DENIZ LEUENBERGER, Ph.D.
The key to meaningful strategic planning is full participation. Dialogue with stakeholders not only creates an opportunity to build organizational consensus and unity, but also brings forward the expert knowledge and technical information to solve complex problems. This expertise provides specialized and practical information gained from direct contact with those being served.
A participation-centered planning approach in higher education is not only necessary for sound decision making, it is also an exciting opportunity to connect with the university’s or college’s people. The students, faculty, staff, donors, volunteers, and community partners are central to creating meaningful goals that understand and integrate the history, culture, and values of the institution.
A model of inclusive planning was the goal of the strategic planning process undertaken recently by Bridgewater State University, under the leadership of President Frederick Clark, Jr., Esq. Building on a planning requirement initiated by the Massachusetts Commonwealth Department of Higher Education, the institution added two important components to the planning design. First, it committed to as inclusive process as possible. Second, a nested design was adopted to assure that multiple levels of the organization had full voice in the implementation of plan.
The plan is a “living” document framed on a foundation of data-driven decision making and inclusion.
The nested design creates strategic plans at the institutional, divisional, college, and departmental levels. Each level of the plan builds upon goals and objectives established at higher levels of the institution. Data informed goals draw use conventional indicators such as retention and graduation rates, but also use campus climate surveys on diversity and qualitative information on definitions of student success.
BSU’s inclusive model relied on a number of processes to inform decision making. Of these processes, two were especially valuable. The first of these was a listening tour led by the President of the institution. In nearly one-hundred meetings, the members of the community were invited to share strengths and areas for improvement in small groups. This information was collected and analyzed for key themes. To assure additional participation, an electronic survey was provided to all employees of the institution. Participants had the opportunity to respond to questions about institutional level strengths and weaknesses, as well as to questions about their individual departments. The information gathered served as a central source for key themes and values of the institution.
As our organization moves through the next steps of our planning process, including implementation plans and policy changes, the pieces that we have become most proud of are the inclusive process and data driven decision making. It feels like the plan we have created at the institutional level reflects our community, its values, and its history. We will continue to build on the trust and goodwill drawn from the integrity of the process we have chosen. As the next parts of our strategic planning process unfold, our hope is to guide our institutional toward a more participatory process that leads to stronger outcomes and a cohesive community.