Using On the Horizon in Organizational Planning
by James L. Morrison

[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 Publishers.]

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 organization’s 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 action planning.

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.

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: 7/3/2003 9:48:22 PM. 16846 visitors since February 2000.