Planning More Effectively for the Future: Developing and Using an Early Warning System
James L. Morrison, Workshop Facilitator


Developing an organization that thinks in the future tense, and acts in the present—is a prerequisite for success in a rapidly changing and uncertain world. Every organization—corporate, governmental, and not-for-profit—has to prepare itself for operating in a radically different environment. Establishing an early warning system and inculcating the organizational culture with a futures perspective is essential for organizational success in such an environment


The objectives of this workshop are to assist key Institution for Social Services (ISS) leaders to:

1.  Establish an early warning system (EWS) to identify threats and opportunities that will affect its mission;

2.  Be able to effectively operate the EWS; and

3.  Use selected anticipatory management tools to analyze and interpret information obtained in the EWS.

Workshop Scope

Workshop participants will be requested to read background material in preparation for the workshop, which will be led by Professor James L. Morrison (see below). The details of the workshop scope are below:

Developing and Using an Early Warning System

Day 1 Activity



Participant Introductions and Expectations



Anticipating the Future






Overview: What does a "futures-thinking/acting" organization entail in terms of culture, capabilities, and techniques? 






Challenging Assumptions: What are the assumptions underlying current strategic planning? Participants, acting as members of the Kuwait Social Security Authority (ISS) strategic planning committee, will use the Nominal Group Technique* to identify the assumptions that currently undergird ISS's missions and operations. 







Day 2 Activity
7:30  Developing an Early Warning System: Part I

This section uses a series of small group exercises to establish the basis of an early warning system. Participants, continuing in the role of senior executives on the ISS strategic planning committee, will identify critical trends and potential events that affect the organization's future. The purpose of the exercise is to gain experience in linking externalities into ISS's strategic planning process and to model how to establish an early warning system in the ISS.

Identify critical trends exercise:

  1. What are the critical trends defining the context within which the ISS implements its mission?
  2. Prioritize the five most critical trends, and derive the implications for the ISS if they were to continue as forecast.
  3. Given these implications, what should ISS do?
10:15 Reportbacks
11:00  Lunch
12:00  Identify potential events exercise:
  1. What are the potential events that could affect ISS's mission?
  2. Prioritize the most critical events.
  3. Take the five most critical events and derive their implications for ISS if they were to occur.
  4. Given these implications, what should ISS do?
2:30  Close
Day 3 Activity
7:30 Event Exercise Reportbacks
8:00 Vulnerability/Opportunity Audit Exercise: Identifying Societal Needs and Wants Served by ISS--Strengths and Vulnerabilities
11:00 Lunch
1:00 Probability-Impact Analysis of Vulnerability Event Statements
2:30 Close for day
Day 4 Activity
7:30 Vulnerability/Opportunity Audit Exercise Reportbacks
8:00 Vulnerability/Opportunity Audit: Identifying Resources
10:00 Reportbacks
11:00 Lunch
12:00 Establishing ISS Early Warning System: Part II
2:00 Wrapup




Key Readings

  1. Morrison, J. L., and Wilson, I. "Analyzing Environments and Developing Scenarios for Uncertain Times." In M. W. Peterson, D. D. Dill, L. A. Mets, and Associates (eds.), Planning and Management for a Changing Environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997.
  2. Morrison, J. L. & Wilson, I. (1996). "The Strategic Management Response to the Challenge of Global Change." In Didsbury, Howard (Ed.). Future vision, ideas, insights and strategies. Bethesda, MD: The World Future Society.
  3. Ashley, W.L. & Morrison, J. L. (1996). "Anticipatory Management Tools for the 21st Century." The Futures Research Quarterly, 12 (2), 35-49. 
  4. Ashley, W. L. & Morrison, J. L. (1997). "Anticipatory Management: Tools for Better Decision Making." The Futurist, 31(5), 47-50.
  5. Morrison, J. L., Forbes, L., & Wilkinson, G. W. (2000). Common Sense Management for Educational Leaders.
  6. Morrison, J. L. & Keller, G. (Winter, 1992-1993).”Newest Tool: The Institutional Vulnerability Audit," Planning for Higher Education (21),  27-34.
  7. Morrison, J. L. (1995). Institutional Vulnerabilitiy/Oportunity Audit.

James L. Morrison Biographical Sketch

Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

James L. Morrison received his PhD at the Florida State University in 1969. After serving as assistant professor of education and sociology at the Pennsylvania State University, he moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as associate professor of education in 1973 and was promoted to full professor in 1977. In December 2001 he became professor emeritus.

He founded two academic peer-reviewed periodicals, On the Horizon and The Technology Source, served on the editorial boards of major research journals, and served in leadership roles in the American Educational Research Association and the Association for the Study of Higher Education. He received the Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Educational Research Association's Special Interest Group on Strategic Change. He is author and co-author of over 200 publications focused on futures research, planning, and on using information technology tools to enhance organizational performance.

Seminar/Workshop Experience

He has made over 230 conference presentations and workshops on strategic management, strategic planning, scenario-based planning, issues management, institutional vulnerability audits, environmental scanning, and using technology in educational organizations for such associations as EDUCAUSE, the World Future Society, the Society for College and University Planning, and the European Association for Institutional Research.

Consulting Experience

Morrison has served as a planning consultant to a number of colleges, universities, educational agencies and public agencies. In the corporate world, he served as a planning consultant to Ethan Allen, Inc., as a faculty member in the executive leadership training program of Caltex Petroleum Corporation, and as a planning consultant to Lisboa Associates and to Andrulis Research Corporation. His consulting activities focus on assisting organizations in developing environmental scanning/forecasting systems to augment their strategic long-range planning processes and on integrating information technology tools in teaching and in management.

His complete curriculum vitae is available at

Benefit of This Workshop

Workshop participants will leave the workshop with the competency to establish an early warning system and with the tools to use the information provided by this system to more effectively plan for the future in a turbulent environment. Moreover, people in previous workshops left with an increased appreciation of the futures perspective that immediately began to pervade their organizational cultures. Finally, the ISS will have the foundation of an effective early warning system.

Who Should Attend

Participants should be senior leaders in the Institution for Social Services.

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