The process used to research and create the NMC Horizon Report: 2012 Higher Education Edition is very much rooted in the methods used throughout the Horizon Project. All editions of the Horizon Report are produced using a carefully constructed process that is informed by both primary and secondary research. Dozens of technologies, meaningful trends, and critical challenges are examined for possible inclusion in the report for each edition. Every report draws on the considerable expertise of an internationally renowned Advisory Board that first considers a broad set of important emerging technologies, challenges, and trends, and then examines each of them in progressively more detail, reducing the set until the final listing of technologies, trends, and challenges is selected.

Much of the process takes place online, where it is captured and placed in a the Horizon Project wiki, where all the work of the project makes its home on the web. The Horizon Project wiki is intended to be a completely transparent window to the all of the work of the project, and contains the entire record of the research for all the various editions.

The procedure for selecting the topics that will be in the report includes a modified Delphi process now refined over years of producing Horizon Reports, and it begins with the assembly of the Advisory Board. The board as a whole is intended to represent a wide range of backgrounds, nationalities, and interests, yet each member brings a particularly relevant expertise. To date, hundreds of internationally recognized practitioners and experts have participated in the Horizon Project Advisory Boards; in any given year, a third of Advisory Board members are new, ensuring a flow of fresh perspectives each year.

Once the Advisory Board for a particular edition is constituted, their work begins with a systematic review of the literature — press clippings, reports, essays, and other materials — that pertains to emerging technology. Advisory Board members are provided with an extensive set of background materials when the project begins, and are then asked to comment on them, identify those that seem especially worthwhile, and add to the set. The group discusses existing applications of emerging technology and brainstorms new ones. A key criterion for the inclusion of a topic is the potential relevance of the topic to teaching, learning, research, or creative expression. A carefully selected set of RSS feeds from dozens of relevant publications ensures that background resources stay current as the project progresses. They are used to inform the thinking of the participants throughout the process.

Following the review of the literature, the Advisory Board engaged in the central focus of the research — the research questions that are at the core of the Horizon Project. These questions were designed to elicit a comprehensive listing of interesting technologies, challenges, and trends from the Advisory Board:

    1. Which of the key technologies catalogued in the Horizon Project Listing will be most important to teaching, learning, or creative expression in tertiary education within the next five years?
    2. What key technologies are missing from our list? Consider these related questions:
      1. What would you list among the established technologies that some educational institutions are using today that arguably ALL institutions should using broadly to support or enhance teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?
      2. What technologies that have a solid user base in consumer, entertainment, or other industries should educational institutions be actively looking for ways to apply?
      3. What are the key emerging technologies you see developing to the point that learning-focused institutions should begin to take notice during the next four to five years?
    3. What do you see as the key challenges related to teaching, learning, or creative expression that educational institutions will face during the next five years?
    4. What trends do you expect to have a significant impact on the ways in which educational institutions approach our core missions of teaching, research, and service?

One of the Advisory Board’s most important tasks is to answer these questions as systematically and broadly as possible, so as to ensure that the range of relevant topics is considered. Once this work is done, a process that moves quickly over just a few days, the Advisory Board moves to a unique consensus-building process based on an iterative Delphi-based methodology.

In the first step of this approach, the responses to the research questions are systematically ranked and placed into adoption horizons by each Advisory Board member using a multi-vote system that allows members to weight their selections. Each member is asked to also identify the timeframe during which they feel the technology would enter mainstream use — defined for the purpose of the project as about 20% of institutions adopting it within the period discussed. (This figure is based on the research of Geoffrey A. Moore and refers to the critical mass of adoptions needed for a technology to have a chance of entering broad use.) These rankings are compiled into a collective set of responses, and inevitably, the ones around which there is the most agreement are quickly apparent.

From the comprehensive list of technologies originally considered for any report, the twelve that emerge at the top of the initial ranking process — four per adoption horizon — are further researched and expanded. Once this “short list” is identified, the group, working with both NMC staff and practitioners in the field, begins to explore the ways in which these twelve important technologies might be used in for teaching, learning, research, and/or creative expression. A significant amount of time is spent researching real and potential applications for each of the areas that would be of interest to practitioners.

For every edition, when that work is done, each of these twelve “short list” items is written up in the format of the Horizon Report. With the benefit of the full picture of how the topic will look in the report, the “short list” is then ranked yet again, this time in reverse. The six technologies and applications that emerge are those detailed in the Horizon Report.