|THE RELEVANCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL SCANNING AND FORECASTING TO HIGHER EDUCATION||PREVIOUS | CONTENTS | NEXT|
College and university planning has evolved through several major stages (Heydinger 1983). Initially, planning constituted part of the annual budgeting process because any planned change must necessarily be considered in projections of revenues and expenses. Although extreme social, political, and technological trends were considered to some extent, the future was viewed primarily in terms of internal financial considerations. It became apparent, however, that not only was an exclusively financial perspective limiting but so also was the one-year time frame. The next stage expanded the time frame for planning beyond the first year, and as the need for qualification and accountability grew, the specification of institutional goals and objectives became a standard against which programs could be measured. The perspective embodied in this stage was that of a cause-and-effect relationship between specifying an institutional future and implementing plans to allocate resources to reach that future.
As our ability to store and manipulate quantitative information increased with the advent of computer centers and, more recently, personal computers, it became possible to project historical data about external forces and forecast the future. But further experience with planning and forecasting revealed not only that the future is unpredictable but also that the forces and interactions affecting colleges and universities were so complex and dynamic that a new planning system was needed. This system needed to be based on the strengths of the previous stages (the budget cycle, specific organizational goals, and the utility of forecasting), but it was also essential that the organization be much more sensitive to the influence of emerging long-term external trends and unprecedented future events that could affect the organization profoundly unless it has carefully prepared itself well in advance to cope with them. This new stage is the era of advanced, comprehensive, and systematic strategic planning.
As modern strategic planning adds a special emphasis on identifying those forces external to the organization that can affect the attainment of its goals, assessment of the environment becomes an important aspect of organizational planning. It also places much greater emphasis on the need to recognize uncertainty--the necessity to consider a range of possible conditions rather than a single future.
Futures research, intended to provide the tools and perspectives required by planners and decision-makers who wished to operate most effectively, has developed in parallel with these changes in thinking. The field of futures research has always been controversial, and many academics doubt its legitimacy, particularly those who have been led to believe that futures research seeks to predict the future (which it does not) or that it is a science (which it is not) or that it will somehow supplement established fields like technological or economic forecasting (which it cannot). The approaches, the techniques, and the very philosophy of futures research have been developed to augment the capability of individuals and institutions to deal intelligently with change, especially long-term change. Experimental practitioners are well aware that, in historical perspective, the field is very new and that it has only begun to solve some of the problems it must face to achieve this objective. Major figures in the field (for example, Helmer 1983) note that the discipline is not yet on a solid conceptual foundation, a condition caused in part by steady demands for immediate pragmatic results. The fact that techniques of futures research are based upon using the intuitive judgment of experts and require multidisciplinary perspectives has been particularly troublesome to some who value "hardness" and objectivity. These observers, as well as serious practitioners in the field, have also been disturbed by the fact that some charlatans, dilettantes, and incompetents have associated themselves with the field (though they are steadily being shaken out).
Despite imperfections like these, the techniques of futures research-in responsible hands-can greatly facilitate planning because they are designed to provide as clear an accounting as possible of expected changes in the operating environment for which the plans are being formulated (Helmer 1983). Planning staffs and decision-makers can quickly learn and use effectively the techniques described in this volume.
Based on experience with successful strategic forecasting and planning in other organizations-the military, private business, trade and professional associations, for example-merging environmental scanning and forecasting with conventional planning approaches will enhance planning in higher education. Although arguing from analogy is always dangerous, there seems to be no reason why many of the lessons painfully learned in other organizations cannot be transferred into the administration of colleges and universities. In the late 1960s, educational institutions at all levels were leading in the development and application of the tools and concepts reported here. But strategic forecasting and planning became a subject that is taught, not used, in education. This situation is no longer tolerable, given the developments facing education today.
Many higher education administrators realize that the need for new approaches is growing. When they recognize that they already have a wealth of information about their institutions and about society and that futures methods and techniques like those described here can provide models for structuring and improving the quality of this information, they will be ready to adopt new methods to build their future.
If we are to respond creatively, we must begin to look beyond our own organizational boundaries and anticipate internal changes brought on by changing external conditions. We must take our early warning signals, combine them with our existing internal data forecasting techniques, and ensure that we tap the wealth of creativity and resourcefulness higher education has to offer(Heydinger 1983, p. 86).
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