A Look Ahead
James L. Morrison, Workshop Facilitator

Workshop held at Onondaga Community College
Syracuse, NY
January 31, 1997

We are being bombarded by tumultuous forces for change as we go into the 21st Century: Virtual classrooms, global communications, global economies, telecourses, distance learning, corporate classrooms, increased competition among social agencies for scarce resources, pressure for institutional mergers, state-wide program review and so on. In order to plan effectively in this environment, we must be able to anticipate and plan for new developments that will affect higher education generally and Onondaga Community College and its curricular programs specifically.


This workshop is designed to assist Onondaga Community College staff and faculty members to systematically factor the external environment into the strategic planning process. The specific objectives are to:

  • identify potential events that could affect Onondaga Community College
  • derive implications and recommend actions vis-à-vis these potential events


Please read the following articles that help provide the context for our deliberations.

  1. David Pearce Snyder, High Tech and Higher Education: A Wave of Creative Destruction is Rolling Toward the Halls of Academe, Parts I and II.
  2. James L. Morrison, Paradigm Shifts
  3. Terry O'Banion, Schooling is Out--Learning is In
  4. Arthur M. Cohen, The Constancy of Community Colleges
  5. George R. Boggs, Focus on Learning
  6. Donald M. Norris, Perpetual Learning as a Revolutionary Creation

We will begin the workshop with observations on how we can anticipate the future, which serves as an introduction to linking potential external developments to internal decision-making. External analysis is a major step in a strategic management/planning process. (For more information about this process, read Strategic Management in the Context of Global Change , by Morrison & Wilson, 1996). Although our time is short, the exercise below will give you experience in external analysis.


1:30-2:35 Anticipating the Future

2:35-2:50 Break (and form into A-Teams)

2:50-3:25 Identifying potential events that would affect the future of Onondaga Community College

3:25-3:30 Prioritizing events

3:30-3:40 Defining signals of most critical events (from perspective of your planning team)

3:40-4:00 Deriving implications of most critical event on your planning responsibility

4:00-4:20 Formulate draft action plan for the implications of that event

4:20-4:30 Wrap-up

Exercise: Potential Events That Can Change the Future of Onondaga Community College

Events are unambiguous and confirmable. When they occur, the future is different. External event identification and analysis is critical in 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 the U.S. 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: In the next election, the political right gains control of Congress and the presidency. Or Minorities become the majority in 10 states. Or The European Community incorporates Eastern Europe in a free trade zone. The latter statements are concrete, unambiguous, and signal significant change that could impact the college.

We will conduct this exercise via self-study teams (e.g., Recruitment and Enrollment Management; Student Services; Instructional Programs and Practices, Community Partnerships; Resources, Human, Physical and Financial; Planning, Organizational Structure and Decision-making).


Task 1. The first task is to identify those potential external events in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political sectors, local through global, that would change the future of the college if they occurred. We will spend 35 minutes this part of the exercise.

Task 2. When I call time, you will prioritize the events by using paste-on dots. Vote for five of the most critical events that affect your team's area of planning responsibility (e.g., student services or community partnerships) that have some probability of occurrence within the next decade.

  • Do not be concerned about the event being 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)

We have 10 minutes for this task.

Task 3. The next part of the exercise is to identify the signals that your top event (as indicated by the frequency distribution of votes) could occur. We have 10 minutes for this task.

Task 4. When you have done this, derive the implications of that event for the college. In other words, assume that this event occurs. What would happen to your area of planning responsibility in the college (e.g., what would happen to student services) as a result of its occurrence?

We have 20 minutes for this task.

Task 5. The final task is to develop recommendations as to what Onondaga Community College should do now in anticipation of this event occurring. Again, do not be concerned about the probability of occurrence of the event. Let's see what recommendations you invent, and then examine the recommendations to see if they make sense to implement regardless of whether the event occurs or not. One outcome is the creation of plans that we could not have conceived without going through the process, but, when we examine the plans, make sense to begin implementing now. We have 20 minutes for this task.


We will not have time for reportbacks. However, you will have produced a list of critical events that could happen to affect the future of your college. In the weeks that follow, consider examining the effects of these potential events (and others that will come to mind) on your area of planning responsibility. We will use the remaining 10 minutes of the workshop to address what questions you have.

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