Developing Foresight Capability at William Rainey Harper College 9

Potential Events That Can Change
the Future of Higher Education

Events are unambiguous and confirmable. Once they occur, the future has become the present--often a different one that we prepared for. External event identification and analysis are 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." Although the entire planning team may agree with this statement, each team member may interpret it differently. The statement is ambiguous. 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." These three statements are concrete, unambiguous, and they signal significant change that could impact the college in specific ways.

Another point. The event statement should not include an impact statement. Consider the following event statement: "Passage of welfare and immigration reform will negatively impact higher education." We need first to specify each welfare reform idea and each immigration reform idea as a separate event. Impacts must not be included here. In fact, in this case, it may well be that one or both of these events might have both a positive and a negative impact. In another example, there may be signals that within five years