Strategic Foresight for Higher Education Development

An article for the journal “Wissenschaftsmanagement”, written by Julia Klingemann and Jens Engelke with colleagues from Z_punkt, sheds light on how higher education institutions can develop “foresight literacy”.

Higher Education Institutions are very familiar with creating or updating a Higher Education Development Plan (HEP). This plan usually describes the strategic direction and overall institutional plans for five years. But how future-proof are the usual approaches to HEP development?

In their contribution, the authors point out two aspects that are striking. On the one hand, it follows from the five-year perspective that longer and long-term developments in society, the economy, politics and other areas of (global) coexistence can only be moderately taken into account. On the other hand, little consideration is given to opportunities and risks induced outside the institution (“outside-in” perspective), which result from long-term developments in the Higher Education environment.

In response to this observation, the authors suggest initiating the method of strategic foresight for more than five years in order to be able to take into account diverse trends and drivers of developments – local to international – in the planning. This could also promote “changeability”, the positive mental attitude towards change. By discussing possible futures, the authors say, the flexibility and agility of the organisation can be increased.

Strategic foresight is not understood as prognostics. Rather, it is about systematic preparation for possible developments, including those that are “improbable” or “utopian” from today’s perspective. The methodology should enable joint thinking and talking about alternatives as well as the development of options for action.

The spectrum of methods is broad and includes quantitative, expert-based, interactive as well as creative approaches. Frequently used are strategic trend analyses, explorative and normative scenario techniques as well as Delphi surveys, often in combination and adapted to the specific insight interest, the situational application context and the previous experience as well as time resources of the participants.

The article presents a six-phase model for strategic foresight. It describes how leaders of Higher Education Institutions can take the first steps and dive into a foresight pilot phase.