting the information, retrieving what is relevant, storing it for quick access, and not feeling guilty for what you don’t review.

The virtual adventure
Virtual reality is an increasing source of adventure experiences. It’s an easy way to get a thrill and experience a challenge without getting cold, wet, dirty, sweaty, or being inconvenienced in any way. Camps will be challenged to use virtual experiences to invite people to seek adventure and then offer them more through real contact with
the outdoors, a supportive human community, and an opportunity to learn genuine skills that build self-esteem.

Personal communication devices
Camps must accept the fact that easy access to personal communication devices diminishes their ability to control the camp environment. Both children and adults are demanding the ability (and ensuring it with their own cell phones, pagers, and e-mail) to communicate as they desire. The result is that people of all ages are bringing their agendas to camp and expecting you to provide the means to deal with it.

New responses in camps and centers include phones in retreat rooms, modem jacks on the pay phones, and cell phones available for rent. A number of camps now receive e-mail from parents to campers. Campers and guests are no longer willing to be cut off from the world while at your camp or retreat.

Competing in the Twenty-First Century

To compete in the next century, leaders must develop a business savvy that enables them to balance opposing and competing factors.

Be an entrepreneur
To keep up with the constant changes in clientele and setting, camp leaders must adopt an entrepreneurial mind-set that is always questioning the status quo, always seeking new ways to respond, always inquiring about how things might be done better, and always experimenting with new methods and responses.

In order to create a stable organization and solid business structure at camp, these same leaders must ground the organization in well-designed policies and procedures, systematize routines, seek longevity in staff, create a history to which people are attached, and protect assets and resources. Camp professionals must develop skills to successfully balance the stabilizing business forces against the chaos of constant change.

Be a leader and a manager
Executive and professional staff must have both leadership and management capabilities, and boards must have these qualities in their membership mix. Leadership skills enable you to boldly present new ideas, articulate a vision for a new identity, motivate others to join the effort, and inspire hope and enthusiasm for creating a new future.

Management skills track and control key indicators of success by providing feedback about whether the implementation of your vision is leading in the desired direction and whether the organization is stable and efficient, and by giving us tools for on-course correction as needed.

Be the best provider
Competition for the attention of your clients will increase; often it will be from noncamp enterprises. You can no longer seek to be the only provider of services and values, but you must be the best provider in the minds of the constituency you serve. Best will be defined as having the most value for the investment. Value will be determined by the consumer, and investment is money, distance, time, and effort. Thus, "too expensive" will be a totally subjective response because the very least expensive option may be considered too expensive if the experience is not valued by the potential client.

For profit versus nonprofit
The identities of for-profit and nonprofit organizations will continue to blur, and perhaps separate identities will become extinct. As traditional sources of support (United Way denominational subsidies) diminish, nonprofit camps must adopt the same management behaviors and practices as for-profit camps.

The increase in nonprofit entrepreneurial efforts is coupled with the demonstration by a number of for-profit enterprises that high-quality, modestly priced services can be provided to the traditional nonprofit markets at a profit. Both factors are weakening the rationale for a socially protected group of enterprises that deserve tax exemption and special privilege in order to serve the common good.

Preparing for the Future

The above forecasts are only informed insights. Some are evident in camps and centers in 1997 and are likely to become normative throughout the industry; some of them are just speculation based on the contextual situation. The most important thing for camp leaders to remember is that you can have a hand in creating the future. You don’t need to be pawns at the mercy of the trends. You can use the forecasts to prepare yourself, to anticipate the positive and the negative possibilities of any trend, and to determine how to respond in order to assure that, regardless of the shape and form, camp experiences continue to give kids and persons of any age a world of good.

Kathleen M. Trotter is owner and principal consultant for KALEIDOSCOPE, Inc., a consulting and development company in Fayetteville, Arkansas, serving camps and centers. She invites comments to her at


Originally published in the 1998 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.