California State University, Long Beach
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Training Looks To The Future

Published: November 1, 2016

Participants at a Foresight Practitioner Training session In October.
Participants at a Foresight Practitioner Training session In October.

Custom Foresight Practitioner Training, sponsored by the Institute for the Future, visited the third floor of the University Library in October to plan CSULB’s future.

“Foresight training tries to teach participants how to be forward looking in developing strategies for either an individual unit or the campus as a whole and capitalizing on change,” said Jennifer Ostergren, interim associate dean, College of Health and Human Services, one of the event organizers.

Ostergren set out a series of goals for the training that included engaging a cross-university group in a planning workshop, to gain greater insight into the university and to identify opportunities for positive change. The three-day event drew representatives from Academic Affairs, Administration and Finance, Information Technology Services, Student Affairs, Leadership Fellows and the University Library.

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) is a Palo Alto–based not-for-profit think tank established to help organizations plan for the long-term future. “The institute works to break away from historical models of forecasting such as looking at mathematical equations of the past to determine what’s going to happen,” she explained. “It looks at signals of change such as what is happening in the environment to think about and plan for what an individual unit’s next steps should be.”

Ostergren believes there is great value for the university in leadership training like this. “My own individual takeaway is that we all work with people in a community of many stakeholders and voices, in a world that is changing,” she said. “Foresight Training tries to help its participants to hear these voices and to engage them in discussion about a shared future.”

Training participant Cynthia Grutzik, associate dean of the College of Education, was pleased to take part.

“We’ve gotten some good tools at this workshop, starting with ideas for scanning all kinds of information and idea sources to get signals of where the leading edges are in our fields, then using those ideas to imagine possible futures,” she said. “The insights come from imagining scenarios within those possible futures, and exploring our decisions or actions within those scenarios. Now I have tools and exercises that I can apply to any big question, dilemma, or even a dream.”

Charity Bowles, executive director of Educational Equity Services in the Division of Student Affairs, also liked what she saw. “How do you encapsulate a transformative, mind-bending, three-day experience into a digestible bite?” she asked. “The tools provided by IFTF help facilitate a fully participatory process to build our CSULB future – honoring our current excellent people and practices, while preparing ourselves and our students for a future that is yet to be written. Together, we get to be the architects of our bright future.”

The training examined such tools as “drawing out consequences.”

“What you do when you draw out consequences is ask ‘what if?’ For example, what if CSULB is asked by the Chancellor’s Office to change our four-year graduation rates,” said Bowles. “What will that mean for us as a campus? What if the future work environment is not an 8-to-5 job working 30 years for one company? What if the future work environment is more task-driven for independent contractors? We need to think about how implementing change needs planning and considers the changes around us because what each individual does has a ripple effect on everyone else.”

One signal of change Ostergren sees is the de-institutionalization of higher education.

“Students are accessing online tools and resources to better their skill sets for work and lifelong learning. What happens when the CSU is not the only source of knowledge or expertise? What does that say about our degree programs and how we customize them to what our students want and need?”

Participants also discussed possible, probable and preferred futures.

“What future do we prefer?” Ostergren asked. “There are many signals of change all around us but what do we prefer? How do we want to change? How do we shape our future as a community?”

Another goal was training in how to turn foresight into insight.

“We talked about re-envisioning the first year of university,” she explained. “Why not find a common interest that all freshmen would share? The assumption is that students want to participate in such an activity. How would we test that and what would result in greater community building? What steps do we need to engage in to implement this change?”

Ostergren believes events like the Custom Foresight Practitioner Training help to make CSULB a better place to work.

“Any time we have discussions about this university’s collective future, it draws us closer together,” she said. “If every participant in this training went out and saw this as an opportunity to engage in conversation with other people about change and our future together, then that makes CSULB a better place to work.”