When Widener University began a new strategic planning process last year, I knew we needed an innovative approach to help us remain competitive in the rapidly changing higher education environment. And that was before the pandemic!
Most university strategic plans commit to doing more of what is already common practice. They outline important, but table stakes activities like experiential learning. They restate core values, such as excellence. Or they commit to basic business practices like expanding recruitment to bolster enrollment. While these are all important goals, they exemplify what is not strategic about traditional strategic planning.
At Widener, we intentionally focused on our strategy, not planning. We committed to building a strategy that would adapt to rapid change and position the university to thrive. To do this, I invited 18 of our most creative and open-minded thinkers—not the usual strategic planning representatives— to spend eight months in deep and recursive reflection, learning about the future of higher education. While exploring what the students of today and of the future want and need, the team created multiple scenarios representing possible strategies.
These scenarios—narratives of what a proposed strategy might look like in action—kept our work creative, fun, and open. Most importantly, they were essential in helping us to envision a variety of possible futures. The core group shared their thinking with groups across campus and gained useful feedback that led to refinement. Four initial scenarios boiled down to two, and finally one compelling narrative of what Widener could look like in five years.
A clear strategy emerged from the final narrative: a focus on agility and the enhancement of the student experience that we call “Agility Experienced.” A key metaphor that has become fundamental to our work is to build with LEGO blocks rather than poured concrete; in short, maximize agility and continuous improvement.
Our innovative process was powerful and engaging. Have you ever known a strategic planning group to be sad when its work concludes?
I invite you to read on and learn how Widener is bringing this focus on agility and the student experience to life, and infusing it in all we do.
When the pandemic struck, Widener education faculty developed a webinar to help teachers learn more about online instruction. It focused on collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking and led some participants to enroll in Widener's online teaching endorsement certification program.