Establishing an Environmental Scanning/Forecasting System to Augment College and University Planning[i]

by James L. Morrison  

(reprinted from Morrison, J. L. (1987). Establishing an environmental scanning capability to augment college and university planning. Planning for Higher Education, 15(1), 7-22.)

College and university long-range planning models are typically based upon the concept that planning consists of responding to the following questions:

  • What is the current environment?

  • What future changes in the environment might be anticipated?

  • What goals does the organization wish to achieve in the future?

  • What actions are necessary to enhance the possibility that the desired goals are achieved?

In the context of planning, these questions translate to the following:

  • monitoring

  • forecasting

  • goal setting

  • implementing

The long-range planning cycle begins by monitoring selected trends of interest to the organization, forecasting the future of those trends (usually based upon extrapolation from historical data using regression or other techniques), setting organizational goals in response to these forecasts, implementing operational plans based upon these goals, and monitoring the effects of these plans on those selected trends and issues (see Figure 1).

Forecasting Goal Setting

Monitoring Implementing

Figure 1. Long-range planning. Source: Morrison, Renfro, and Boucher, 1984.

A major limitation of the traditional long-range planning model is the lack of systematic inclusion of information about the changing external environment.  Without this information, the long-range planning process is locked into the past.  If we cannot forecast changes in the external environment, we must base our planning on information we know from the past and immediate present.

A scanning/forecasting model developed in the corporate world directly addresses the problem of collecting and evaluating information from the external environment (Morrison, Renfro, and Boucher, 1984).  This model consists of four stages. (See Figure 2.) The first stage requires scanning the external environment for emerging trends and issues which pose threats or opportunities to the organization.  In the evaluating/ranking stage each potential issue is analyzed as to the likelihood that it will emerge and as to the nature and degree of its impact on the organization if it does emerge (or, in certain cases, does not emerge).  This stage produces a rank ordering of the trends and issues according to their importance to current or planned operations.  The next stage, forecasting, focuses on developing an understanding of the likely future for the most important trends and issues.  In this stage, any of the modern forecasting techniques may be used.  Once the forecasts are made, each of the trends and issues is monitored for its continued relevance and for the accuracy of the forecasts made in the preceding stage.  Institutional strategies may be planned in response to these trends and issues.

Evaluation/Ranking Forecasting

Scanning Monitoring

Figure 2. Environmental scanning and forecasting.  Source: Morrison, Renfro, and Boucher, 1984.

A basic assumption of this paper is that augmenting college and university long-range planning with the environmental scanning/forecasting model should enhance the overall effectiveness of institutional planning.  That is, by establishing an environmental scanning and forecasting system, colleges and universities will have an early warning system to identify trends and issues that, when forecasted, present both threats and opportunities to the institution.  With early warning, administrators can prepare their response options in anticipation of changes implied by these trends and events.  Therefore, an environmental scanning and forecasting program will increase management efficiency in dealing with uncertainties inherent in the future by anticipating change and influencing the future rather than by simply reacting to it.

Substantial questions remain about the most effective means to integrate the environmental scanning/forecasting model with the planning steps of goal setting and implementation in the long-range planning mode.  Few colleges and universities have yet attempted this crucial integration, but encouraging experiments are now underway at a number of universities (Michigan State and Minnesota); units within universities (the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education); four-year colleges (St Catherine and Georgia Southwestern); two-year colleges (Piedmont Technical College and Catonsville Community College); and even state systems (the University of Colorado).  Consequently, these organizations have developed environmental scanning and forecasting systems which provide guidance in establishing a formal environmental scanning/ forecasting process (Morrison, in press).  The remainder of this paper will focus on those steps which a college or university could take to establish and implement the environmental scanning/forecasting model.

We begin with the scanning stage of the model by defining what is included in an environmental scanning system and the initial steps an institution may take in developing such a system.  These steps include developing a program structure and a comprehensive taxonomy with an electronic filing system, identifying and assigning information resources, securing scanners, and training scanners and abstracters.  We next describe how information obtained during the environmental scanning stage is utilized in the evaluation/ranking and forecasting stages based upon the experience of selected institutions.  Then we briefly describe some of those activities involved in the monitoring stage, including developing a newsletter and writing issue briefs.  We conclude with a discussion of problems, issues, and benefits involved with implementing an environmental scanning system.

The Environmental Scanning Stage

Brown and Weiner (1985) define environmental scanning as "a kind of radar to scan the world systematically and signal the new, the unexpected, the major and the minor (p. ix)." Aguilar (1967) has defined scanning as the systematic collection of external information in order to (1) lessen the randomness of information flowing into the organization and (2) provide early warnings for managers of changing external conditions.  More specifically, Coates (1985) has identified the objectives of an environmental scanning system as including the following:

  • detecting scientific, technical, economic, social, and political interactions and other elements important to the organization

  • defining the potential threats, opportunities, or potential changes for the organization implied by those events

  • promoting a future orientation in management and staff

  • alerting management and staff to trends which are converging, diverging, speeding up, slowing down, or interacting (pp. 2-13, 14)

An environmental scanning system, therefore, is structured to identify and evaluate trends, events, and emerging issues of import to the institution.  These terms are defined as follows:

  • A trend is a series of social, technological, economic, or political characteristics which can usually be estimated and/or measured over time.  It is a statement of the general direction of change, usually gradual long-term change, reflecting the forces shaping the region, nation, or society in general.  Trend information may be used to describe the future, identify emerging issues, or project future events.  For example, at most institutions student profiles are changing.  Indicators of this trend are the number of minority students or the number of full-time adult students enrolling.

  • An event is a discrete, confirmable occurrence which makes the future different from the past.  An event would be "Federal funding for student financial aid is reduced by 50 percent."

  • An emerging issue is a potential controversy that arises out of a trend or event which may require some form of response.  For example, "Litigation as measured by the number of law suits per year in American society is increasing." An immediate consequence of this trend is substantially higher liability insurance for colleges and universities.  An emerging consequence arises from a tendency of state legislatures to protect the public by requiring licensure of an increasing number of occupations, including periodic updating of credentials.  This consequence implies an enhanced opportunity for the expansion of continuing adult and professional/occupational education programs.

Getting Started

Coates (1986) has described how some corporations and associations have initiated an environmental scanning system.  That is, one or several individuals are assigned to abstract information from a range of publications, including national newspapers, a few leading magazines, and some specialty publications.  These abstracts are then circulated in an internal newsletter.  A number of colleges are using this approach, e.g., Lane Community College, Piedmont Technical College, Grambling State University, and Georgia Southwestern (Morrison, in press; June, 1986).

An alternative approach was used by the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education.  The director first sponsored several seminars focusing on strategic planning models and the use of environmental scanning information in strategic planning activities.  These seminars were followed by a daylong workshop attended by interested staff members who participated in exercises in which critical trends and emerging issues which could affect the direction and programs of the Georgia Center were identified and evaluated.  Such activities enable participants to bring their individual knowledge of the external environment to a discussion which could result in the development of organizational knowledge.  Moreover, seminars and workshops generate enthusiasm for establishing a system for systematically seeking indications of change in the external environment and using this information to plan for the future.  This enthusiasm hopefully will encourage volunteers to participate as scanners in the environmental scanning program.

At the University of Alabama, after a half-day workshop with the planning council and a decision to establish an environmental scanning system, a description of the workshop and a "call for scanners" were placed in the institutional newsletter.  This call described the environmental scanning process, how it would relate to the university's strategic planning process, and the responsibilities of scanners.  The objective of the article was to identify volunteers from throughout the university who would be invited for an initial workshop on environmental Scanning.  This procedure obviates the necessity of conducting a workshop in every unit of the institution.

Establishing the Program Structure

The initial structure of the program could be quite simple.  At the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education, for example, some sixty staff members have agreed to scan assigned information resources and submit abstracts to the manager of the environmental scanning project.  The project manager, in turn, is responsible for collecting and filing scanning abstracts and, with the assistance of several colleagues on the scanning evaluation committee, for sorting, sifting, and evaluating the significance of the abstracts.  The resulting quarterly report is submitted to the strategic planning executive committee, which then uses the information to make recommendations regarding the strategic direction of the center (see Figure 3).

For a college or university, the scanning committee chair could be one of a number of people, such as the assistant to the president for planning, the executive assistant to the president, or the director of institutional research.  At the Georgia Center, the assistant to the director serves as the scanning evaluation committee chair; the director serves as the strategic planning executive committee chair.  At the College of St. Catherine, the assistant to the academic dean chairs the scanning committee.  In any event, senior-level officials should be involved because of the relationship of the scanning program to planning.  The director of institutional research in particular should be involved because the institutional research office is an appropriate repository of the hard-copy data collected in the process, in keeping with a national trend in which institutional research offices are becoming responsible for collecting external environment data as well as internal data.

The committee itself should include at least one senior-level administrator representing each of the major functional areas of the college (student affairs, business, development, and administration and faculty members/departmental chairs from various departments and schools.  Membership selection should ensure that all important stakeholders in positions of responsibility are either represented or are actual members of the committee.  A special effort also should be made to include the opinion leaders of the institution -those who will have to deal firsthand with issues now only beginning to emerge.

There are several reasons for high-level administrators to participate both on the scanning committee and directly as scanners.  First, their experience and broad overview of current operations, as well as their knowledge of reasonable future directions of the institution, are indispensable to informed evaluations of items identified by scanning.  Second, using these individuals lessens problems of communication, recognition, and acceptance of change.  Therefore, the time lag between the recognition of a new issue and its presentation to the institutional leadership is reduced, if not eliminated.  Third, senior executives who participate develop a personal stake in the success of the system.  When an issue arises that requires immediate action, the scanning committee is already in a position to serve the institutional leadership by offering experience and knowledge of relevant issues (Renfro and Morrison, 1983a).

The primary role of a scanning committee is to conduct analyses and evaluations of scanning abstracts on a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly basis.  Thus, the scanning committee would perform the initial "cut" of the information provided by scanners: they would evaluate abstracts, identify the trends and events they consider most important to the institution's strategic planning process, and submit this analysis to the committee which makes recommendations directly to the chief executive for implementation.  Hearn and Heydinger (1985) further recommend that the analysis provide for administrative options as well.  At the Georgia Center, options are developed by the strategic planning executive committee.

It is estimated that after the system is operating, the chair would spend half to three-quarters of his/ her time managing and coordinating this activity.  Members of the scanning committee would spend two to four days a month in committee activities.  Scanners would probably spend an additional four to eight hours per month writing abstracts. (This assumes a broad base of scanners assigned only one or two information resources.) The latter estimate does not include, of course, the time they would actually spend in scanning.

Developing the Scanning Taxonomy

The same workshop designed to introduce faculty and staff to environmental scanning can also produce a good "first cut" of those trends and events which can serve as the basis for the environmental scanning taxonomy.  For example, in a recent workshop at the University of Alabama, a number of important trends were identified.  These included anticipated changes in the occupational structure of the institution's market area; in the number of 1 7 - 21 year olds; in the number of adult, minority, or international students who desire full- or part-time educational programs at the university; and in the number of professors in the academic marketplace with career-oriented spouses who require employment in order to move.  A number of merging issues likely to produce events which could affect those trends or the institution directly were also identified.  These included possible changes in meeting the requirements for federally funded financial aid packages, a possible change in the governance structure of higher education in the state, and a possible edict to eliminate duplication programs in state-supported institutions.

Such workshops could be accompanied by an "internal scan" of senior administrators, including academic department chairs, focusing on the question, What trends, events, and emerging issues in American and global society do you see which have implications for our institution?  Another approach would be to ask respondents, What are the critical success factors inherent in accomplishing our mission? and second, What trends, events, and emerging issues in our society do you see that will affect these critical success factors?  This scan can be done through a one-on-one interview lasting one to two hours.

In addition to the information acquired in the workshops and the individual interviews, a review of literature to identify previous scans of trends and events which have implications for the institution could be conducted.  For example, reference librarians could do a computer search of trends collected by a variety of agencies (federal and otherwise) as well as a literature search for articles focusing on the future of careers and technology.

The results of these activities may be used to develop the rough draft of a scanning taxonomy.  This draft can be supplemented by adopting or modifying taxonomies used by other institutions, e.g., the University of Georgia's Center for Continuing Education (Morrison, Simpson and McGinty, 1986) or the University of Minnesota (Pflaum, 1 986), or, as in the case at Michigan State University, modifying the taxonomy used by United Way of America. (See Figure 4.) It may take a year or so of experience before the taxonomy would become relatively stable and sufficiently comprehensive.  The objective is to develop a taxonomy so that every possible item resulting from scanning has a logical place to be classified, thereby facilitating retrieval of abstracts.  Moreover, when the taxonomy meets these objectives, an electronic filing system is possible.

Organizing the Files Electronically

Electronic files facilitate review, referral, and updating.  Moreover, the use of an electronic filing system, will make it easier to develop consortium relationships with similar institutions or with institutions in the same geographic area.  Such a consortium could easily enrich the data base of abstracts.  An electronic system that should be investigated is the one used by United Way, Prudential, and United Airlines (Mist +, a software program produced and marketed by Micro-Computer Information Support Tools, Washington, D.C.). Another, dbase 11, is used by the scanning program at the University of Minnesota.  Given the computer-support system available at most institutions, it is recommended that the specific filing system be developed from existing commercial software.

Identifying Literature Sources and Data Bases 

Information sources include newspapers, magazines, journals, TV and radio programs, and conferences.  The important criterion is diversity.  For example, it would be important to include major national and regional newspapers as well as important journals covering all sectors of society. (See Figure 5 for a selection of these information resources.) In addition to journals like those cited in Figure 5, every two years United Way of America publishes a national environmental scan which summarizes recent social, technological, economic, and political trends.  Its most recent edition is What Lies Ahead: A MidDecade View (United Way, 1985).  Renfro and Morrison (1983b) identify a number of other information resources, including those reviewed by the Trend Analysis Program at the American Council of Life Insurance and the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education.

A number of government agencies publish trend data, often at little or no cost.  For example, GAO Reports may be obtained from the U.S. General Accounting Office; Center for Statistics reports (for example, The Condition of Education and The Digest of Education Statistics) are available from U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement; and periodic Rand reports may be obtained from the Rand Corporation. (See Figure 6 for addresses of these agencies.) Reports developed by the Congressional Research Service, an agency of the Library of Congress, are usually available from members of Congress in one's own congressional district.



U.S. General Accounting Office 
Document Handling and Information Services Facility

 P.O. Box 6015 
Gaithersburg, MD 20877

Center for Statistics 
Office of Educational Research and Improvement 
U.S. Department of Education

555 New Jersey Ave., N.W. 
Washington, D.C. 20208

The Rand Corporation 
Publications Department
1700 Main Street 
P.O. Box 2138 
Santa Monica, CA 90406

Figure 6. Selected governmental agencies which publish trend data

There are a number of commercially available services which may be used to supplement a scanning system.  For example, Policy Analysis Cornpany's CongresScan™ tracks the development of studies, reports, and issue briefs developed by the Congressional Research Service.  LegiScan® , another service by the same company, monitors and analyzes congressional activity within a framework of some sixty-seven issues.  Public Affairs Inflow of Sacramento, California, the Washington Post's Legislate, Congressional Quarterly's Washington Alert Service, and the Commerce Clearinghouse in Chicago provide computerized legislative information services.  The Naisbitt Group's Trend Report provides quarterly reports in thirteen major categories.  International Policy, published by the National Center for Legislative Research, covers international developments.  Scan, published by SRI International, Menlo Park, California, and Strategic Moves, published in Portland, Oregon, are broad in scope; Trend Digest, published by the Institute for Future Systems Research, Greenwood, South Carolina, focuses on trends and developments of import to higher education.

It is now possible for colleges and universities to have access to the environmental scanning data base developed by United Way of America.  This data base, accessed through United Way’s Human Care Network, a nationwide telecommunications network for not-for-profit organizations, includes abstracts from scanners throughout the country.  Abstracts may be retrieved by name of author, publication, date of publication, and file code reference to the keyword system-descriptors (“regional migration,” “immigration to U.S.,” “regional population size”), groups (“immigrants”), and regions “Northeast,” “Sunbelt,” “midwest”).  Hard copy of the entire article from which the abstract was written is available for cost of reproduction and mailing.  Moreover, in 1987 this data base will be enriched by the addition of charts and graphs of major trends.  The network also provides for access to other national databases (for example, Dow Jones) and data manipulation using SAS (Statistical Analysis System) United Way, 1986).  Hesse (personal communication, September, 1986) estimates that this data base contains all but 20 percent of what a college or university needs for strategic planning.  Michigan State University (MSU) is developing a symbiotic relationship with the local United Way which will include allowing MSU access to the United Way of America/Mutual of America Human Care Network.  In return, scanning information developed at MSU will be shared with the network.[ii]

A more limited data base, the Higher Education Media Scan (HEMS), is under development by the offices of Institutional Analysis and Planning at West Virginia University and Institutional Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo (Bissonnete and Dutton, 1986).  At this time HEMS provides access to bibliographic entries on major articles published in current and recent volumes of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Academe, Higher Education and National Affairs, Change, the ERIC-ASHE report series, and New Directions for Institutional Research.  Each article included in the data base is described in a keyword list of subject codes ("athletics," "enrollment," "funding"), discipline codes ("agriculture," "biological science"), agency codes ("AAUP," "NCAA," "NSF"), and/or content identifiers (data, lists, tables).  Users can search by keyword fields or article titles and can enter local information and keywords.  Users are sent IBM compatible disks which are updated via BITNET, an electronic mail system to which many institutions subscribe.  The developers, Kathleen Bissonnete (WVU) and Jeffery Dutton (SUNY-Buffalo), are currently seeking volunteers who would agree to systematically review other information sources to put in the HEMS system.

Assigning Scanners Information Resources

Assigning scanners specific materials for regular review and analysis provides a measure of confidence that most "blips" on the radar screen will be spotted.  A suggested procedure of assigning information resources is first to ascertain what materials and conferences are regularly read or attended by scanners.  The list of material regularly read by scanners should be compared to the list of important information resources identified above.  If at all possible, scanners should be assigned material which they already regularly review.  It is likely that there will be material which is not regularly read; in such cases, it is recommended that scanners be asked to volunteer to read those resources.  Moreover, the scanning committee chair should institute a procedure to "spot check" how well the information resources are being reviewed.  If there are many scanners, it is advisable to build in redundancy, i.e., have two scanners for the same information resource.

Training Scanners[iii]

Scanners need orientation and training in scanning and reporting information from these materials via abstracts.  That is, scanners should keep in mind that they are scanning to anticipate social, economic, technological, and legislative/regulatory changes in order to facilitate planning and policy formulation.  Therefore, they should seek signals that indicate departures from expected futures.  Specifically, when scanning their assigned materials, they should ask themselves if the items

  1. represent events, trends, developments, or ideas never before encountered

  2. contradict previous assumptions or beliefs about what seems to be happening

  3. represent new twists to old arguments

  4. can be linked to other abstracts previously written or seen

  5. discuss new patents, inventions, and/or research results

  6. have implications for long-range program or management of the institution

  7. contain polls or forecasts by experts

  8. contain statistical descriptions graphically describing changes

Training Abstracters

It is ideal if scanners would also serve as abstracters.  However, scanners may be reluctant to spend the time required to write abstracts.  If so, it may be advantageous to employ one or two part-time student assistants to abstract materials submitted by scanners.  This alternative has the advantage of encouraging the submission of material, but it has the disadvantage of not having senior-level people submitting impact assessments of the information they send to the institutional research office.  It is recommended, therefore, that scanners be given an option of writing abstracts or of submitting material directly.  Regardless of who does the abstracting, however, it is recommended that all scanners and institutional research personnel be trained to write abstracts.  Figure 7 is an example of an abstract developed by a scanner at the Georgia Center.

The lead sentence of an abstract should be a response to these questions: If I had only a few minutes to describe this article to a colleague, what would I say?  What is the most important idea or event that indicates change?  Responses to these questions should be followed by a one-paragraph explanation.  Whenever possible, statistical data should be included.  The summary s6ould be limited to no more than one-half page of single-spaced, typewritten copy since the scanning evaluation committee may have to deal with some 60 to 120 information items per quarter.  This review is made easier when the abstracts are contained on a single page (D. McGinty, personal communication, August, 1986).

Each abstract should have an implications section responding to the question, How will the information in this article affect this institution's programs or management?  The author should include a list of those emerging issues suggested by the article, a description of future events occurring as a result of the trend identified by the article, and/or an identification of issue stakeholders if they are not listed in the article.

Speculation about implications is a part of the scanning and abstracting process.  Here the abstracter tries to determine an item's potential for affecting other facets of the social environment and/or the institution.  There are no "right" answers.  Note, however, that some articles may not offer implications that are immediately apparent.  The scanning committee, with the benefit of related abstracts from other scanners, may be able to detect implications that a single scanner cannot.

The Evaluation/Ranking Stage

As noted above, when the environmental scanning system is implemented with a number of scanners systematically reviewing assigned information resources, it is reasonable to expect the scanning coordinator to receive some 60 to 120 abstracts per quarter.  The trends, events, and/or emerging issues contained in these abstracts must then be evaluated and ranked as to their importance to the institution.  Evaluation and ranking are usually the task of the scanning committee at periodic (bimonthly or quarterly) meetings.

Several approaches could be used to prepare for the evaluation/ranking process.  Coates (personal communication, June, 1985) recommends that the chair first segregate abstracts according to subject area, for example, all those concerning office automation go into one pile, employee compensation into another, and those difficult to assign into "miscellaneous." Each member of the committee would then be assigned a particular packet of abstracts to review in detail.  After members read the entire selection of abstracts received, they would be requested to come to the meeting with a list derived from the abstracts, of trends and potential issues that they consider to have important implications for the organization.  They should examine how these trends and issues relate to or conflict with other trend areas identified previously.

At the Georgia Center the environmental scanning manager categorizes all abstracts submitted during the current quarter and prepares strategic planning worksheets.  These worksheets-featuring strategic "trigger statements" in the left-hand column and a compilation of thumbnail sketches of associated abstracts in the righthand column-are then used by both review committees to identify trends, events, and emerging issues which will be discussed.  In one quarter, for example, 119 abstracts could be logically collapsed into 27 strategic "trigger statements." Full discussion, with reference to complete abstracts and articles, as necessary, eventually yielded six strategic concerns and some initial decisions as to how to proceed. (See Figure 8 for a sample worksheet.)

An elaboration of this approach, implemented at the College of St. Catherine as well as at the Georgia Center, is the use of probability-impact charts.  These charts require respondents to address the question as to the probability a given event will occur during the planning period (e.g., the next five years), and, if it occurs, the extent of its positive and negative impact on the institution.  As indicated in Figure 9, three estimates are required: (1) the probability that the event will occur in the time period, and, if the event occurs, (2) the extent of its positive impact on the institution and (3) the extent of its negative impact.  The scanning committee chair derives event statements from each abstract, states them on probability-impact charts, and circulates the charts to committee members for their estimate.  When the charts are returned, the chair tabulates the results of each evaluation by copying all the individual votes onto a single chart that displays all assessments.

Figure 9. Probability Impact Chart

The chair may then obtain three "rough cut" rankings of the importance of each event.  For example, one ranking could be obtained by multiplying the average probability by the average positive scores of each event.  A second ranking could be obtained by multiplying the average probability by the absolute value of the average negative score of each event.  A third ranking could be obtained by combining the scores obtained above for each event, thereby developing a total weighted impact score for each event.  These rankings plus the charts for all events serve to focus discussion around the dispersion of votes on each event.  After this discussion, a revote on those items for which there is the least consensus is taken, and the ranking scores may be recomputed.  The end result is several rankings of those trends, events, and issues which portend high impact and uncertainty for the institution.  This information is most helpful to the committee when making decisions as to which trends, events, and emerging issues they should consider in planning for the future.

The Forecasting Stage

A variety of techniques are useful in forecasting trends, events, and emerging issues.  Probabilityimpact charts, for example, not only assist in evaluating and ranking, but also involve forecasting probabilities of events.  Those events with high impact, particularly when coupled with high uncertainty, may be further forecasted with the use of impact networks.  An impact network is generated by identifying the possible effects of a given event, such as the abolishment of tenure or the requirement that all professors be certified to teach.  To illustrate, the strategic planning committee at the Georgia Center brainstormed an impact network centered around the increasing number of courses offered by organizations not considered colleges and universities.  As depicted in Figure 10, this trend could be stated as an event, i.e., What would be the impact on the Georgia Center if 75 percent of all postsecondary education in the Southeast occurs outside of southeastern universities?  The first-order implications of this occurrence might be the loss of income, a need to redefine the center's instructional delivery system, a need to rethink the operating philosophy and programming of off-campus educational programs, and a need to aggressively develop markets for the center.  Second-order implications include retraining faculty to use new delivery systems, developing stronger affiliations with other units of the university, developing programs to train trainers in the outside organizations, performing a needs-assessment study, negotiating the use of the center physical facility by these organizations, and diverting staff to marketing.

There are a number of more sophisticated forecasting techniques available for use: trend extrapolation, trend-impact analysis, cross-impact analysis, and scenarios. (See Morrison et al., 1984, for a description of these approaches.) However, their use in higher education at this time is limited to a few institutions, such as the College of St. Catherine and Piedmont Technical College, which employs the ED QUEST process (Morrison, in press).

The Monitoring Stage  

As noted earlier, the objective of scanning is to identify signals of new trends and developments which could become emerging issues possibly affecting the institution's future.  The extent to which trends, events, or emerging issues are likely to affect the institution is estimated in the evaluation/ ranking stage, and those deemed most important are forecasted.  Once the forecasts are made, each issue and trend is then monitored to track its continued relevance and to detect any major departures from the forecasts made in the preceding stage.  Monitoring, in effect, identifies areas for additional and continued scanning and provides direction for developing indicators descriptive of those areas.  These indicators are then prepared for analysis through the development of a data bank, which can then be used to display trend lines showing the history of the indicators.

It is important that these indicators be stated in measurable terms in order to guide data collection.  For example, a trend may be conceptualized as "the changing student body profile," but data cannot be collected to measure this trend unless it is broken into its relevant components, such as "the percentage of full-time students over thirty-five" or "the percentage of minority students." It is also important to ensure that the data used to measure the indicators be reliable, accurate, and independent of other factors that would be misleading.  For example, if the issue concerns costs, the measure should be expressed in constant dollars, that is, be independent of inflation.

The file of abstracts (and accompanying hard copy of the complete article) also constitutes a portion of the monitoring data base, one which may be of great utility in preparing issue briefs requested by the strategic planning committee.  For example, two years ago the environmental scanning team at the University of Minnesota (UM) identified an increasing concern for animal rights as an emerging issue that could affect medical research at the university.  Consequently, the team began to monitor the development of the trend and concluded that it was of sufficient importance to write an issue brief for the UM administration.  According to the assistant to the president, this brief has been most helpful to the administration as it grappled with the issue, then and as late as 1986 (R.  D. Heydinger, personal communication, June, 1986). 

A recommended format for an issue brief is the following: 

  • What is the issue?

  • Why is it important?

  • What do we know about it?

  • Who are the stakeholders?

  • What are the implications?

  • What should the institution do?

Another use of the information in the monitoring data base is to permit periodic newsletters.  Such newsletters inform faculty and staff of new developments which could affect the institution.  They also illustrate the advantage of having an environmental scanning/forecasting system, and give recognition to those scanners whose articles are used.  Newsletter format is important in order to focus attention on important developments and on the system; therefore, it is recommended that they have a logo, be printed on colored paper, and feature special boxes labeled "Wild Speculations." The important point is to avoid anointing speculations, but recognize that the purpose of the newsletter is to draw attention to items which have implications for the institution Moreover, it is important to acknowledge publicly the contribution of those scanners who provided the particular items.

Problems, Issues, and Benefits

Hearn and Heydinger (1985), in reviewing the work of the University of Minnesota Experimental Team for Environmental Assessment, have described a number of constraints in establishing and maintaining an environmental scanning/forecasting system in an institution of higher education.  For example, they note that academic culture tends to be resistant to change and to be resistant to what may be perceived as a consumer orientation on the part of the academy.  Faculty members may interpret a system which seeks to identify and respond to signals of change as inimical to the basic mission of the institution, even when that mission is rather vague and diffuse.

Moreover, the loosely coupled nature of a college or university itself precludes the kind of organization-wide responses which a business or corporation could make.  Universities in particular require participatory governance, which implies a need for environmental information to be widely disseminated prior to decision making.  When faculty members from across the institution are involved with producing this information, they also may develop expectations for the allocation of resources in response to their input, particularly when that input corresponds to departmental interests (W.D. Crump, personal communication, July, 1986).  A member of the University of Minnesota scanning team warns that this activity may spawn "an articulate but frustrated intelligentsia" (Hearn and Heydinger, 1985).

On the other hand, Morrison (1985) argues that by including faculty members and administrators from all functional areas in the environmental scanning process, not only is communication within the institution facilitated, but an increased receptivity for organizational change is developed.  That is, by attempting to identify, evaluate, and derive the implications of changes in the external environment for the institution, people see the "big picture," and thereby reduce their protection of "turf."

Establishing and maintaining an environmental scanning/forecasting system can be time consuming and costly.  Hearn and Heydinger note that Sears monitors 1 00 trends in over 1 00 periodicals; a Minneapolis agribusiness consulting firm monitors over 700 periodicals and over 20 issues.  One way of lowering the cost involved in the scanning stage is for colleges and universities to establish formal or informal consortia.  Since any nonprofit organization can become a member of the network, colleges and universities that wish to form a consortium can use the United Way mainframe as the host computer.  In addition to having access to abstracts already on the environmental scanning data base, participating institutions would be provided with a bulletin board, electronic mail, and training to use the system.  The major task in establishing a consortium is for individuals at participating institutions to agree who will systematically scan specified information resources and transmit their abstracts to the host computer.  This task could be coordinated at United Way of America headquarters (G.  Wilkinson, personal communication, October, 1986).

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill an effort is underway to obtain funding for a statewide consortium serving all public and independent, two- and four-year institutions in the state (Morrison, May, 1986).  The proposal goes beyond placing abstracts on a host computer and using a central office to store and maintain files of complete articles.  For example, the consortium staff would (1) assist member institutions in recruiting and training scanners at member institutions; (2) assist presidents and planning staffs as to how they may use the information in the data base to identify those critical trends and events which form the contexts of their future; (3) provide a monitoring capability of those trends identified at member institutions as important to their future; (4) provide expert forecasting capability to augment forecasting performed at member institutions; (5) provide the capability of writing in-depth issue briefs on request from member institutions or of recommending experts who can perform these tasks; (6) publish a bimonthly newsletter summarizing the ongoing data collection activity of the consortium and highlighting those items of particular interest; (6) sponsor annual conferences for volunteer scanners which would focus on the items in the data base and provide examples of how this information is being used by member institutions in their planning process.

Two advantages institutions of higher education have over corporations in establishing an environmental scanning/forecasting system is that colleges and universities already have experts in a variety of fields and their libraries contain a diversity of information resources.  A major challenge, though, is how an institution can harness these rich resources, i.e., provide incentives for individuals to, in effect, increase their workloads by five to ten hours (or more) per month.  At Western Illinois University officials are considering a proposal whereby selected faculty members will be provided with release time from teaching to serve on the scanning committee and to provide scanning services (Morrison, in press).  At the Georgia Center, incentives are provided in recognizing the contributions of individuals whose abstracts are reflected in the newsletter Lookouts and by encouraging staffers in program areas to use the data base of abstracts in planning programs in their area of responsibility.  Therefore, individuals who contribute to the data base have access to all abstracts in the data base which they may use in planning their own programs or in their own research.  Coates (1986) recommends a yearly conference for scanners where prominent futurists lecture and lead discussions.  Meluso (personal communication, October, 1986) recommends that scanner assignments be changed over time to keep the task fresh and interesting.

The major benefit of an environmental scanning/ forecasting system to an institution is in providing critical information for strategic planning (Cope, 1981; Kotler and Murphy, 1981; and Keller, 1983).  Such a system allows the institution to detect social, technological, economic, and political trends and potential events which define the context of the future.  In turn, decision makers can anticipate what is happening in the state, region, nation, and world that will affect the nature and quality of the institution and its educational programs.  There are a number of ancillary benefits.  For example, participants in the system begin to examine all information with the question, What are the implications of this article (lecture, radio/TV program) for my department/ college?  Indeed, this subtle outcome-the development of an active orientation to the external environment and to the future-may well be an outcome which is as important as any other.  Moreover, in interacting with colleagues in program areas or on the environmental scanning evaluation committee, this future orientation is not only reinforced, but team building is enhanced.

The establishment of formal environmental scanning/forecasting systems in higher education is in its infancy.  At forums on environmental scanning held at the 1986 annual meetings of the American Association for Higher Education, the Association for Institutional Research, and the Society of College and University Planning, fewer than a dozen institutions were identified as having initiated formal systems (Morrison, March, 1986; June, 1986; in press).  However, it is also evident that individuals in a number of institutions are considering establishing such programs.  In so doing, they would do well to heed the admonition of Hearn and Heydinger (1985):

... the success of environmental assessment in higher education depends on its being not only intuitive, creative, and strategically oriented, but also open, representatively staffed, highly cost-effective, well-placed organizationally, and extremely sensitive to the organization's political context (p. 424).

References and Additional Sources

Aguilar, F. J. Scanning the Business Environment. New York: Macmillan, 1967.

Brown, A. and Weiner, E. Supermanaging: How to Harness Change for Personal and Organizational Success. New York: Mentor, 1985.

Bissonnette, K.K. arvd Dutton, J. E. Description, Application, and Demonstration of the Higher Education Media Scan (HEMS) Reference System. Presentation at the 1986 annual meeting of the Association for Institutional Research, Orlando, June, 1986.

Christiensen, N. and Meluso, S. "Environmental Scanning and Tracking of Central Issues: The Case of the Life Insurance lndustry." Business and Society: Dimensions of Conflict and Cooperation. Edited by B. Katz. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books. (in press.)

Coates, J. F., Inc.  Issues Identification and Management: The State of the Art of Methods and Techniques.  Research project 2345-28. Palo Alto, California: Electric Power Research Institute, July, 1985.

Coates, J. F., Inc.  Issues Management: How You Can Plan, Organize, and Manage Issues for the Future.  Mt. Airy, MD: Lomond, 1986.

Cope, R. "Environmental Assessments for Strategic Planning." Vol. 31 of New Directions for Institutional Research: Evaluation of Management and Planning Systems.  Edited by N. L. Poulton. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1981), 5-15.

Hearn, J. C. and Heydinger, R. S. "Scanning the External Environment of a University: Objectives, Constraints, and Possibilities." Journal of Higher Education, 56,4 (1985), 419-445.  

Keller, G. Academic Strategy: The Management Revolution in American Higher Education.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1983.  

Klein, H. E. and Newman, W. H. "How to Integrate New Environmental Forces into Strategic Planning." Management Review, 69 (July, 1980), 40-48.

Kotler, P. and Murphy, P. "Strategic Planning for Higher Education." Journal of Higher Education, 52 (September/October, 1981), 470-89.

Morrison, J. L. "Establishing an Environmental Scanning Process." Leadership and Institutional Renewal.  New Directions for Higher Education, No. 49. Edited by R. Davis.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1985), 31-37.

Morrison, J. L. Report of the AIR Special Interest Group in Environmental Scanning.  Report of session conducted at the 1986 annual meeting of the Association of Institutional Research, Orlando, June, 1986.

Morrison, J. L. North Carolina Environmental Scanning Consortium: A Concept Paper.  Unpublished manuscript, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, May, 1986.

Morrison, J. L. Report of the 1986 AA HE Environmental Scanning Forum.  Report of session conducted at the 1986 annual meeting of the American Association for Higher Education, Washington, D.C., March, 1986.

Morrison, J. L. "Report of the SCUP Environmental Scanning Network." News from SCUP. (in press.)

Morrison, J. L. and Cope, R. G. "Using Futures Research Techniques in Strategic Planning: A Simulation." Planning for Higher Education. 13,2 (Winter, 1985), 5-9.

Morrison, J. L., Renfro, W. L. and Boucher, W. I. Futures Research and the Strategic Planning Process: Implications for Higher Education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Educational Research Report No. 9. Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education, 1984.

Morrison, J. L., Simpson, E. and McGinty, D. Establishing an Environmental Scanning Program at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.  Paper presented at the 1986 annual meeting of the American Association for Higher Education, Washington, D.C., March, 1986.

Neufeld, W. P. "Environmental Scanning: Its Use in Forecasting Emerging Trends and Issues in Organizations." Futures Research Quarterly, 1, 3 (Fall, 1985), 39-52.

Pflaum, A. "External Scanning: An Introduction and Overview." Unpublished manuscript, University of Minnesota, March, 1986.

Renfro, W. L. and Morrison, J. L. "Detecting Signals of Change: The Environmental Scanning Process." The Futurist, 18,4 (1984), 49 - 56.

Renfro, W. L. and Morrison, J. L. "The Scanning Process: Getting Started." Applying Methods and Techniques of Futures Research.  No. 39 of New Directions for Institutional Research.  Edited by J. L. Morrison, W. L. Renfro, and W. I. Boucher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1983), 5-20.

Renfro, W. L. and Morrison, J. L. "The Scanning Process: Methods and Uses." Applying Methods and Techniques of Futures Research.  No. 39 of New Directions for Institutional Research.  Edited by J. L. Morrison, W. L. Renfro, and W. 1. Boucher.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1983), 21-38.

United Way of America.  United Way of America Environmental Scanning Data Base.  Alexandria, VA: United Way of America, 1986.

United Way of America.  What Lies Ahead: A Mid-Decade View. Alexandria, VA: United Way of America, 1985.

[i] An earlier version of this paper was presented at the joint meeting of the Southern Association for Institution Research/ Society for College and University Planning at Norfolk, Virgins, November, 1985.  The author would like to express appreciation to Joseph F. Coates, Donna McGinty, Sharon Meluso, Sherry Morrison, Richard King, George Wilkinson, the UNC-CH futures research seminar team of Bryon Bagby, Lee May, Roger McLean, and David Rainy, the editorial staff of Planning, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.  Finally, the author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of colleagues in those institutions identified in the manuscript who freely shared their experiences with him.  Of course, the views expressed here, and any errors, are solely the responsibility of the author.

[ii] Institutions can join the Human Care Network without going through their local United Way.  However, Martha Hesse (personal communication, September, 1986) recommends developing a relationship with the strategic planning committee of the local United Way.  By joining the United Way committee, college and university officials can participate in and contribute to the identification and evaluation of the important trends and emerging issues, particularly those pertinent to the local region, which may be as relevant to the future of their institution as they are to the local United Way.

[iii] Material in this and in the next section was modified from the instructions given to monitors in the Trend Analysis Program of the American Council of Life Insurance.  See How TAP Works, available from the Coordinator, Trend Analysis Program, American Council of Life Insurance, 1850 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006-2284.  See also Neufeld (1985) for a good discussion of trend identification and detecting signals of change.