Global Forecasting, Scenario Planning, and Collaborative Action in Leading Campus Internationalization


By Melanie Agnew, Moreen Carvan, Sebrina Palmer, and Jane Gatewood

Leadership for campus internationalization is becoming increasingly professionalized, as evidenced by the work of professional organizations like NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Moreover, that institutional missions specify international and global dimensions as domains for direct or aspirational engagement further highlights this phenomenon. Rapid and unanticipated shifts in the global marketplace can radically influence institutional missions, goals, and operations. If institutions and their leaders are unprepared, these shifts can have dire consequences. Institutions routinely engage in strategic planning and, increasingly, that planning is framed with global metrics and benchmarks. Global forecasting is a strategic tool for the institutional planning process, as it helps leaders anticipate perceptible trends and become aware of potential seismic shifts affecting the context of internationalization in higher education.

As higher education has increasingly turned to internationalization in its strategic approach to educational globalization, varied (and often unconscious) assumptions inform and shape the work of leaders in the field. Joel Spring (2009) challenges leaders of higher education institutions to examine the underlying assumptions guiding their work. His suggested framework for such examination includes four distinct perspectives: world culture, world systems, postcolonial/critical, and culturalist.

The world culture perspective holds that all cultures are integrating and merging to form a single global culture that is based on Western ideals, and it assumes that all nations structure educational systems and curriculum based on those ideals. Internationalization in this frame functions as a process of transactions within a single, commonly understood set of norms, practices, and values between equally powerful partners.

From the perspective of world systems, integrated world culture is shared between two unequal “zones.” The core capitalist zone (United States, European Union, and Japan) uses internationalization as a strategy to extend or maintain power over the educational systems of the periphery, assuring the dominance of capitalist modes of thought and analysis, and conserving the existing imbalance of power.

Supporting in part the functional arguments of the world systems theorists, the postcolonialist/critical view resists the imposition of the economic and political agendas of wealthy nations on educational globalization, to the extent that they benefit the “haves” at the expense of the “have nots.” Internationalization from this stance is a strategy to achieve social justice and provides a means of addressing privilege, issues of race, class, and cultural domination and appropriation, as well as accounting for the histories of resistance and struggle for the rights of the oppressed.

Culturalists acknowledge and value the diversity of human knowledges and cultures and see local actors as agents able to design models of education by drawing from this rich, global flow. For culturalists, local actors are empowered to generate novel models that meet the needs of local circumstances. Internationalization from this stance is one element of an encompassing flow of human endeavor that creates opportunities for innovation benefitting people closest to the source. It is important to consider the implications of these interpretations at the individual, institutional, regional, and global levels. Those who lead campus internationalization must critically examine their own stance to internationalization against the backdrop of personal underlying assumptions and their implications, and determine how to lead from (or change) that stance toward the emerging future in service for a universal common good. Leaders of internationalization must know where they stand in relation to these theories. They must also be aware of the implications of each one for a future that is constantly developing.

Scenario Planning

We invited participants of our NAFSA 2017 Annual Conference session, “Scenario Planning for an Uncertain Future: Predicting the Role of the Senior Internationalization Officer (SIO),” to critically examine theories of educational globalization relative to their particular worldviews. Using game changers, trends, and plausible futures identified in Global Trends 2030, the fifth published edition (2012) of the work of the National Intelligence Council, participants discussed plausible futures of international education and their implications for the roles and skills of senior international leaders. Governments, militaries, multinationals, and institutions of higher education have all used scenario planning to frame the emerging future and plan for action toward a desired outcome. In the United States, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence uses sophisticated computer modeling of data from a vast array of sources to generate scenarios of the most plausible futures of each president’s four-year term. These trends are published and made available to the world.

Connecting to the future involves making it somehow present, without losing the sense that it is still in the process of becoming real. Creating future scenarios based on important drivers is one way to look at plausible futures and decide on a direction in which to lead. Scenario planning is a modern adaptation of much older methods for accessing possible futures and using that information to plan long-term courses of action. In the age of complex computer modeling and predictive analytics, scenario planning can also generate both highly plausible and highly probable descriptions of possible futures (Scharmer 2009; Scharmer and Kaufer 2013).

At its core, scenario planning is a process that helps leaders a) identify crucial forces driving change in response to a specific challenge such as educational globalization; b) identify “givens” and important uncertainties in the context; c) construct a matrix of the interaction between drivers, along a high-low continuum, and d) create a narrative of the most likely outcomes of the interactions on the context.

During our session, we invited leaders in the field of internationalization to join us in examining four scenarios:

  • Stalled Engines: The risks of interstate conflict increase. The United States draws inward, and globalization stalls;
  • Fusion: China and the United States collaborate on a range of issues, leading to broader global collaboration;
  • GINI-Out-of-the-Bottle: Inequalities explode as some countries become big winners and others fail. Inequalities within countries increase social tensions. Without completely disengaging, the United States is no longer the global police force;
  • Nonstate World: Driven by new technologies, nonstate actors take the lead in confronting global challenges.

Approximately 60 conference attendees were asked to choose a scenario and answer the following questions:

  1. What is my interpretation of internationalization, (i.e., world culture, world systems, postcolonialist/critical, and culturalist)?
  2. Given this scenario, what are the implications for institutions of higher education?
  3. Given this scenario, what do you predict the leadership roles of the SIO to be?
  4. Given this scenario, what do you predict the critical competencies of the SIO to be?

The analysis below is based on session discussions as well as our own answers to these questions. We cannot predict the future, but for each scenario we offer a very brief analysis of implications for higher education and its leadership. Each scenario requires core leadership competencies, so we highlight those competencies and roles that might be particularly important for each scenario beyond the normative leadership role.

Stalled Engines and Implications for Higher Education and Leadership may include fewer opportunities for international research, student mobility schemes, and partnerships in those countries that turn inward and that tighten immigration policies than those countries that have stable environments. Stable environments would therefore have greater student and faculty mobility, international research, service, and partnerships, and greater diversity and plurality among the academic and communities beyond the campus. Less global engagement may slow the production of knowledge and dissemination needed for solving complex global challenges. Universities within countries that turn inward may need to rely more on Internationalization-at-Home approaches and technology-enhanced efforts, for example, to provide students with global learning opportunities, particularly in areas on self-knowledge, intercultural learning, perspective-taking, and political literacy. A potentially volatile political climate may intensify issues of safety and security at all levels. In response, leadership competencies and roles will require an acute focus on political literacy, interpersonal and perspective-taking skills, advocacy, innovation, and an entrepreneurial focus, among others.

Fusion and Implications for Higher Education and Leadership may create conditions in which access to and affordability of higher education becomes possible for those populations globally underrepresented. Student and faculty mobility, international research, and service would have greater capacity to mitigate current inequitable West/East and North/South divisions. More collaborative and innovative curricular programming would emerge from stable and productive international partnerships more readily focused on solving complex global problems. Acceleration of global engagement or fusion would result in a growth in knowledge cultures and networks from which creativity and innovation will flow. Emerging economies, technological advances, and rising resource capacities will require leaders of internationalization to be active learners, well-versed in building and managing diverse teams and multi- and intercultural skills, including knowledge of languages. The fast pace of global activity will require the leader to effectively lead diverse teams in a multitude of complex projects across administrative and academic units, both within and beyond the institution. Innovative and entrepreneurial thinking and strategy will be key competencies.

Nonstate World and Implications for Higher Education and Leadership focuses upon areas of dependency, purpose, and partnerships. As nonstate actors enter the global stage as leaders in confronting global challenges, institutions of higher education may be further dependent on market and nongovernment organizations for maintaining their relevance to society, thus weakening their position in the triple helix of education, government, and economies. While the risk is one of market dependency, benefits reside in a wider network of potential partners, collaborators, and innovators, and an increased diversification of resources, perspectives, and expertise that will be needed to solve global challenges. This includes the reorganization and utilization of “off-grid” networks. As higher education partners with other organizations and entities, particularly those with for-profit missions, there will be an ethical imperative for scrutiny of stakeholder motivations and the assurance of academic freedom needed for relative autonomy in service to communities. For leaders of internationalization, this will mean a critical examination of personal motivations in the development of self as leader and the conviction to lead others down a similar path. In this context, leadership competencies likely needed will be self-awareness and self-management, ability to develop and articulate a vision and strategy, and ability to be personable, persuasive, strategic, and visionary in collaborations among many partners across all sectors.

The sixth version in the Global Trends series was released in 2016 and is available at Global Trends ( We invite you to examine scenarios of the near and distant future, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is my interpretation of internationalization (i.e., world culture, world systems, postcolonialist/critical, and culturalist)?
  2. What is my stance as a leader in my institution?
  3. What do the scenarios means for my professional development as leader?
  4. What do the scenarios of the near and distant future mean for my work, from this stance?
  5. What do the scenarios of the near and distant future mean for the emerging profession of internationalization leadership?

GINI-Out-of-the-Bottle Scenario and its Implications for Higher Education and Leadership places a sharp focus on the role and purpose of education in its service to a universal common good. The GINI (Global Index of Inequality) scenario highlights growing inequities within and between countries. It is likely, therefore, that these inequalities will be mirrored in education systems (where they exist). Internationalization, by virtue of crossing borders, recognizes porous geopolitical boundaries and greater interdependencies and interconnections between countries around the world. Institutions of higher education will need to create strong coalitions to temper inequalities, whether at home or away, in their functions of teaching, research, and service. The service mission is highlighted here as an opportunity to develop global citizenship. Opportunities to teach students about inequities and social responsibilities through interdisciplinary-design projects would be plentiful. Faculty and student engagement in international research and international development (service mission) would be particularly desirable. In short, the GINI scenario provides opportunities for engaging faculty and students across academic disciplines and national borders in addressing social responsibilities related to economic and social inequities, whether nearby or faraway. This scenario presents considerable uncertainties in which internationalization leaders must demonstrate strong visionary and ethical leadership. Qualities such as trustworthiness in international collaborations where political and economic realities create social tensions challenging stability of relationships and planning would be critical. The role of senior leadership will be to effectively navigate social and political tensions, mediate university culture, engage in international research across borders, and make the case for international development opportunities, in addition to existing teaching and research activity.

In all plausible future scenarios, it is important to critically examine individual, institutional, and national interpretations of and motivations to engage in internationalization. As leaders of internationalization, our responsibilities go far beyond the narrow sense of education to the broader development of self, students, and healthy communities. A multilevel, honest critique of our individual and collective work, regardless of scenario, will ultimately serve us all.


National Intelligence Council.2012. Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.

National Intelligence Council. 2016. Global Trends: Paradox of Progress.

Scharmer, C. Otto. 2009. Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges: The Social Technology of Presencing. Berrett-Koehler: San Francisco.

Scharmer, C. Otto. and Kaufer, K. 2013. Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies. Berrett-Koehler: San Francisco.

Spring, Joel. 2009. Globalization of Education: An Introduction. Taylor & Francis: New York.

Melanie Agnew is dean of the School of Education at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Moreen Carvan is director of institutional effectiveness at Marian University in Wisconsin. Sebrina Palmer is planning officer at The University of the West Indies-Mona. Jane Gatewood is vice provost for global engagement at the University of Rochester.