Nicholas R. Santilli, Ph.D.
Senior Director for Learning Strategy, Society for College and University Planning and Emeritus Professor, John Carroll University
Twenty-twenty was one of the most volatile years in world history. We now find ourselves examining the impact of the global pandemic and thinking, “What next?” In my opinion, integrated planning is what’s next.
We have certainly seen a great deal of turmoil over the last year. In reality, the higher education sector has always faced some sort of volatility. Prior to the pandemic, higher education leaders were obsessing over the looming enrollment decline. Volatility is not new. In fact, the military has an apt acronym: V.U.C.A., which describes environmental conditions that are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. The challenge then is not to fret over volatility but to recognize it as a part of the external environment. Once you embrace a V.U.C.A. environment, the task becomes how to lead through it.
Over the past year, institutions of higher education found ways to adapt to the pandemic. Nearly all utilized their existing technology platforms to move their academic portfolio to virtual delivery. Additionally, institutions made accommodations for their workforce. Now, higher education leaders are determining what to carry forward from the experience of the pandemic.
In my humble opinion, institutions should forget the “new normal.” This is a liminal moment for higher education. Incremental change will not do. This is the moment for transformative change. So, instead of leaping into the future armed with a handful of tactics that worked during a crisis, institutional leaders need to take a breath and engage in a disciplined, integrated planning process.
The future of integrated planning
What is integrated planning? At the Society for College and University Planning, we define integrated planning as, “a sustainable approach to planning that builds relationships, aligns the organization, and emphasizes readiness for change.” The three engines behind integrated planning are relationships, alignment, and change readiness. Integrated planning, like any planning endeavor, relies on relationships. Cross-functional, collaborative relations provide the energy for integrated planning. Alignment defines the infrastructure for planning. Successful integrated planning requires that institutions be aligned up, down, and side-ways. It is not enough that a division is internally aligned.
Integrated planning builds the commitment among stakeholders while campus alignment creates an agile, change-ready institution.
Recommendations for the future
Any planning effort begins with environmental scanning. My first recommendation is to review EDUCAUSE’s most recent Horizon report for teaching and learning. This document is a fabulous environmental scan focused on learning technology.
Second, remember that your technology solutions need to be calibrated to your multiple stakeholder groups. Students will have different technology needs than faculty and staff. In addition, do not underestimate the support infrastructure for a more technology-rich teaching, learning, and working environment. Do not under-resource the technology and the human support for your environment. I cannot emphasize enough the need for human resources for the shift to technology.
Third, when it comes to learning technology, focus on the learning first, then the technology. This requires careful academic planning. Engage the faculty at the beginning of the planning process.
Finally, remember that the environment will change. Integrated plans create an agile, change- ready institution by creating the stakeholder commitment to work toward the greater good and an aligned institutional infrastructure that sets a foundation for agile, resilient institutions. The environment will shift quickly. Be prepared.