Anticipating the Future of Agricultural Teaching, Research, and Service: Seminar Description


Anticipating the Future of Agricultural Learning, Discovery, and Engagement

Board on Agricultural Assembly Partnership Working Group
Embassy Suites Hotel, Orlando, FL
July 27-28, 2004
James L. Morrison, Facilitator

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, developments in biotechnology, 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 agricultural learning, discovery, and engagement so that we can plan more effectively for the future.


The objectives of the sessions on the 27th and 28th of July are to assist Partnership members to systematically factor the external environment into the strategic planning process and to prepare them for a leadership role in a national conference where they will replicate much of their experience in these sessions. The specific objectives are to:

  • identify potential events that could affect agricultural teaching, research, and service.
  • derive implications and recommend actions vis-a-vis these potential events
  • prepare Partnership members to lead small groups at a national meeting on this same topic


Please review the following publications prior to traveling to Orlando:

Approaches to anticipating the future:

  1. Ashley, W. L. & Morrison, J. L. (1996). "Anticipatory Management Tools for the 21st Century." The Futures Research Quarterly, 12 (2), 35-49.
  2. Ashley, W. L. & Morrison, J. L. (1997). "Anticipatory Management: Tools for Better Decision Making." The Futurist, 31(5), 47-50.
  3. Morrison & Wilson. "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, 1997

Perspectives on the future of higher education:

  1. Mack, T. "An Interview with a Futurist." Futures Research Quarterly, 2003, 19 (1), 61-69
  2. Morrison, J. L. "US Higher Education in Transition." Keynote presentation at DIVERSE 2004 conference, Amsterdam, June, 2004 (webcast, click on "Keynote Prof. James L. Morrison).
  3. Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities. "Renewing the Covenant: Learning Discovery, and Engagement is a New Age and Different World." Sixth Report, 2000, March. 
  4. Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities. Returning to Our Roots: A Learning Society. Fourth Report, 1999, September.
  5. NASULGC ESCOP Task Force on Building a Science Roadmap, "A Science Roadmap for Agriculture." 2001, November.
  6. Snyder, D. P. "High Tech and Higher Education: A Wave of Creative Destruction is Rolling Toward the Halls of Academe."   On the Horizon, 1996, 4(5), 1, 3-7.
  7. Boggs, G. R. "Focus on Learning." On the Horizon, 1998, 6(1), 1, 5-6.
  8. O'Banion, T. "Schooling is Out--Learning is In." On the Horizon, 1996, 3(5), 1-2, 5-6.
  9. Morrison, J. L. "Anticipating the Future." On the Horizon, 1996, 4(3), 2-3.
  10. Morrison, J. L. "Transforming Educational Organizations." On the Horizon, 1997, 5(1), 2-3.
  11. Morrison, J. L., Sargison, A., & Francis, D. (1997). Using The Futures Program As A Tool For Transformation: A Case Study of Lincoln University, New Zealand. In Donald M. Norris and James L. Morrison, Mobilizing for Transformation: How Campuses Are Preparing for the Knowledge Age. New Directions in Institutional Research Number 94 (19-30). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Available on-line:


Tuesday, July 27

7:00-7:15 pm            Introduction/Orientation

7:15-8:00 pm            Anticipating the Future
                                    Introduce and discuss Joel Barker video, Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms

8:00-8:30 pm            Preparing for tomorrow's work

Wednesday, July 28

11:00-12:00 am        Identifying potential events that would affect the future of agricultural learning, discovery, and engagement 

12:00-12:15 pm        Prioritizing potential events

12:15-12:45 pm        Working lunch: Defining signals of the most critical event

12:45-1:00 pm          Break

1:00-1:30 pm            Deriving implications of most critical event for agricultural learning, discovery, and engagement 

1:30-2:00 pm            Formulating draft action plan

2:00-3:15 pm            Prepare reportbacks

3:15-3:30 pm            Reportbacks

3:30-4:00 pm           Next Steps

Exercise: Potential Events That Can Change the Future of Agricultural Research, Teaching, and Service

This objective of this exercise is to identify potential events that could affect the future of agricultural learning, discovery, and engagement if they occurred. 

We will begin the exercise by forming into 6-8 person groups and selecting leadership roles in each group. The roles are facilitator, flip chart scribe, reporter, laptop recorder, paper hanger, and laptop recorder, who will record the group proceedings throughout the session. Thus, you may 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 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 higher education.

Another point. We should not include an impact statement in the event statement. Consider the following event statement: Passage of welfare and immigration reform will negatively impact higher education. First, we need to specify each welfare reform idea and each immigration reform idea 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 70% of college and university courses will use multimedia technologies in instruction. Or, there may be signals that within five years 30% of college and university courses will be taught by the project method. Both events could have both positive and negative consequences on colleges of agriculture. If, for example, the faculty are not currently oriented to using multimedia technology or the project method of instruction, the 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.

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 agricultural learning, discovery, and engagement 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 20 minutes this part of the exercise. When I call time, you will 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!). We will have 40 minutes for this phase.

The next part of this exercise is to select those events that may have the most impact on agricultural research, teaching, and service 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 agricultural learning, discovery, and engagement 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 exercise.

The next part of the exercise is to identify the signals that your top event (as indicated by the frequency distribution of votes from exercise two above) could occur. Use the Nominal Group Process. We only have 15 minutes for this part of the exercise.

The next phase of the exercise is to take one of your top event and derive the implications of that event for agricultural learning, discovery, and engagement. In other words, assume that this event occurs. What would happen agricultural learning, discovery, and engagement as a result of its occurrence? Use the Nominal Group Process. We have 15 minutes for this and the following phase.

Now develop recommendations as to what agricultural leaders 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.

The reportback should focus on the four most critical events for the future of agricultural learning, discovery, and engagement, the signals that the top event could occur, the implications of the event if it should occur, and recommendations as to what the University should 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.)

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