|by James L.
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1997, 5(4), 2-3. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
In the last issue, Ian
Wilson (1997) stated that reading, contributing to, and distributing On
the Horizon to key decision makers in your particular organization is only the first
step in a very long journey. He noted that the information and trends described in On
the Horizon need to be tailored to each organization. Too, although On the Horizon
may offer thought-provoking material, it is an outside source; for this material to be
useful, the ideas intended to change actions must be made relevant to your organization.
Wilson argued that the objective is to achieve a future focus in your organization so that
the present and the future are linked in mind and in action by changing organizational
processes, and so that planning is diffused throughout the organization. In this way you
can integrate strategic thinking with operational action.
In this article, I want to describe how
you can use On the Horizon to assist in integrating strategic thinking with action
planning through sending a copy of each issue to key people in your organization. (Either the
site license or the bulk subscription feature will make this both convenient and
affordable.) For illustrative purposes, I will assume that you are the chair of your
organizations planning committee.
Send each member of the planning
committee a copy of On the Horizon with a cover letter urging committee members to
consider how the content of particular items in the newsletter affect the organization.
Ask them to send their thoughts to you--or to the group via e-mail. You can use their
collective thoughts to begin discussion at the next committee meeting.
Before the meeting, design a
questionnaire identifying those articles in On the Horizon that may affect either
the organization as a whole or particular curricular programs. Ask committee members to
rank-order the most important ones, 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 that members send you
articles, notes, or commentary that they encounter in their reading and at conferences
about potential developments that could affect your organization. Ask them to use the
structure On the Horizon uses--that is, to send information about signals of change
in the STEEP categories (social, technological, economic, environmental, and
political)--but with emphasis on the local and regional levels. (On the Horizon
tends to focus on the national and international levels.) Explain that this structure is
useful because developments in one sector affect developments in other sectors (for
example, a war in the Middle East affects fuel prices everywhere), so in order to
anticipate change, it is necessary to look for developments that may have direct or
indirect effects on the organization. It is important to ensure that your organization has
a 360-degree monitoring and scanning capability so that the integration of data, thinking,
and action can take place when your committee comes together.
Suggest that committee members look for
signals for change in relevant variables (such as immigration, price of computers, mood of
voters). What change is already taking place? Is there a movement upward or downward? What
are the projections? What are the emerging trends? That is, 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 out 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 your planning
meeting that includes the top items submitted. At a meeting focused on these items,
draw out the implications of the potential developments for ongoing
organizational 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 or institutional researcher on your planning committee.
Circulating information on a regular
basis about potential developments and asking committee members to share their thoughts
about the implications will reinforce 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 organizational
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 you to some of the
potential developments and emerging trends that may affect your organization so that you
can plan for the future more effectively. Please let us know how we are doing.