Environmental Scanning: Why, What, Where, How?

American University in Cairo
March 5, 2007
0930 - 1330
Room 201 and 202 Jameel Building

Sponsored by the AUC School of Continuing Education
James L. Morrison, Facilitator

Egyptian colleges and universities, like all institutions of higher education around the world, are being bombarded by tumultuous forces for change in the political, technological, social, economic, and environmental sectors, locally and globally. In order to plan effectively in this environment, we must be able to anticipate the direction and implications of these forces in order to plan more effectively.


The objective of this workshop is to assist you to enhance your competency to systematically factor the external environment into institutional and curricular planning activities. The expected outcomes are that you will gain experience in:

  • identifying potential events that could affect Middle Eastern higher education
  • exploring environmental scanning models and how they could be implemented and used by you to enhance institutional and curricular planning.


Please review the following publications prior to the workshop the following publications:

Approaches to anticipating the future:


  1. Morrison, J. L. (1996). "Anticipating the Future." On the Horizon, 4(3), 2-3.
  2. Morrison, J. L. (1997). "Transforming Educational Organizations" On the Horizon, 5(1), 2-3.
  3. Morrison, J. L. (1992). "Environmental Scanning.” In M. A. Whitely, J. D. Porter, and R. H. Fenske (Eds.), A Primer for New Institutional Researchers (pp. 86-99). Tallahassee, Florida: The Association for Institutional Research.
  4. Simpson, E. G., McGinty, D. L., and Morrison, J. L. Environmental Scanning at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education: A Progress Report. Continuing Higher Education Review, 1-20.


  1. Mack, T. "An Interview with a Futurist." Futures Research Quarterly, 2003, 19 (1), 61-69
  2. Morrison, J. L. & Wilson, I (1997). "Analyzing Environments and Developing Scenarios for Uncertain Times.” in M. W. Peterson, D. D. Dill, L. A. Mets, and Associates (eds.), Planning and Management for a Changing Environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  3. Ashley, W. L. & Morrison, J. L. (1996). "Anticipatory Management Tools for the 21 st Century.” Futures Research Quarterly, 12 (2), 35-49.
  4. Ashley, W. L. & Morrison, J. L. (1997). "Anticipatory Management Tools for Better Decision Making.The Futurist, 31(5), 47-50.
  5. Morrison, J. L., Renfro, W. L., and Boucher, W. (1984). Futures Research and the Strategic Planning Process. (1984). ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Research Report.


0930 - 1045 Anticipating the future
1045 – 1115 Identifying potential events
1115 – 1130 Break
1130 – 1150 Prioritizing events/Identifying signals
1150 – 1230 Deriving implications for AUC
1230 – 1300 What is involved with establishing an environmental scanning program at AUC?
1300 -1330 Wrapup

Exercise: Potential Events That Can Change the Future of Egyptian Higher Education

The objective of this exercise is to identify potential events that could affect the future of higher education in Egypt if they occurred.

We will use the Nominal Group Process for this exercise (see below). We will begin the exercise by selecting leadership roles in each group. The roles are facilitator, flip chart scribe, reporter, and paperhanger. Please concentrate on the discussion, and not worry about taking notes.

Events are unambiguous and confirmable. When they occur, the future is different. Event identification and analysis is critical in anticipatory planning.

It is important that an event statement be unambiguous; otherwise, it is not helpful in the planning process because (a) it is unclear what may be meant by the statement (i.e., different people may understand the statement differently) and (b) we have no clear target that allows us to derive implications and action steps. For example, consider the following event statement: There will be significant changes in political, social, and economic systems in Egypt. Each person on a planning team may agree with this statement, but may also interpret it differently. It would be far more useful in analysis for a statement like: Use of alternative sources of energy (e.g., hydrogen, wind) worldwide increases 1,500% from 2006 levels. Or Palestine and Israel sign peace accord. Or OPEC becomes a free trade zone. The latter statements are concrete, unambiguous, and signal significant change that could impact colleges and universities in Egypt and in the Middle East.

Another point. We should not include an impact statement in the event statement. Consider the following event statement: New developments in technology will dramatically increase enrollments in online education programs throughout the Middle East. First, we need to specify each technological development as an event. Second, it may well be that an event can have both a positive and a negative impact. For example, there may be signals that within five years 85% of college and university courses will use multimedia technologies in instruction. Or, there may be signals that within five years 40% of college and university courses will be taught by the project method. Both events could have both positive and negative consequences on colleges and universities. If, for example, if the faculty in a particular institution are not currently oriented to using multimedia technology or the project method of instruction, these events may adversely affect the competitive position of their college. On the other hand, distributing the signals of these events in a newsletter to the faculty may bring about an awareness of what is happening and assist in developing a desire to upgrade their set of teaching skills.

Finally, it may be helpful to write event statements as headlines in a newspaper (e.g., Peace in the Middle East; Iran nukes Israel).

We will use the Nominal Group Process for this exercise. The group facilitator will pose the question: What are the potential events that would change the future of Egyptian higher education if they occurred? Take five minutes to think about the question, remembering to think broadly through the STEEP sectors, locally through globally. Then begin the round-robin process to post nominations from individual group members to the flip chart. We will spend 25 minutes on this part of the exercise (or until you have exhausted event nomination). When I call time, go to the discussion/clarification phase, where the facilitator will ensure that group members understand and agree with the event statements (prepare for some rewriting!). When I call time again, begin selecting those events that may have the most impact on Egyptian colleges and universities in the next decade. We will use the paste-on dots for this exercise. Group members will be given four dots to indicate their selection. Voting criteria are as follows:

  • Vote for four of the most critical events for the future of higher education in the Middle East that have some probability of occurrence within the next decade. Do not be concerned about the event having high or low probability; be concerned only about the severity of the impact (positive or negative).
  • Do not put more than one dot on one event statement.
  • Put all dots by the beginning of the event statement (so that we can quickly see the frequency distribution of dots)

After this section is complete, identify the signals that indicate your most critical event could occur within the coming decade. What are the implications for the American University of Cairo if this event occurred? What should AUC do?

The Nominal Group Process

The Nominal Group Process is an efficient tool that ensures balanced participation. It requires participants to first think about the question (e.g., what potential events can affect the future?) and write down their thoughts on a sheet of paper. After a suitable time the facilitator uses a round robin approach where each participant in turn is asked to nominate an event. Only one nomination is given by each participant. Participants are asked to nominate those events that could be most critical to their organization. Each statement is written on the flip chart in large text so that all can see the nominations. Each statement should be numbered to facilitate discussion in the discussion phase. The next person is asked to submit his or her "best" candidate. During this time the only person talking is the person nominating a statement; all others are requested to think about the statement to see if it stimulates an idea that they had not had before.

Under normal circumstances this process goes on until there are no more nominations, at which time the facilitator guides the group in a discussion of each nomination to clarify, discuss, edit, and remove redundancies. Of course the discussion may uncover more events, which will then be posted on the flip chart. (Given time limitations, we may have to curtail the discussion to two rounds before we begin the discussion phase.)


You will hone your anticipatory skills and produce valuable planning information for the University. Moreover, you will learn to implement the Nominal Group Process, a valuable tool when working with groups regardless of the topic.

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