Appendix 1: The Modified Nominal Group/Brainstorming Process
The modified nominal group/brainstorming process is used to generate a large number of facts, ideas, or solutions in a short period of time. The process encourages creativity and produces many alternatives, thus increasing the probability of uncovering the optimal choice, answer, or solution.
THE PROCESS involves five steps:
An Example of Results
The process can be used to identify critical trend and potential events as well as their implications and initial recommendations for action. The material below illustrates the use of the process to derive the implications and recommended actions from an idea.
Idea (assumption): The increase in online learning programs nationwide will continue
Appendix 2: Internet-Based Scanning Resources
Appendix 3: Planning Assumptions at Delaware County Community College
Programs and Services
Appendix 4: The Impact Network
The impact network is a simple tool for exploring the implications of an issue, trend, or event. The committee places the issue, trend, or event it is examining in the center of a flip chart. They assume that the issue or event occurs, or that the trend occurs as forecast. Committee members then brainstorm implications until they run out of ideas (usually 20 to 30 minutes). In this process, no censoring is allowed; every implication is considered, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. Members may propose second- and third- order implications suggested by implications already on the chart. When the committee is exhausted of new ideas, members review each implication to determine if it is a threat or opportunity for your institution, or both.
An example of an impact network is presented below. In this case, a state college committee anticipates that the legislature will require that each curriculum must be formally evaluated annually, including an evaluation of the competencies of graduates of that program. If this event occurred, the committee reasoned that the immediate implications-first-order impacts-would be that professors would begin to teach to the competency test, that the college would begin to "not tell the whole truth" when conducting the assessment, that admissions committees would decrease their emphasis on enrolling "high risk" students, that there would be an increased focus on goals and ensuring that instructional design included those goals, and that there would be increased funding for test construction and implementation either on campus or by the state regents. The second- and third-order implications of the latter first-order impact would be the development of a new bureaucracy, more funding for instructional development, diagnostic services, and testing.
Appendix 5: Analyzing Environments and Developing Scenarios in Uncertain Times
College and university leaders are being bombarded by tumultuous forces for change as we go into the twenty-first century: virtual classrooms, global communications, global economies, telecourses, distance learning, corporate classrooms, increased competition among social agencies for scarce resources, pressure for institutional mergers, statewide program review and so on. It is no exaggeration to say that, in total, these forces hold the potential for a radical rethinking of the mission, structure, curriculum, student body, and stakeholder relations of virtually every college and university.
In order to plan effectively in this environment, college and university leaders must be able to anticipate the impact of new developments on their institutions and curricular programs. Efficient contextual planning in uncertain times depends on obtaining accurate and continuous intelligence about changes in the institution's external environment.
Environmental analysis has evolved slowly over the past forty years. Originally, in the 1950s, planning in most organizations was largely a budgetary, internally oriented effort. As the need for greater attention to the external environment became apparent in the 1960s, careful monitoring of current trends was added to the planning schedule. Then, as turbulence and surprises proliferated, monitoring was supplemented by "scanning" in an effort o provide an "early warning system" to trends-yet-to-come. Finally, as the limitations of forecasting became more and more apparent during the 1970s and 1980s, and as organizational leaders saw the need to consider the possibility of alternative futures, we saw the emergence of scenario-based planning.
This chapter describes and illustrates a three-pronged environmental analysis effort to obtain strategic intelligence: scanning, monitoring, and scenarios. Scenarios provide comprehensive, internally consistent, long-term perspectives on the future as a framework for strategic thinking as well as for the scanning and monitoring operations. The terms scanning and monitoring are often used interchangeably, but they have separate and distinct natures and functions. Scanning is focused mainly on the future (what may happen); monitoring, on the past and present (what has happened or is happening). Scanning is largely unfocused, taking a 360 degree horizon; monitoring is highly focused. Scanning identifies early warning signals of new trends that might become important; monitoring tracks developments in trends of known importance. The information generated by scanning and monitoring is essential in developing scenarios that provide the context for organizational decision making.
Since implementation of this effort involves the commitment of institutional resources, this chapter goes into some detail describing how you can develop an environmental analysis capacity in your institution. We conclude with a brief discussion of readings that elaborate this topic.
Scanning and Monitoring the External Environment
Conceptually, the external environment can be subdivided into three components: the market environment, the industry environment, and the macroenvironment. The market environment refers to customers (for example, students and potential students, parents of students and of potential students, political leaders, employers and potential employers of students, professional associations of faculty and administrators). This environment is specific to a particular institution. Thus, although the task environments of a community college and a research university within ten miles of each other may overlap, they also differ.
The industry environment comprises all enterprises associated with higher education. At this level, trends such as the number of institutions that require entering students to own computers or the percentage of faculty members using multimedia materials in their classes affect all institutions, although the effect of these factors varies depending upon the type of institution (research or comprehensive, two- or four-year).
The macroenvironment focuses on changes in the social, technological, economic, environmental and political (STEEP) sectors that could affect colleges and universities directly or indirectly. These sectors are interrelated. Changes in one sector at any level (local, national, global) may lead to changes in another. A war in the Middle East may cause the price of oil to increase, thus stimulating a recession, which in turn results in budget cuts. Technological developments in California that enable the conversion of wind power to low-cost energy may be introduced worldwide, thereby reducing the costs of fossil fuel energy, with concomitant economic ramifications. Thus developments in the macroenvironment can affect developments in the task and industrial environments. This point underscores the necessity of scanning the macroenvironment as well as the task and industrial environments if we want to pick up the early signals of change that may affect our institutions
The use of environmental scanning as a tool for strategic planning in higher education has been described by Morrison (1985, 1987, 1992), illustrated by survey reports of Friedel, Coker, & Blong (1991) and Pritchett (1990), and analyzed by Hearn and Heydinger (1985) and Hearn, Clugston, and Heydinger (1993).
The purpose of environmental scanning is to serve as an early warning system by alerting institutional leaders to potentially significant external developments in their early stages. The earlier the warning, the more lead time we have to plan for the implications of these changes. Consequently, the scope of environmental scanning is broad-a full circle sweep to pick up any signal of change in the external environment.
Monitoring follows scanning. Every possible change or potential shift in the macroenvironment cannot be given equal attention. We select items by defining topics or ideas that are incorporated in "the interesting future-the period in which major policy options adopted now could probably have significant effect" (Renfro & Morrison, 1983, p. 5). We put aside trends and potential events that are important, but are not now critical, and collect data periodically on them. These data are "monitored" so that changes in their status can be detected.
The purpose of monitoring is to ascertain the past and possible future directions of trends or to enable us to estimate the strength of indicators of potential events. Scanning provides us with critical trends and potential events. Monitoring entails using trend descriptors or potential event indicators as key words in a systematic search to obtain information about them. Thus, when monitoring, we seek information containing forecasts and speculations about the implications of trends and events identified in scanning for colleges and universities.
Establishing an Environmental Scanning/Monitoring Process
Establishing a continuous scanning/monitoring system to create strategic intelligence requires effort and resources. Simpson, McGinty, & Morrison (1990), in describing how the University of Georgia's Center for Continuing Education established their system, note that at least a half-time professional with support staff was necessary for that organization. The professional staff person is responsible for identifying information resources, maintaining the scanning files (electronic and paper copy), training scanners and abstractors, and maintaining the structure to process information into strategic intelligence for the institution. This section provides guidelines on what these tasks require.
Identifying Information Resources
The important criteria for information selection are diversity and assurance that all dimensions of each STEEP sector are covered. Information can be obtained from a variety of sources: newspapers, magazines, journals, TV and radio programs, conferences, and from knowledgeable individuals in personal information networks.
Microenvironmental Scanning Resources. In order to ensure that we are adequately scanning the macroenvironment, we must identify specific information resources for each STEEP category locally through globally. Although Morrison (1992) has compiled a comprehensive list of information sources organized by category for the macroenvironment, the following scanning publications are particularly useful when initiating a scanning system.
The Wilkinson Group publishes a monthly scanning newsletter called What's Happening for nonprofit organizations (Wilkinson Group, 2319 Sierra Highlands Drive, Reno,NV85923, phone 702 747-5995). The World Future Society (7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 450, Bethesda, MD 20814, phone 301 656-8274) publishes Future Survey, a monthly abstract of books, articles, and reports containing forecasts, trends, and ideas about the future. The Global Network publishes John Naisbitt's Trend Letter (1101 30th St., NW, Suite 130 Washington DC 20007, phone 202887-6400). Kiplinger Washington Editors publish the Kiplinger Washington Letter (1729 H St., NW, Washington, DC 20006). Jossey-Bass publishes On the Horizon focusing exclusively on education (kindergarten through postgraduate, including continuing education). In addition, theHorizon Home Page (URL address: http://sunsite.unc.edu) contains (1) a futures-planning database of articles on trends and events submitted for publication consideration in the print publication; (2) the archive of Horizon List, an Internet listserv on which these articles are distributed and discussed; and (3) a section with links to a variety of information databases in all of the STEEP sectors called The Education On-Ramp. Exhibit 5.1 contains the addresses of these Web accessible sources.
Perhaps one of the most useful information resources is your own network of friends and colleagues within the institution and in the profession. You can phone a colleague at another institution and get information quickly. Or you can post your question in two Internet newsletters publishedby the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) and the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP). [To receive AIR's electronic newsletter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org; for SCUP, contact email@example.com.]
Using electronic data bases. There are a number of electronic databases that contain up-to-date descriptions of articles (by title, and many times by abstract) available on a subscription basis. ABI Inform, ERIC, PAIS, Dialogue, and BRS, contain hundreds of databases specializing in all areas. Undoubtedly, your library already subscribes to these databases and database services. These resources are amenable to monitoring (that is, to retrieving information about critical trends and potential events that you and the planning team have identified earlier in the scanning process). In addition, there are a number of listservs on the Internet that contain discussions about potential events and emerging trends (see Exhibit 5.2.).
Maintaining the scanning files
Scanning files are usually both electronic and hard copy. It is faster and easier to maintain files electronically, which are accessible twenty-four hours a day across campus through local networking systems. Moreover, an electronic system allows scanners and abstractors to enter their information into the system directly, although it is usually a good idea for the person in charge of the system to exercise responsibility for formatting and editing.
We encourage the practice of backing up electronic files with hard copy of information sources (e.g., newspaper articles) as well as abstracts of these sources. Hard copy files can be maintained in the office of the professional staff person responsible for the scanning/monitoring system, or even in the library in a vertical file under the care of a professional information scientist.
Training scanners and abstractors
It is important to recruit and train faculty members, key administrators, and members of the board of trustees as well as planning committee members to serve as scanners and abstracters. Heterogeneity of backgrounds, experience, and perspectives guards against parochial viewpoints and provides assurance that the scanning/monitoring system includes people who read a variety of materials across the STEEP sectors.
An effective way to recruit scanners is to hold a one-day workshop focused on potential
developments in the external environment that can affect the future of the institution.
Ask participants to identify critical trends, potential events, and emerging issues. These
exercises allow participants to bring their individual knowledge to the discussion, thus
initiating the development of an event-and-trend set that you can use to construct the
scanning/monitoring taxonomy. Identifying critical trends and potential events, and
discussing their implications for the future of the organization, generates both agreement
that this activity merits inclusion in institutional planning and enthusiasm for being
part of the scanning/monitoring process. Exhibit 5.3 contains a
sample instructional handout for such a workshop. It also illustrates the general concepts
essential for conducting an external analysis.
Morrison (1992) suggested that scanners and abstracters be instructed as follows.
Seek information about signals of change in the STEEP categories (social, technological, economic, environmental, political), on the local, regional, national, and global levels. Examine information sources for movement in relevant variables (such as number of institutions requiring computers of entering students, or percentage increase in the number of students with e-mail accounts). What change is already taking place? Is the movement upward or downward? What are the projections? What are the incipient or emerging trends. That is, what combinations of data points-past trends, events, precursors-suggest and support the beginnings or early stages of a possible trend? What external events, policies, or regulatory actions would affect the projections?
Look for signals of potential events on the horizon. For example, the number of courses offered on the World Wide Web may portend a major change in how teaching will be conducted in higher education.
Look for forecasts by experts. Are we moving toward a sustainable world (as argued by Brown, Slavin, and Postel , a world where attention is focused on energy efficiency, reusing and recycling materials, protecting biological and environmental bases, feeding and stabilizing the world population)? Or we are moving toward a world where commercial telecommunications firms dominate the schooling function (e.g., as argued by Perelman (1992). What are the implications of such forecasts for your institution?
Look for indirect effects. A particular item might not have direct implications for your institution, but it could nevertheless be included as a variable for monitoring or for further analysis as it might affect you through second- or third-order effects. For example, the development of the North American Free Trade Agreement in response to the free-trade agreement among the European Community portends either free-trade zones with tariffs between them or international free trade. If the latter occurs, there will be tremendous shifting of capital and labor (severalfold amplification of the "giant sucking sound" Ross Perot described before the NAFTA treaty). The effect on postsecondary education would be indirect and in response to the need for immediate retraining of people for jobs in new or greatly expanding industries.
Remember that scanning is an art form; guidelines on how to do it are necessarily few. There are no hard- and fast-rules leading to correct interpretation of information nor to correct interpretation of an issue or change. Keep in mind that your institution has a variety stakeholders (faculty, administrators, staff, parents, legislators, community leaders); try to view information that you receive vis-à-vis implications from their point of view. The data do not speak by themselves. Your skills, abilities, experience, and judgment are critical in breathing life into and interpreting the meaning of data. View yourself as an artist "to mold and shape material into a coherent whole; to present a vision; to help others imagine and reflect" (Neufeld, 1985, p. 44).
Write abstracts. Abstracts assist the scanning/monitoring process because they provide a brief summary about a potential development so that other members of the scanning/monitoring team do not have to read the entire source; abstracts provide members of the team with preliminary thoughts as to how this potential development could affect the institution.
When preparing abstracts, write the lead sentence in response to these questions: "If I had only a few minutes to describe this article to a friend, what would I say? What is the most important idea or event that indicates change?" Your response to these questions should be one paragraph. Include statistical data where possible. And include a statement of the implications of the emerging trend or potential development for the institution. The summary-and-implications section of the abstract should be one typed page at most.
The resulting abstracts and the general experience of key institutional decision makers in identifying critical emerging trends and potential events constitute the major input for the third component of external analysis: developing scenarios.
Scenarios as a Planning Tool
Scenarios can play a critical role in environmental analysis systems. They are particularly appropriate to colleges and universities, given the consensus-building decision making processes and the new uncertainties in those institutions' environment. When combined with environmental scanning and monitoring, scenarios provide college and university leaders with the long-term perspectives and recognition of alternative possible futures that they need to inform planning -- and thinking and action -- in uncertain times.
Those leaders, responsible for organizational planning, immediately and instinctively turn to some sort of forecast of the future as a starting point. Why? Because we have all been educated to believe that if we are to make decisions about the future of an organization, we must first know what the organization's future will be like.
On the face if it, that is a reasonable proposition. Yet in reality we are asking for the impossible: certainty and predictability in an uncertain world. The further out on the horizon of forecasting we go, the more unreasonable is the demand. But, even for the shorter term the expectation of precision is a snare and a delusion.
The future is, in a profound sense, unknowable. But not everything is uncertain; some things are relatively predictable. We can do a respectable job of "sensing" the basic dynamics of the future and the alternative courses they might take. Building on this foundation, scenarios steer us on a middle course between a misguided reliance on prediction and a despairing belief that we can do nothing to envision the future and therefore cannot shape our future.
The term scenario, taken from the world of theater and film, refers to a brief synopsis of the plot of a play or movie. In a planning context, scenarios can be described as "stories of possible futures that the institution might encounter." Scenarios are graphic and dynamic, revealing an evolving future. They are holistic, combining social, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP) trends and events, the qualitative as well as the quantitative. They focus our attention on potential contingencies and discontinuities, thereby stimulating us to think more creatively and productively about the future.
By basing decisions on alternative futures, and by testing planned actions against the different conditions these scenarios present, we are better able to prepare for uncertainty and ensure that our decisions are as resilient and flexible as possible to deal with contingencies that we might otherwise deem unthinkable.
One way to develop scenarios is to turn the job over to a brilliant futurist or to an imaginative planner to sketch out alternative possible futures that our planning should consider. The fundamental problem with this approach, however appealing it might be, is that the decision makers -- those who will ultimately use the scenarios -- do not "own" them. The scenarios remain forever the product of someone else's thinking, and so they lack the credibility necessary for them to be the basis for action.
To deal with this problem, SRI International developed an approach that (1) is a structured blending of rationality and intuition, and (2) relies on decision makers themselves to develop their own scenarios. Its process is tight enough to give organization and logic to scenario development, but loose enough to encourage creativity and imagination.
The methodology involves a relatively straightforward six-step process (Figure 5.1) with two important elements. The first is what we term the decision focus of the scenarios. The starting point for the process is not a generalized future of the world, but the very specific decision(s) that confront the organization. The point here is that the scenarios should be designed specifically to help us make those decisions. The range of decisions that scenarios can address is quite broad, from an immediate, pressing decision (a major investment in a new building or computer system, for instance) to broader, longer-range concerns such as the strategic posture of the university or long-term prospects for certain curricular areas. Regardless, the choices to be illuminated give scenarios their focus; they are where scenario efforts begin and end.
The other key element is the scenario logic. This gives scenarios a kind of organizing principle or logical structure. The logic of a scenario comes from a theory, assumption, or belief about change. Each distinct scenario logic is an argument about the future, a different interpretation of the uncertainties in the underlying forces that leads to a different view of the future.
A scenario process that stresses focus and logics is adaptable to many different applications, and it fits relatively well with other forecasting and planning approaches often taken by colleges and universities. David Hornfischer (1995) described how the Berklee College of Music used this process to assist in the development of its strategic plan. In the following section, we describe the scenario process the college used and include excerpts from the Berklee experience to illustrate the outcomes at each of the six steps of the process.
A Sample Scenario Process: Berklee College of Music
Step 1. Identify And Analyze The Organizational Issues That Will Provide The Decision Focus.
Clarifying the decision focus of the whole process is the first task. It is doubly important. In the first place, it reminds us that scenarios are not an end in themselves; they are a means to help us make better strategic decisions. Second, the decision focus effectively grounds the scenarios in specific planning needs. A tight focus prevents the scenarios from drifting into broad generalizations about the future of society or the global economy, thereby clouding their implications for any particular institution.
The decisions that form the scenario focus tend to be strategic rather tactical in nature for the simple reason that scenarios deal more with longer-term trends and uncertainties (often with a five to ten year time horizon) rather than shorter-term developments. Virtually any decision or area of strategic concern in which external factors are complex, changing, and uncertain can be appropriate for treatment by scenarios. A university might, for instance, be trying to develop a long-term strategic vision for itself. Or it might be confronted with major capital allocation decisions in which the main concern is the long-term need for, and viability of, expansion plans. A current issue is the need to assess the impact of information and communications technology on curriculum, student-teacher relationships, and the location of education ("Is the 'virtual university' a realistic prospect?"). Given the inherent uncertainties in the conditions surrounding such decisions, the use of scenarios to explore alternative futures in which the results of a decision might be played out makes a great deal of sense.
As a general rule, the narrower the scope of the decision or strategy, the easier scenario construction-and interpretation-will be. Developing scenarios for broader strategic concerns-the long-range positioning of a university vis-à-vis distance learning is substantially more difficult than for a straightforward investment decision.
The Berklee College of Music began its scenario development process by defining its decision focus as what is the future of enrollment at Berklee? This question was chosen because as a relatively young institution its long-term financial stability is dependent on maintenance of a stable enrollment.
A word of caution. While clarifying this strategic focus is critical for a successful project, it is important to note that this is not the time for strategizing. That comes later, in the final step of the process. Decision makers, particularly senior administrators, have a natural impatience with analysis and want to cut to the chase. However, this otherwise praiseworthy bias toward action must, for the moment, be held in check so that the context for action (that is, the scenarios) can first be established.
Step 2: Specify The Key Decision Factors.
Having thought through the strategic decision(s) we want to make, we need then to examine the key decision factors (Figure 5.1). In simple language, these are the key factors we would like to know about the future in order to make our decision. Granted that we cannot actually know the future, it would still be helpful to have some "fix" on the future course and "value" (or range of values) for these factors. Decision factors for an anticipated major expansion of manufacturing facilities, for example, might include market size, growth, and volatility; competing products or substitutes resulting from new technology; long-range economic conditions and price trends; future government regulations; capital availability and cost; technology availability and capacity. For a college or university, the relevant factors are more likely to be social values and priorities, demographics of the potential student pool, governments' education policies, changing workforce skill requirements, financial concerns, and so on.
In the Berklee case, the key factors affecting future enrollment levels were identified as student costs (tuition and aid availability), the state of the world economy, the relevance and quality of Berklee's program, increased competition for students, and marketing programs.
The important thing to note about decision factors is that they normally relate to external, largely uncontrollable conditions. The Berklee case is an exception in that only two factors, the world economy and competition, are external; the remainder are internal factors under Berklee's control. As a general rule, however, scenarios are best thought of as descriptions of alternative external futures; and the key decision factors normally relate to conditions in an organization's environment. This is not, of course, to suggest that the more controllable internal factors such as an organization's strengths and weaknesses, culture, and organization, are unimportant and irrelevant to the decision. Of course, they are important. But, because they are controllable, decisions about them belong more appropriately in the strategizing phase than in the scenario-development phase of the planning cycle. Scenarios, we should remember, are designed to give us insights into the sort of market and competitive environment, the social and political climate, the technological conditions that we may have to deal with. Then, and only then, should we make our decisions about what we should do.
Step 3: Identify And Analyze The Key Environmental Forces.
The next step is to identify the external forces that determine the future course and value of our key decision factors. Here we may benefit from the environmental scanning/monitoring system described earlier, ensuring that we scan for signals of change in the task, industry, and macro environment.
The objective is to start building a good conceptual model of the relevant environment, one that is as complete as possible, including all the critical trends and forces, and that maps out the key cause-and-effect relationships among these forces.
The next step is to get a clear picture of future prospects for these environmental forces: what the major trends and uncertainties are, how the forces are interrelated, which are most important in determining the key decision factors, and which best represent underlying or driving forces for significant change in the future. In practice, these analyses are less complex than they might seem; the basic thrust of analysis here should move quickly to focus on the few most important forces. Here a review of the abstracts collected in the scanning process informs our discussion of (1) the current direction of the most critical forces today, that is, current trends and the reasons for them; (2) their future prospects, that is, how much, in what ways, and how fast these trends might change in the future; and (c) their relevance to the decision focus, that is, the direction and magnitude of their impact on the future course of the key decision factors.
At this stage we need to do some sorting out of these forces, recognizing that they are not all equally important or equally uncertain. Clearly, our assessment should try to differentiate between trends and developments that we believe to be relatively predictable and those about which we have some feeling of uncertainty. For instance, while the typical scenario process is likely to identify a total of fifty or so relevant external forces, the number of key drivers of an organization's environment is certainly significantly fewer. And, while uncertainty is a prevailing condition of the external environment, not everything is uncertain. Indeed, some key trends such as demographics may be considered virtually predetermined elements of the future; the potential students ten years hence, for example, are already born, so their number is already known.
In our planning and decision making we need to be very clear about what is important and what is truly uncertain, and why. To be systematic in this sorting-out process, we can use an impact/uncertainty matrix (Figure 5.2). With a simple high-medium-low scoring system, we can position each of these forces on the matrix in terms of (1) the level of its impact on the key decision factors (obviously, all the forces are presumed to have some impact, but some are more important than others) and (2) the degree of uncertainty we feel about the direction, pace, or fact of its future course.
As a result of this sorting out, we can focus our attention-and the search for scenario logics that comes in the next step of the process-on two quadrants of the matrix. The "high impact/low uncertainty" forces, those in the top left cells are (we think!) the relative certainties in our future for which our planning must prepare. The high impact/high uncertainty forces (those in the upper right quadrant) are the potential shapers of entirely different futures (scenarios), ones for which our planning should prepare.
In Berklee's case, their scenario team focused on seven key driving forces that would, they felt, affect the future course of their key decision factors, and hence the outcome of their decision issue. Two of these driving forces were essentially economic in nature: the state of the global economy in general and the level of national spending on education. Two others related to the state of Berklee's market and competition: the state of the music industry and its products (including record and instrument sales) and the changing nature of music literacy. Two were demographic forces: the size and character of the future student population and changing faculty demographics. The seventh driving force was Berklee's ability to impact its environment and shape its own future.
Step 4: Establish the scenario logics.
This step is the heart of the scenario development process: establishing a logical rationale and structure for the scenarios we select to develop. It is that stage in the process where intuition/insight/creativity plays the greatest role. Theoretically at least, it would be possible to develop scenarios around all the high impact/high uncertainty forces identified in the previous step. Practically, however, this would result in an unwieldy process and an impossibly large number of scenarios. Even if the sorting-out process in Step 3 reduced the number of critical forces to, say, fifteen or twenty, taking all the permutations and combinations of the alternative outcomes of these forces would produce an almost astronomically high number of scenarios, far more than the human mind could encompass and any planning system could utilize. As a practical matter, we must recognize that even those executives who are prepared to venture beyond single-point forecasting balk at having to deal with more than three, or at most four, alternative scenarios in their strategic thinking and decision making.
So the central challenge in this step is to develop a structure that will produce a manageable number of scenarios-and do so logically. Scenario logics are a response to this challenge. The term, however, clearly stands in need of definition if we are to understand, and act on, its premise. In this regard, it is more helpful to think in terms of an operational (rather than a dictionary) definition of the term. We can, for instance, think of scenario logics as being the organizing principles around which the scenarios are structured. They focus on the critical external uncertainties for the organization and present alternative "theories of the way the world might work" along each of these axes of uncertainty. For example, economic growth will be "driven by expanding trade" or "hobbled by increasing protectionism"; competition in our markets will be "marked by growing consolidation" or "restructured by the entry of new players." They are logical in the sense that a persuasive and rational case can be made for each of the contradictory outcomes; indeed, it is often the case that our disagreements about the future are the very source of these logics.
Berklee organized their scenarios around a four-quadrant structure (see Figure 5.3) built on two "axes of uncertainty": the overall strength of the U.S. and global economies and the demand for musical education. Each has alternative logics describing and explaining radically different outcomes.
Step 5: Select and elaborate the scenarios. In determining how many scenarios to elaborate, we should remember a basic dictum: develop the minimum number of scenarios needed to bound the "envelope of uncertainty." This number is usually three or four. The objective is not to cover the whole envelope of our uncertainty with a multiplicity of slightly varying futures, but rather to push the boundaries of plausibility using a limited number of starkly different scenarios.
In Berklee's case, their structure led to the identification of four different scenarios. This, the planners considered, was a manageable and useful number, so all the resulting scenarios were developed and further elaborated. However, what happens if we end up with a structure consisting of, say, three axes of uncertainty, giving rise to eight (2 x 2 x 2) derivative scenarios? Some selection is clearly needed if we are not to overwhelm the decision makers who must use them. Once again we need a combination of intuition and rationality to guide our selection. It is helpful to use five criteria at this point.
Using these criteria, it is usually possible, within a short period, to winnow the eight candidate scenarios down to the requisite three or four. Some of the possibilities may be eliminated because their combination of logics is thought to be implausible or inconsistent; others, because they would not present any significantly different insights to the decision makers; still others, because they do not push the envelope far enough.
Once the scenarios have been selected, they then have to be elaborated. At this point, all they have by way of description is a combination of two (or three) driving logics (e.g., in the Berklee case, "Back to Bombay" is driven by strong economic growth and high demand for musical education).There are many ways to elaborate the description of scenarios, but their are three important features.
These three features can always be embellished with charts, graphs, and other visual material to help to bring the scenarios to life. The guiding principle in determining the extent of this elaboration is, as always, the requirement of the decision focus: provide as much detail as is needed to help executives make the decision, and no more.
Berklee named and described the four scenarios as follows:
"Back to Bombay" (high demand/strong economy). This the good news scenario in which a rising economic tide coupled with strong demand for a Berklee education allows the school to expand and become a truly global musical college. A backdrop of solid economic growth of over 3 percent paves the way for a second Clinton term with a renewed sense of community and public purpose. The music business rides the economic tide; in combination with increased diversity of music styles, Berklee's contemporary/technology-based curriculum is ever more appealing to potential students from around the world.
"Competitive pressures" (low demand/strong economy). Here the economy is also strong, but pressures from other schools as well as noninstitutional (perhaps Internet-based) competition created by new technologies diminish the attractiveness of a formal and expensive degree to a more business-aware student.
"Berklee Inc." (High demand/weak economy.) While interest in a Berklee education remains strong because of its contemporary curriculum, economic pressures make the cost even more burdensome. The impact of a weak U.S. economy growing at less than 2 percent is felt across the globe. The U.S. government, overwhelmed by social and economic issues, reduces its commitment to student aid programs. Berklee is forced to increase scholarship budgets and to seek greater corporate support.
"Dazed and confused" (low demand/weak economy). This is the disaster story, where a faltering economy combined with the continuing diminishment of school music programs and a slumping music industry put increased pressures on Berklee's enrollment.
These brief encapsulations do not do justice to the texture and level of detail in Berklee's full scenario story lines. In this case, as in others, the logical structure of the scenarios is intended to provide a framework for the human imagination to engage in what-if thinking, explore the future, and speculate in detail about the consequences of trends and actions.
Step 6: Interpret the Scenarios for Their Decision Implications.
This is the stage at which we close the loop, linking back to the decision focus of the first step and starting to turn scenarios into strategy. This is our repeated reminder that scenarios are a tool, a means to an end, not an end in themselves.
Strategy, of course, requires far more than scenarios in its development: strategic vision, goals and objectives, competitive analysis, assessment of core competencies, for instance. But this final step in the scenario process can develop some initial and valuable strategic insights.
How to produce these insights is, again, a matter of discretion; but there are certain approaches that should be considered.Most obviously, we can examine the scenarios in detail to determine the opportunities and threats that each poses for our organization. Then two questions suggest themselves. First, which opportunities and threats are common to all (or nearly all) the scenarios? These are the ones on which presumably our strategic thinking should be focused. The second question is: how well prepared are we (or can we be) to seize those opportunities and obviate (or minimize) the threats? The answers to these questions provide an initial assessment of the core competencies that the organization needs if it is to succeed in the conditions portrayed in the scenarios. Bringing together the answers to these two questions suggests some discrete strategy options (though not yet an integrated strategy) that deserve more disciplined analysis.
A second possible approach is to use the scenarios as test beds for assessing the resilience and vulnerability of the organization's current strategy. This exercise can be as straightforward as a judgmental assessment by the executive team as to how well (or badly) the strategy plays out in each scenario. A start would be to go through an opportunities/ threats assessment (as above) and then use this assessment to address a second set of questions: are we satisfied with the resilience of our current strategy, its flexibility to deal with different possible conditions? Are there things we could do to improve its resilience? And, importantly, are there contingency plans we should put in place to help us move in a different direction, if that is necessary?
The planners at Berklee used their scenarios and discussion of their implications to develop a shared vision and a resilient strategy for their institution. The vision, "Creative Musicianship for a Changing World," provides for increased student diversity and for the continuing introduction of new technologies and teaching methodologies into the curriculum. It commits Berklee to strengthening its participatory and collegial culture, and to expanding access to secondary collaboratives, postsecondary consortia, international music education, and relationships to the music industry.
Environmental analysis is an essential first step in issues identification and management, in developing strategy and vision, in organizational learning, and in contingency planning.
Developing a comprehensive environmental scanning/monitoring process to feed scenario planning is expensive in that members of the academic enterprise are heavily occupied with day-to-day problems and may see the time spent in external analysis as taking away time from handling immediate problems. This is particularly true for senior members who have the responsibility for organizational decision making. Noal Capon (1987) and Henry Mintzberg (1994) have noted that one of the weaknesses of external analysis in corporate strategic planning is that often senior decision makers are not involved in making the analyses; consequently, the results of the analyses lack validity. However, if senior leaders are involved with scanning, monitoring, and scenario development, the analyses have organizational validity and usefulness. And in turbulent times, not expending the resources-including the time of senior leaders-to anticipate developments that can affect the future of the institution is foolhardy.
For more about scanning and forecasting, see Fahey & Narayanan (1986) for an excellent overview of these processes as used in the corporate world, and Hearn & Heydinger (1985), Morrison (1992), and Simpson, McGinty & Morrison (1990) as they are used in higher education. Peter Schwartz (1991) and Pierre Wack's articles in the Harvard Business Review (1995a, 1995b) provide insightful and valuable overviews of the use of scenarios in planning. Wilson puts external analysis in the perspective of strategic planning (1994) and strategic visioning (1992).
Brown, L.R., Flavin, C., & Postel, S. How to Shape An Environmentally Sustainable Globe. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.
Capon, N. Corporate Strategic Planning. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.
Fahey, L., and Narayaan, V.K. Macroenvironmental Analysis for Strategic Management. St. Paul: West, 1986.
Friedel, J.N., Coker, D.R., and Blong, J.T. "A Survey of Environmental Scanning in U.S. Technical and Community Colleges." Paper presented at the meeting of the Association for Institutional Research, San Francisco, 1991.
Hearne, J.C., Clugston, R.M., and Heydinger, R.B. "Five Years of Strategic Environmental Assessment Efforts at a Research University: A Case Study of Organizational Innovation." Innovative Higher Education, 1993, 18(1), 7-36.
Hearne. J.C. and Heydinger, R.B. "Scanning the External Environment of a University: Objectives, Constraints, and Possibilities." Journal of Higher Education, 1985, 56 (4), 419-445.
Hornfischer, D. "Sing a Song of Scenarios: Using Scenario Planning. On the Horizon, 1995, 3(5), 13-15.
Mintzberg, H. The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning: Reconceiving Roles for Planning, Plans, and Planners. New York: Free Press, 1994.
Morrison, J.L. "Establishing an Environmental Scanning Process." In R. Davis (ed.), Leadership and Institutional Renewal. New Directions for Higher Education, no. 49. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1985.
Morrison, J.L. "Establishing an Environmental Scanning System to Augment College and University Planning." Planning in Higher Education. 1987. 15, 7-22.
Morrison, J.L. Environmental Scanning. In M.A. Whitely, J.D. Porter, and R.H. Fenske (eds.), The Primer for Institutional Research. Tallahassee, Fla.: The Association for Institutional Research, 1992.
Nuefewld, W.P. "Environmental Scanning: Its Use in Forecasting Emerging Trends and Issues in Organizations." Futures Research Quarterly, 1985, 1 (3), 39-52.
Pritchett, M.S. "Environmental Scanning in Support of Planning and Decision Making: Case Studies at Selected Institutions of Higher Education." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Institutional Research, Louisville, Ky, May, 1990.
Renfro, W.L., and Morrison, J.L. "The Scanning Process: Getting Started. In J.L. Morrison, W.L. Renfro, and W.I. Boucher (eds.), Applying Methods and Techniques of Futures Research. New Directions for Institutional Research, No. 39. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1983.
Simpson, E., McGinty, D., and Morrison, J.L. "Environmental Scanning at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education: A Progress Report." In D.M. Johnson (ed.), A Handbook for Professional Development in Continuing Higher Education. Washington, D.C.: National University Continuing Education Association, 1990.
Schwartz, P. The Art of the Long View. New York: Doubleday, 1991.
Wack, P. "Scenarios: Uncharted Waters Ahead." Harvard Business Review, 1985a, (5), 73-89.
Wack, P. "Scenarios: Shooting the Rapids." Harvard Business Review, 1985b, 63(6), 139-150.
Wilson, I. "Realizing the Power of Strategic Vision." Long Range Planning, 1992, 25(5), 18-28.
Wilson, I. "Strategic Planning Isn't Dead--It Changed." Long Range Planning, 1994, 27(4), 12-24.
Appendix 6: Institutional Vulnerability/Opportunity Audit
[Note: the material below is from the following source: Morrison, J. L. (1995, May). Institutional vulnerability audit. Pre-forum professional development workshop at the annual meeting of the Association for Institutional Research, Boston, MA. Available online: http://horizon.unc.edu/ projects/seminars/air.asp.]
Every organization can be hurt by outside forces or conditions over which it has little or no control. Planning as practiced in many colleges and universities today is often deficient because it does not identify a number of potentially threatening forces or conditions. In the past, many of these blind spots were overlooked because the dominant planning goals focused on growth. Threats were viewed primarily in terms of potentially damaging changes in the market. Another planning weakness is the tendency of people to assume continuation of past trends without examining the likelihood of discontinuities affecting the direction of those trends.
The organizational vulnerability/opportunity audit, originally developed as vulnerability analysis by SRI (1977), is a strategic planning tool that surfaces subtle or overlooked threats that may adversely or positively affect the organization's future. The focus is first on those threats that fall outside the normal sphere of organizational actions. However, often a threat can also be an opportunity, an opportunity that may not have surfaced without first focusing on threats and vulnerabilities. Hence the name, vulnerability/opportunity audit.
Vulnerability/opportunity audits are based upon five assumptions: (1) organizations exist because they serve some need; (2) organizations rely on support from the environment in which they are expected to operate; (3) organizations are vulnerable to the changing external environment; (4) some of these vulnerabilities can also be opportunities, and (5) organizations are undergirded by the following: needs and wants served by the organization, resources and assets the organization relies upon, stability of costs relative to competition, the organization's target customer base, technologies, special abilities, corporate identity symbols, barriers to competition, social values important to continuance of the organization, sanctions, perceived integrity of the organization, and the availability of complementary products or services.
The organizational vulnerability/opportunity audit reviews these supports from the perspective of current strengths. The supports are turned into questions: What needs and wants does the organization meet? What resources does it rely on? What cost advantages are available? What special abilities does the organization have? What technologies underpin it?
The vulnerability/opportunity audit then examines the supports' vulnerability to removal, alteration, or substantial disruption. The key question embodied in this tool is: "What supportive elements, if suddenly taken away, might seriously impair or even destroy the organization?"
We will illustrate how the audit functions by describing its use in a preconference workshop during the 1995 annual meeting of the Association for Institutional Research.
Needs and Wants Served by AIR: Strengths
The initial step in the process is to identify as many supports on which the organization depends as possible and then identify those forces, conditions, trends, and events that could damage these supports. A support can be tangible (e.g., a physical resource) or intangible (e.g., legislation, or social values that make a service/product desirable).
For the seminar, we focused only on one of the categories: needs and wants served by the Association for Institutional Research that underpin the demand for AIR's products and services.
We used the nominal group technique (NGT) to identify the needs and wants served by AIR. Participants were given 10 minutes to think how AIR served society and asked to write down their thoughts. We used a round robin approach where each participant in turn was asked to state how AIR served needs and wants in society. Only one nomination was given by each participant. Each statement was typed on a computer and projected via a LCD panel to a screen so that all could see the nominations. The next person was asked to submit their "best" candidate; during this time the only person talking was the person nominating a statement; all others were requested to think about the statement to see if it stimulated an idea that they had not had before.
This process went on until there were no more nominations. We then went back over teach nomination to clarify, discuss, edit, remove redundancies. The value of this process is first to have participants think before talking, and to get the thinking of all people in the groups.
The needs and wants that AIR serves as identified by the group were as follows:
For IR Professionals
For IR as a profession
For higher education
Needs and Wants Served by AIR: Vulnerabilities
The next exercise was to identify the vulnerabilities that AIR may have in serving the needs and wants of IR members, the profession, higher education, and the larger society. Relevant vulnerability questions asked were:
We again used the nominal group technique to identify the following vulnerabilities that AIR may have in this area. In order to prepare these vulnerabilities for further analysis, we edited the vulnerability statements into event statements and categorized them into vulnerabilities that would affect AIR directly as an organization and potential events in the social, technological, economic, and political macroenvironment that would have an effect on AIR if they should occur. These event statements are as follows:
AIR as an organization
Probability/Impact Analysis of Two Events on AIR
The third exercise was to prioritize the vulnerability event statements. The five most potentially critical events should they occur were:
At this point we divided into two groups, each group charged with conducting a probability impact analysis of a critical vulnerability event. We chose the top two events and conducted a Delphi. Each member of the group independently estimated the probability that the event would occur within five years and the degree of negative and the degree of positive impact that the event would have on AIR. The group then discussed the reasoning behind the disparity in estimates. A recorder made notes as to the factors affecting probability of occurrence, degree of positive impact and degree of negative impact. Group discussion then focused on the implications of negative and positive impact, concluding with a series of recommendations for the AIR Board of Directors to consider when planning for the future. The analyses of the top two events follow.
Event: 80% of IR professionals use the Internet as their primary means of networking, virtual conferences, information exchange, etc.
Median probability event will occur within five years: 60%
Forces affecting probability:
Degree of negative impact: very light
Implications of negative impact:
Degree of positive impact: very high
Implications of positive impact:
What should AIR do?
Event: Vertical market software for basic IR functions developed (i.e., software designed for a specific function or application in higher education)
Median probability event will occur within 5 years: 30%
Forces affecting probability
Degree of negative impact: Slightly above light impact
Implications of negative impact
Degree of positive impact: Light to moderate
Implications of positive impact
What should AIR do?
We were able to cover only one of the underpinning categories, needs and wants served, and were also limited to an analysis of only two events that surfaced in this category. Even so, we were able to experience how to conduct the audit and to derive several recommendations that may be useful to the AIR board when planning for the future.
The organizational vulnerability/opportunity audit is not without limitations. For example, the process does not address those problems due to the internal environment or those problems due to competitor's actions. Too, team members may not have sufficient knowledge or vision to evaluate threats.
But there are a number of benefits to applying an organizational vulnerability/opportunity audit. First, the process increases the expertise and judgment of organizational leaders by making them aware of conflicts in planning assumptions both implicit and explicit. This awareness, in turn, helps organizational leaders anticipate change and surface emerging issues. Moreover, by identifying overlooked threats (environmental, not those posed by competitors), leaders have time to monitor threatening situations, to review options, and to prepare contingency plans, thereby avoiding unpleasant surprises.
The auditing process itself focuses attention on factors and issues most relevant to the institution. Some organizations try to monitor everything in the environment, which wastes both time and resources. Other organizations monitor some environmental areas, not necessarily the right ones, wasting money and exposing the organization to unnecessary risks. The organizational vulnerability/opportunity audit exercise focuses on the most important areas, the ones that may cause the biggest problems for the institution.
Morrison, J. L. & Keller, G. (1992-93, Winter). Newest tool: The institutional vulnerability audit. Planning for Higher Education, 21, pp. 27-34.
SRI. (1977). Vulnerability analysis: What it is and what it does. In SRI Business Intelligence Program Report No. 593. SRI International.
Ashley, W. C. & Morrison, J. L. (1995). Anticipatory management. Leesburg, VA: Issue Action Press
Appendix 7: Methods of Internal Analysis
Assessment methods may be grouped into two broad categories: qualitative and quantitative measures and perception analysis.
Qualitative and Quantitative Measures
The two options here are analysis of performance history and analysis of comparative performance.
Analysis of Performance History
You may measure historical performance by assessing how well you achieved past objectives or by conducting a content analysis of reports and other written records.
The first of these measurement techniques is past objectives assessment. If you have been doing operational planning, you should have set forth, on an annual basis, specific measurable objectives. You should have assigned these objectives to certain institutional divisions or programs. One form of assessment, then, is to review the operational plans for the past three or five years and determine how successfully the stated objectives were accomplished. This analysis enables you to identify divisions or programs with consistent competencies or shortcomings over a period of time.
A second way you can measure performance history is by content analysis, where you examine institutional reports and other written records. Annual reports often give an informative picture of institutional accomplishments over a long time span.
Your institution is likely to have a wealth of documentation that reveals how effectively it has been performing over a period of time. Some materials like development campaign performance records are subject to quantitative analysis, while other materials, like annual reports and board or school minutes, require qualitative review and analysis. Other possible sources of data include communications and educational materials developed by your institution; press releases and newspaper articles; institution charts, volunteer orientation manuals, personnel manuals, and job descriptions; audits and financial reports; descriptions of divisional policies and procedures; special research studies, issue briefs, and position papers; brochures advertising your institution's services; and third-party evaluations.
You may also request copies of competitors' annual reports, service statistics, advertising brochures, or you may obtain their reports to public regulatory bodies.
Use of these materials requires a capacity to extract, categorize, and interpret information. This is necessary if you want to derive major institutional (and competitor) competencies and shortcomings from the analysis.
Analysis of Comparative Performance
This is a specialized performance-history analysis that compares institutional performance in certain areas (such as number of students in programs of study or amount of funds raised by the development office) with the performance of similar (including competing) institutions.
Perception analysis rests on a determination of how individuals or groups view your institution and its performance. Four forms and perception analysis are described below. They are self-assessment, surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
In self-assessment, use an instrument that asks a series of questions about institutional operations. Key institutional members or stakeholders respond to these questions based on their perceptions or understanding of how your institution is functioning. Obviously, some responses require more subjective assessment than others; for example, assessing the quality of staff-board relationships will be more subjective than reporting the achievement scores of entering students.
Self-assessment instruments may range from a short checklist to an extensive inventory of institutional operations. One distinct advantage of self-assessment as an evaluation tool is that it can focus on very specific aspects of your institution, and it assures a fair amount of privacy.
You must decide who will do the self-assessment. While a self-assessment schedule may be completed by one person (generally the chief executive officer), you may find it helpful to have several different persons complete the inventory, and compare their responses. For example, you might compose a team of senior leaders representing all functional areas. These participants would complete the entire self-assessment, whether or not they knew all of the answers to the questions asked in the self-assessment instrument. In addition, you might assign each participant a section of the assessment for thorough investigation.
After all team members complete the self-assessment and thoroughly investigate their assigned sections, have the team meet to compare responses and to agree upon the most appropriate response for each question. The goal is to complete one.
Operations Review Checklist
Self-assessment for the team. This requires reaching consensus on areas where individual team members may not be fully knowledgeable. This process educates key leaders about institutional competencies and shortcomings.
A second method of perception analysis involves the use of survey instruments. First considerations are the purpose and content of the instrument and the question of whom to survey.
Purpose and Content. In institutional/competitor assessment, the purpose of the survey instrument is generally to learn how various stakeholders regard your institution and its competitors. Do stakeholders view your institution positively or negatively? What do they feel it is doing well? What could it do better? How do they see it vis-a-vis competitors? This type of survey has a market research focus, unlike a needs assessment survey that seeks to assess the curricular and other institutional needs. Institutional/competitor assessment surveys are aimed at evaluating institutional image and operations.
Whom Do You Survey? Who is Targeted? Possible stakeholders include (a) the general public, (b) community leaders, (c) students, (d) faculty, and (e) parents.
The General Public-If you are in a community college, you will be more interested in conducting surveys of the general public than if you are in a research institution. Ideally, in surveys of the general public, the samples should be statistically random. In order to achieve maximum response, it is best to do random sampling through door-to-door surveying. This involves randomly selecting blocks, then streets, then houses for surveying. However, most schools are not staffed to conduct this form of research. An alternative is telephone surveying, selecting names from lists of in-service telephone numbers. Telephone surveying, however, cannot reach a truly random representation of the population, because not everyone has a telephone and because many more potential respondents will refuse to answer than in door-to-door surveying.
The reality is that it is almost impossible-or prohibitively expensive-to survey a truly random sample of the community. Most samples are skewed, and the best that can be done is to understand in what manner the sample is selective. If you are in a public school or in a community college, you may use any of the methods described in Figure 4-4.
Given the problems of surveying the general public, you may direct institutional assessment surveys to specific groups. This is often a preferable option because substantive responses depend upon a level of familiarity with the operation that the general public is not likely to have. Surveying the general public is more important in needs assessment surveys.
If you are in a public school or a community college, you may wish to target community leaders in the survey, including board members, faculty and various government officials. Because these individuals are familiar with your institution, targeting them will result in a good response rate and substantive response.
You may expect response rates to vary from 21% to 45%. To maximize response, use individually addressed letters to accompany the survey form. Too, surveys should be anonymous; that is, do not ask respondents to give their names.
However, it is frequently helpful to know the group to which the respondent belongs. Therefore, you should ask such generally descriptive questions as occupation, income level, sex, race, age, and group. This identification enables cross-tabulation of results by group, indicating how perceptions vary among surveyed groups.
Conducting and Analyzing Surveys. Once you decide what survey methods to use and whom to survey, you must conduct the survey and compile and analyze results. Tabulate responses to each question and cross-tabulate responses for significant variables. Analysis should focus on these operations that are consistently given high marks by survey respondents and those that are generally viewed as requiring improvement (again, competencies and shortcomings). You may also wish to examine how well your institution and its operations are understood by respondents. Frequently, ignorance is a greater problem than negative perceptions of institutional functions.
Another consideration in survey development is how to design a survey that can be replicated in subsequent years. Data gathered over a number of years provide a useful basis for assessing institutional change. Longitudinal data are especially important for strategic planning.
Interviews are a third means of testing perceptions about your institution and your competitors. These are most typically one-to-one interviews with selected respondents, although in some circumstances three to five persons may be interviewed at once. (For larger groups, the focus-group process described in the next section is recommended.) As with surveys, initial decisions in interviewing concern what to ask and whom to interview.
Purpose and Content. In institutional/competitor assessment interviews, the objective is to understand how the respondent perceives your institution, including perception of specific strengths and shortcomings. Two interviewing approaches are suggested.
The first approach is to use a list of predetermined questions, like:
While asking predetermined questions ensures that the interview covers all the topics you would like to explore, this approach has it drawbacks. Such questions are leading, and by asking them, you do not permit respondents full rein to focus upon their paramount perceptions of your institution.
Whom do you interview? Interviews are expensive. Individual interviews require about an hour per person and there may be additional time and expense associated with traveling to the interviews sites. Therefore, carefully consider the selection of interviewees. These individuals will generally fall into two groups, as follows:
The first group will provide more substantive, thoughtful perspectives on school operations, reflecting their familiarity with your institution. The second group will include community "movers and shakers"; although they may not have sufficient knowledge to provide in-depth assessments of specific operations, members will offer a broad vision of the community and a personal perspective on how your school fits into this vision. For this second group, the interview provides an opportunity for education. Selection of interview respondents should include people from both groups.
The number of interviews conducted depends on such factors as resources availability and size of community. In a small community a dozen to fifteen interviews may be sufficient, but a fully rounded perspective in a larger community may require from 50 to 150 interviews.
Conducting and Analyzing Interviews. Interviewing is a specialized skill that an individual develops only through practice. You can find detailed discussion of interviewing techniques in research methodology textbooks. It is important to understand that interviewing is an interactive process; the good interviewer guards against sending subtle cues that influence respondents' answers. This prevents a situation where the respondents give the answers they think the interviewer wants to hear.
Although your staff may do the interviewing, a drawback to this choice is that some respondents may not communicate controversial opinions freely to institution employees. On the other hand, one problem with outside interviewers is that they may not be sufficiently familiar with your school to play an educational role during the process or to follow up with penetrating questions during the interview. Ideally, the interviewer is someone who is not employed by the school but has some familiarity with it.
Interviewers generally should not use tape recorders during interviews. The interviewers take notes, which they can transcribe afterwards. The analysis is essentially a content analysis that ferrets out competencies and shortcomings by focusing on consistent themes in a series of interviews.
The focus group is a structured process that respondents generally regard as a comfortable and interesting way to share and agree upon perceptions.
Purpose and Content. Focus groups gather perceptions from a group of people in a way that enables agreement on the most appropriate responses, developing a group consensus. Focus groups give everyone in the group an opportunity to respond to each question. For the purpose of internal analysis, the four questions listed earlier (strengths, concerns, vision of the ideal institution, specific steps to achieve ideal) work very well for focus groups.
Who is in the Focus Groups? Structure focus groups around individuals with critical characteristics in common: faculty members, senior staff, board members, or senior administrators.
Groups may range in size from 5 to 20 members, although focus group sessions have been held with a few as two people. When the group is large (15 or more), the process takes longer. The ideal size is 7 to 10 members.
Conducting and Analyzing Focus Group Sessions. There are six steps in the focus group process, as outlined here.
Readers familiar with the nominal group technique will recognize this is a modified form of that process.
Focus group sessions covering the four key assessment questions (strengths, concerns, vision, specific steps) generally last two hours. The facilitator should scrupulously honor time commitments to individuals attending these sessions. Therefore, if the group is large, the facilitator may find it necessary to combine the third and fourth questions in order to complete the sessions within the set time limit (e.g., Think about your vision of an ideal school five years from now. What specific things will this school have to do over the next five years to achieve this ideal?).
Actually, the focus group process is quite flexible. Given sufficient time, the group may examine particular issues in detail. For example, the facilitator may follow up responses to the third question (What would be the characteristics of an ideal school serving this community five years from now?) by adapting question 4 to the highest ranking answers to this question. If in response to question 3, group members described the ideal school of education in five years as a first rate teacher training institution, and an institution that had advanced the public schools in the state, the facilitator might run through questions 4 several times, as here:
In this manner, the focus group becomes an adaptable tool for group problem-solving. In discussing an ideal vision of your institution and how to achieve it, a focus group actually goes beyond institutional assessment and moves into the next stage of strategic management, strategic direction-setting.
The third recommended key assessment question focuses on strategic vision at this stage; this is valuable because it serves as a standard against which the school may assess its current operations.
As with individual interviews, it is best for the person facilitating focus groups, which may draw out frank and controversial responses, to be someone neutral, someone not closely affiliated with your institution.
Focus groups may be less structured than as described above; they may be more like brainstorming, where an issue is introduced and followed by informal, unstructured discussion. However, using a less structured form requires a skilled facilitator who can bring the discussion to a concrete, action-oriented conclusion.
Appendix 8: Paring Down Issues
The following is an example of how a group can pare down a long list of issues by assessing the issue on a three dimensional matrix: probability, impact and maturity.
Instructions: Using the scales below, indicate your perception as to (a) the probability of each issue's development into a major concern for (your institution); (b) how great an impact the issue will have on (your institution) should be become a major concern; and (c) your estimate of the time frame for the issue to mature into a major concern for (your institution).
Appendix 9: Selected Management Techniques and Methods
Benchmarking techniques are aimed at improving performance through identifying and replicating best practices. The organization identifies like organizations that are "best in class" that do the job in an exemplary manner. Then it undertakes a careful examination of how the model organization achieves these outstanding results. This involves a very specific analysis of processes and practices the model organization uses. The organization incorporates these processes and practices into its own operations.
Groupware is computer software that enables people to collaborate over computer networks. Groupware can include sophisticated e-mail, bulletin boards, chat groups, meeting arrangers, electronic meetings, and surveys. It is useful when workers are at different geographical locations and need to communicate and share ideas rapidly. It runs on local area networks, the Internet, or intranets.
Knowledge Management recognizes the value of an organizations intellectual capital. It creates systems to acquire and disseminate knowledge through individual and team learning. The focus is development of intellectual capital in those areas that make the organization competitive. Steps include inventorying and evaluating the organizations current knowledge base, determining the areas of competency that are key to future success, and identifying knowledge that will help the organization become and remain a leader in the key competency areas. Next the organization invests in systems and methods to accelerate its knowledge accumulation, codifies the new knowledge into tools and information, more effectively disseminates knowledge among its employee, and applies the new information to improve operations. Computer systems are critical to this process.
Business Process Reengineering involves a major redesign of an organizations core business processes in order to greatly improve productivity and quality. The organization mentally discards all of its current ways of doing things and rethinks the best way to get its work done in order to bring more value to the customer. Characteristics of Business Process Reengineering are a major emphasis on customer needs and wants, reduction of management layers, and elimination of ways of work that are not productive. Business Process Engineering works through cross-functional teams and uses computers to improve information sharing and decision making.
A Self-Directed Team involves assigning responsibility for a work process and all activities related to that process to a small employee group. These teams plan, implement, monitor, and evaluate their work in order to produce a quality product. They are responsible for resolving any problems that arise in product or service creation or delivery. Key to this method is increasing team management responsibilities, which is often tied with elimination of middle managers. Teams are also allowed to redesign their work process or the methods and practices they employ to get the job done. They have input into all the decisions affecting them, including compensation and performance evaluation.
TOTAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT
Total Quality Management or TQM is a method used to determine what a product or service should be based on customer needs and wants. This customer feedback establishes the required performance level for the product or service, and the organizations goal is to meet this expectation with zero defects. The process aims to improve quality on a continuous basis by constant improvement through customer feedback. TQM involves market research to understand what the customer needs and wants, developing products or services meeting those needs, identifying any problems with the product or service and aiming for improvement to the point of zero defects, and establishing continuous feedback on product quality.
Appendix 10: Examples of Strategic Plans
Mt. Hood Community College, Summary of Operational Plan (1998-2000)
Goal #1: Identify, implement and evaluate teaching and learning practices that promote student success and satisfaction and institutional effectiveness.
College Plan, Summary of Operational Plan
Goal #1: Identify, implement and evaluate teaching and learning practices that promote student success and satisfaction and institutional effectiveness.
College Plan, Summary of Operational Plan
Goal #2: Implement a facilities master plan that will maximize facilities usage, protect previous investments and meet current and future instructional and student needs.
College Plan, Summary of Operational Plan
Goal #3: Develop and implement an institutional enrollment systems plan that increases enrollment and contributes to student success and satisfaction.
College Plan, Summary of Operational Plan
Goal #4: Provide sufficient state-of-the-art technology and equipment and support to enhance teaching and learning and promote institutional effectiveness.
College Plan, Summary of Operational Plan
Goal #5: Develop and implement a resource development plan and conduct activities designed to increase resources available to the college.
College Plan, Summary of Operational Plan
Goal #6: Improve internal and external communications.