Exercise: Potential Events That Can Change the Future of  Research, Education, and Extension Programs in Land-Grant Institutions

The objective of this exercise is to identify potential events that could affect the future of research, education, and extension programs in land-grant institutions if they occurred. 

We will begin the exercise by selecting new leadership roles in each group. The roles are facilitator, flip chart scribe, reporter, and paper hanger. The laptop recorder will remain the same. Except for the laptop recorder, you may not have the same roles that you had in the trend exercise. 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 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 NAFTA incorporates all of North and South America in a free trade zone. The latter statements are concrete, unambiguous, and signal significant change that could impact agricultural programs in land grant institutions.

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 land grant institutions. 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 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 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 (e.g., Congress cuts Hatch, McIntire-Stennis and Animal Health and Disease formula funds by half).

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 research, education, and extension programs in land grant institutions 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 45 minutes on this part of the exercise (or until you have exhausted event nomination). By 10:30, 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!). After lunch, continue discussion; at 1:45 pm begin selecting those events that may have the most impact on agricultural programs in land grant institutions 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 programs in land grant institutions 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)

At 2:00 pm, identify the signals that indicate your five most critical events could occur within the coming decade. 

At 2:45 pm, begin preparing your conference report of the five most critical events and the signals that they could occur within five years.