Trends Defining the Context of Agricultural Research CLOUDS AND SUN

Trends Defining the Context of Research, Education, and Extension Programs in Land-Grant Institutions

Trends are estimations/measurements of social, technological, economic, environmental, and political characteristics over time. They are gradual and long-term. Trend information may be used to describe the future, identify emerging issues, and project future events. Trend statements should be clearly stated, concise, and contain only one idea. Examples of trend statements are:

  • the number of computers with voice recognition software sold in the U.S.
  • the number of U.S. land-grant colleges & universities requiring computers of entering freshmen
  • the number of students 18-21 applying for admission to U.S. land-grant colleges and universities

Trends define the context within which organizations function. Therefore, it is important to identify critical trends, particularly those that are emerging, forecast their future direction, derive their implications for effective planning, and construct plans to take advantage of the opportunities they offer or ameliorate their consequences if they may negatively impact the institution. In trend identification, it is important to look widely in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP) sectors, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

We will begin the exercise by selecting leadership roles in each working group. The roles are facilitator, flip chart scribe, reporter, laptop recorder, and paper hanger. We will change roles for different exercises so that you may expect to play several of these roles during the conference. No one is allowed to serve in the same role twice, except for laptop recorder, who will record the group proceedings throughout the conference. Thus, you may concentrate on the discussion, and not worry about taking notes. In this and in all exercises in this conference, individual groups may take breaks at their discretion. However, please make sure that all work is completed for a particular time frame prior to taking a break.

The tasks in this exercise are to identify critical trends and prioritize them. You will use the Nominal Group Process for this exercise. That is, the facilitator will pose the question: What are the critical trends that define the context within which research, education, and extension programs in land-grant institutions function? Take five minutes to think about the question. Think broadly through the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political sectors (STEEP), locally and 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. When you are convinced that you have exhausted identifying the most critical trends in each of the STEEP sectors or at 8:45 am (whichever comes first), go to the discussion/clarification phase, where the facilitator will ensure that group members understand and agree with the trend statements (prepare for some rewriting!). We have 35 minutes for this exercise, during which time you may combine trend statements or identify new ones. 

We will then prioritize the trend statements by each person in each group "voting" with the four dots you will be given. The criteria for voting is for you to select the four most critical trends for agricultural programs. Put a dot on the left hand side of each trend statement (so that we can see the frequency distribution easily). Remember: one dot per trend. Prepare your report to the conference of the five most critical trends. Make sure that your trend statements contain only one idea per per trend statement (e.g., "the percentage of students entering extension programs with personal computers is increasing").