Planning for the Future of Southwestern Adventist University
James L. Morrison, Workshop 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 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 Southwestern Adventist University and its curricular programs specifically.
This workshop is designed to assist Southwestern Adventist University staff and faculty members to systematically factor the external environment into the strategic planning process. The specific objectives are to:
Preparation for the Workshop
September 26, 2000
9:00-10:15 Anticipating the Future
Introduce and discuss Joel Barker video, Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms
10:30-11:20 Identifying critical trends
11:20-11:30 Prioritizing critical trends
1:15-2:15 Identifying potential events
2:15-2:30 Prioritizing potential events
2:30-2:50 Defining signals of most critical event
2:50-3:20 Deriving implications of most critical event
3:20-3:45 Formulating draft action plan
4:30-5:00 Next Steps
First Exercise: Trends Defining the Context for Higher Education
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:
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 forming into 6-8 person groups and selecting leadership roles in each group. The roles are facilitator, flip chart scribe, reporter, laptop recorder, and paper hanger. We will change roles for exercises as described below so that you may expect to have at least one role during the workshop. No one is allowed to serve in the same role twice, except for laptop recorder, who will record the group proceedings throughout the workshop. Thus, you may concentrate on the discussion, and not worry about taking notes.
The tasks in this exercise are to identify critical trends and prioritize them. You will use the Nominal Group Process (see below) for this exercise. That is, I will pose the question: What are the critical trends that define the context within which American higher education functions? Take five minutes to think about the question. Think broadly through the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political sectors, locally and 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 trend statements (prepare for some rewriting!).
We will then prioritize the trend statements by each person in each group voting the five "dots" you will be given. The criteria for voting is for you to select the five most critical trends. 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.
Exercise: Potential Events That Can Change the Future of Higher Education
The next exercise is to identify potential events that could affect the future of higher education if they occurred. We will change group leadership roles for this exercise.
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 30% of college and university courses will use multimedia technologies in instruction. This event could have both positive and negative consequences on the University. If, for example, the faculty are not currently oriented to using multimedia technology, the event may adversely affect the competitive position of your institution. On the other hand, distributing the signals of this event 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.
You 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 the University 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 25 minutes for this phase.
The next part of this exercise is to select those events that may have the most impact on the University in the next decade. We will use the paste-on dots for this exercise. Group members will be given five dots to indicate their selection. Voting criteria are as follows:
We have 10 minutes for this exercise.
The next part of the exercise is to identify the signals that your top two events (as indicated by the frequency distribution of votes from exercise two above) could occur. For this exercise we will change roles in the group (except for the laptop scribe and the reporter). Use the Nominal Group Process. We only have 20 minutes for this part of the exercise.
The next phase of the exercise is to take one of your top two events and derive the implications of that event for the University. In other words, assume that this event occurs. What would happen the University as a result of its occurrence? For this phase we will again change roles (except for the laptop scribe and the reporter). Use the Nominal Group Process. We have 25 minutes for this and the following phase.
The final phase of this exercise is to develop recommendations as to what University 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 Nominal Group Process
The Nominal Group Process is an efficient tool that ensures balanced participation. It requires participants to first think about the question (i.e., 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 so that all can see the nominations. 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.)
Value of the Workshop
You will hone your anticipatory skills and produce valuable planning information for
the University, which will be in the form of the published workshop proceedings. 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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