Using OTH in Institutional Planning
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1994 2(2), 3-4. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Some time ago, a colleague, responsible for planning at a small college, asked me a simple question: How could he use On the Horizon in his institutional planning activities?
I immediately replied: Get a site license, then reproduce and send each issue to everyone on your planning committee, with a cover memo written on your letterhead. This saves staff time and helps keep planning committee members alert to future possibilities rather than focusing only on the next day or the next week.

I have had time to reflect on my response, which although reasonable was not fully adequate. If he asked me the question today, I would add this to my original response: View each issue of On the Horizon as a pump-primer to institutional planning. For example, your cover letter should urge committee members to consider how the content of particular items in the newsletter affect the institution and write down their thoughts (or send them to the group via e-mail); their thoughts would be used to begin discussion at the next committee meeting.

Before the meeting, compose a questionnaire identifying those articles in On the Horizon that may affect either the college as a whole or particular curricular programs in the college. Ask committee members to rank-order the most important ones for that college, and follow this rank order for the discussion agenda.

As you move along in the academic year and the committee becomes accustomed to this process, request members to send you articles, notes, or commentary that they encounter in their reading and at conferences about potential developments that could affect the institution. Ask them to use the structure of the newsletter: send information about signals of change in the STEEP (i.e., social, technological, economic, environmental, and political) categories, on the local, regional, national, and global levels. Explain the reason for using this structure: developments in one sector affect developments in other sectors (i.e., a war in the Middle East affects fuel prices in the U.S.); therefore, in order to anticipate change, we need to look for developments that may have direct or indirect effects on the college.

Suggest that they examine their sources for change in relevant variables (e.g., average SAT scores of entering college freshmen, percentage of black males applying for college). What change is already taking place? Is there a movement upward or downward? What are the projections? What are the emerging trends (i.e., what combinations of data points--past trends, events, precursors--suggest and support the early stages of a possible trend)? What external events, policies, or regulatory actions would affect or be affected by the projections? Ask your colleagues to look for forecasts by experts. Ask that they append their own implications section to the emerging issues, critical trends, or potential developments when they send their information items.

Summarize the articles and their implications in your cover letter when you send the next issue of On the Horizon. As before, include a questionnaire asking each committee member to rank the five most important items submitted by the committee or included in the newsletter.
Prepare an agenda for the meeting that includes the top items. At the meeting, focused around these items, draw out the implications of the potential developments for ongoing institutional and program planning. Committee members may want more information about a particular trend or potential event. In this case, enlist the aid of the research librarian (who should be on your planning committee anyway).

Regularly circulating information about potential developments and asking committee members to think of their implications reinforces a future-oriented posture in your colleagues. They will begin to read, hear, and talk about this information not only as something intellectually interesting but as information they can use in practical institutional planning.

Of course one of the major reasons for publishing On the Horizon is to bring you and your colleagues the expertise and foresight of an exceptional and diverse editorial board. Our objective is to alert readers to developments that may affect their institutions and to offer college and university leaders guidance on what proactive measures institutions can take. Please let us know how we are doing.

All material within the HORIZON site, unless otherwise noted, may be distributed freely for educational purposes. If you do redistribute any of this material, it must retain this copyright notice and you must use appropriate citation including the URL. Also, we would appreciate your sending James L. Morrison a note as to how you are using it. HTML and design by Noel Fiser, ©2006. Page last modified: 7/9/2003 12:53:34 AM. 16696 visitors since February 2000.