|by James L.
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1994, 2(5), 3-5. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
Several colleagues have
written congratulatory, supportive letters assessing On the Horizon. These have
been most welcome and reassuring. There have also, however, been a few critical responses
that are thoughtful, provocative, and challenging. Three of the questions are paraphrased
- If On the Horizon's orientation is toward describing future changes and
implications of these potential changes in the macro-environment, rather than toward
reporting on institutions' current activities to meet ongoing changes, won't your
newsletter be perceived as theoretical and irrelevant?
- Aren't many of the trends and developments the newsletter identifies as on-the-horizon
really coming down the street and knocking at the front door? The time for scanning and
planning is past. This is the time to act strategically, to redistribute resources, to
adopt more efficient instructional delivery systems and to restructure curriculum.
- Why have you enlarged On the Horizon's coverage from higher education to the
entire education field? K-12 institutions already have publications that focus on school
reform (e.g., Education Week and Phi Delta Kappan). On the Horizon should
remain focused on fundamental issues facing higher education and should report on the
success or failure of innovations specific institutions have adopted in response.
The first two questions can best be
responded to by briefly overviewing and clarifying On the Horizon's mission.
First, a definition of three levels of
environment (Fahey & Narayanan, 1986): The task environment refers to a set of
customers (e.g., 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). The task environment is more or less specific
to a particular educational organization. Although a community college, a public school, a
proprietary school, and a research university are in the same community, each has a
different task environmens.
A second level, the industry
environment, comprises all enterprises associated with higher education or K-12
education in the society. At this level, factors such as public confidence in education,
or student aid bills being considered by Congress directly affect all educational
organizations, although the effect varies depending upon the type of organization (i.e.,
research or comprehensive, two- or four-year, public or private, or K-12).
The third and broadest level is the macro-environment,
where changes in the social, technological, economic, environmental and political sectors
interact to produce system-wide changes that, in turn, affect schools and colleges
directly or indirectly. For example, the economic costs of technological transformation
(e.g., equipment upgrading and worker retooling) reduce society's discretionary resources,
leading to reduced public sector revenues, just at a time when these changes also require
greater expenditures on education. At the same time, a recession may stimulate an increase
in enrollments, particularly in K-12 schools or in colleges with low tuitions.
This system-wide level, the
macro-environment, includes the social, technological, economic, environmental and
political (On the Horizon's STEEP) sectors.
The social sector focuses on
demographics, life-styles and values. Our interest here lies in understanding shifts in
population characteristics and the emergence of new social values or life-styles.
The technological sector is
concerned with advances in basic research (e.g., new processes, products, or materials)
that may generate commercially viable new technologies.
The economic sector focuses on the
general set of economic factors and conditions in the regional, national and global
society (e.g., GNP growth, disparity in income levels, concentrations of wealth).
The environmental sector includes
issues such as energy efficiency, reusing and recycling, protecting biological bases,
adequately feeding world population, stabilizing population, environmental protection.
The political sector focuses on
local, regional, national, and global political and regulatory processes (e.g., interest
groups, regulatory agencies, legislation).
These five sectors are interactive at the
macro-environmental level. 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, stimulating a recession, which in turn results in budget cuts. Technological
developments in California to convert wind power to low cost energy could reduce the costs
of fossil fuel energy, with concomitant economic ramifications. Similarly, the three
levels of environment interact. These interweaving interdependent patterns underscore the
necessity of scanning them all if we want to pick up early signals of change.
Publications of various professional
organizations focus on the task and industry environments, as do such publications as Education
Week, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Phi Delta Kappan, to name a few.
Occasionally, these publications carry items from the larger macro- environment. On the
Horizon's unique niche is to focus on the macro-environment and derive the
implications of signals of change in this environment for the task and industry
environments as well as for educational organizations themselves.
For a full answer to the third
question/complaint, why has On the Horizon expanded coverage to focus on education
as one system, kindergarten through graduate school, please see my column in the April/May
issue. Briefly, the rationale cited was that each component of education is
interconnected; changes in one segment affect other segments. By drawing out the
implications of emerging trends and potential developments in the larger society for
elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education, including current efforts at
educational reform, On the Horizon can better inform leaders in these sectors (and
in the corporate and political sectors) who may then be able to act more effectively to
improve education as a whole.
To summarize, On the Horizon's
mission is to provide early warning to leaders in schools and colleges, and to the
corporate and political sectors concerned about educational improvement. We will continue
to emphasize changes in the macro-environment and their implications for educational
organizations, including what educational leaders may do in response to these
And we will take advantage of technology
to assist us in this mission. The announcement on page 14 describes Horizon List on
the Internet, and how you may respond to articles, propose articles, or join in a general
discussion about emerging trends and issues that may affect educational organizations.
Active use of this list will make On the Horizon a truly interactive newsletter and
one that can keep us informed between issues. To facilitate this conversation, we have put
past issues in an archive, easily accessible when you sign on to Horizon List. I
look forward to seeing you on the 'Net.
[Fahey, L., & Narayanan, V. K. (1986). Macroenvironmental analysis for strategic
management. New York: West Publishing Company.]