Developing Foresight Capability in Strategic Planning
James L. Morrison, Workshop Facilitator

Indiana University
Bloomington, IA

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 Indiana University and its curricular programs specifically.


This workshop is designed to assist Indiana University staff and faculty members to systematically factor the external environment into the strategic planning process. The specific objectives are to:

  • identify potential events that could affect Indiana University
  • derive implications and recommend actions vis-à-vis these potential events
  • review anticipatory management tools and techniques


Please read the following articles that help provide the context for our deliberations.

We will begin the workshop with observations on how we can anticipate the future, which serves as an introduction to linking potential external developments to internal decision-making. External analysis is a major step in a strategic management/planning process. (For more information about this process, read Strategic Management in the Context of Global Change (Morrison & Wilson, 1996) and Analyzing Environments and Developing Scenarios for Uncertain Times (Morrison & Wilson, 1997). Although our time is short, the exercise below will give you experience in external analysis.


9:00 - 9:20


Anticipating the Future



Form into work groups



Identifying potential events that would affect the future of Indiana University



Prioritizing events



Defining signals of most critical event



Deriving implications of most critical event for Indiana University



Formulate draft action plan for the implications of that event





Planning Approches/Wrap-up

Exercise: Potential Events That Can Change the Future of Indiana University

Events are unambiguous and confirmable. When they occur, the future is different. External event identification and analysis is critical in 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 the college.

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 a college. If, for example, the faculty are not currently oriented to using multimedia technology, the event may adversely affect the competitive position of the 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 their desire to upgrade their set of teaching skills.

The Nominal Group Process. We will use the Nominal Group Process (NGP) for this exercise. The NGP 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 three or four minutes, the chair 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 learning in the 21st century. The flip chart scribe writes each statement 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 chair 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 nominations to two or three rounds.)

The group facilitator will pose the question: What are the potential events that would change the future of Indiana University. 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 15 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 15 minutes for this phase.


Task 1. The first task is to identify those potential external events in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political sectors, local through global, that would change the future of Indiana University if they occurred. We will spend 30 minutes this part of the exercise.

Task 2. When I call time, you will prioritize the events by using paste-on dots. Vote for four of the most critical events that could affect the University 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 task.

Task 3. The next part of the exercise is to identify the signals that your top event (as indicated by the frequency distribution of votes) could occur. 

We have 10 minutes for this task.

Task 4. When you have done this, derive the implications of that event for the institution. In other words, assume that this event occurs. What would happen to Indiana University as a result of its occurrence?

We have 15 minutes for this task.

Task 4. The final task is to develop recommendations as to what Indiana University 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. 

We have 20 minutes for this task.


Each workgroup will report the five most critical potential events, identify the one it worked on, and describe the signals that it could occur, its implications if it did occur, and what action Indiana should consider in light of its potential occurrence.

All material within the HORIZON site, unless otherwise noted, may be distributed freely for educational purposes. If you do redistribute any of this material, it must retain this copyright notice and you must use appropriate citation including the URL. Also, we would appreciate your sending James L. Morrison a note as to how you are using it. HTML and design by Noel Fiser, ©2006. Page last modified: 6/28/2003 3:51:35 PM. 25261 visitors since February 2000.