24 Higher-Ed Leaders Look to the Future

Building an In-House Leadership Development Program: Image of Leaders Brainstorming Together

by David Kiel, Dr. P.H., David Kiel Associates, LLC
with contributions from Amit Mrig (President, Academic Impressions)
and Pat Sanaghan (
President, The Sanaghan Group)

Future Timeline: What Trends, Events, and Issues Will Shape Your Campus?

No one can foresee the future of higher education with certainty, but we can cultivate the habit of looking forward, scanning the horizon, and preparing to respond adaptively as the landscape changes. Pat Sanaghan's future timeline activity (NACUBO, 2003) is a useful way to quickly generate and prioritize a list of predictions about the next ten years, and we hope this case study of one such activity will give your campus a tool for facilitating and capturing horizon thinking.

This article provides:

  1. Top findings from a future timeline activity conducted in early November 2016 by 24 higher-ed leaders from the US, Canada, and the Caribbean gathered in Denver, Colorado.
  2. A summary of the actual post-it note entries used in the activity, transcribed after the workshop and collated into short-term, near-term, and long-term time frames.
  3. A reproduction of the post-it notes as actually transcribed.

For further discussion of how to make such horizon thinking habitual for your team (and for additional tools for doing so), read my companion piece "How Good is Your Crystal Ball?"

The participants in the November 2016 future timeline activity were 24 attendees at Academic Impressions' "Creating a High-Impact Leadership Development Program for Your Campus" workshop. For the activity, participants posted a timeline on the wall of the room using flip chart pages titled for each of the next ten years (i.e., 2016, 2017, … 2026). Then, using post-it notes, participants listed trends, issues, and events they predicted for each year during a ten-year period.

After all the post-its were up, the participants formed analysis teams of four individuals, and in those teams they scanned the items. Each team of four came to agreement on the three most important items colleges and universities would have to manage in the future. They also noted "surprises and discoveries." Each team then shared these with the other participants, and collectively, the participants developed and discussed a list of the most critical trends, events, and issues anticipated in the next ten years.

The activity was facilitated by Pat Sanaghan of the Sanaghan Group (as lead facilitator) and David Kiel (co-facilitator). The design of this activity was first described in Larry Goldstein and Pat Sanaghan's "Looking Beyond the Moment" (in NACUBO's Business Officer, 2003) and first published in full in Collaborative Strategic Planning in Higher Education by Pat Sanaghan (NACUBO, 2009).

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