The process used to research and create the NMC Horizon Report Technology Outlook for Cooperative Extension 2016-2021 is very much rooted in the methods used throughout the Horizon Project. All NMC Horizon Project publications 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 Panel of Experts that first considers a broad set of trends, challenges, and developments in technology, and then examines each of them in progressively more detail, reducing the set until the final listing of trends, challenges, and developments in technology 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 publications, and it begins with the assembly of the Panel of Experts. 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, nearly 2,000 internationally recognized practitioners and experts have participated in the Horizon Project Expert Panels; in any given year, a third of panel members are new, ensuring a flow of fresh perspectives each year.

Once the Panel of Experts 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. Panel 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, or creative inquiry. 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 Panel of Experts 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 panel:

    1. Which of the important developments in educational technology catalogued in the Horizon Project Listing will be most important to teaching and learning across cooperative extension programs within the next five years?
      1. What would you list among the developments in technology that some cooperative extension programs are using today that arguably ALL cooperative extension programs should using broadly to support or enhance teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?
      2. What developments in technology that have a solid user base in consumer, entertainment, or other industries should cooperative extension programs be actively looking for ways to apply?
      3. What are the key emerging technologies you see developing to the point that cooperative extension programs should begin to take notice during the next four to five years?
    2. What key trends do you expect to have a significant impact on the ways in which cooperative extension programs approach our core missions of teaching and learning?
    3. What do you see as the significant challenges related to teaching and learning that cooperative extension programs will face during the next five years?

One of the Expert Panel'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 panel 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 panel 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 technology developments originally considered for any NMC Technology Outlook, the 12 that emerge — four per adoption horizon — are further researched and expanded, and subsequently written up in the NMC Technology Outlook > Cooperative Extension Edition 2016-2021, along with framing trends and challenges.