As we covered in part one of this article series, institutional effectiveness as a broad concept encompasses both the traditional measures of institutional health as well as modern operational characteristics. The modern era of Institutional Effectiveness (IE 2.0) is data-informed to create actionable, achievable, and necessary results. In short, data will be the glue that informs institutional priorities, while actively measuring progress in real-time.
As higher ed leaders navigate change and increasing complexities on a daily basis, rethinking how we approach data collection, dissemination, and visualization across campus - what we call integrated planning - has the power to fuel IE 2.0 to its highest potential, keeping universities in the driver’s seat and on track to meet students’ needs, despite external disruptions or times of crisis.
A paradigm shift
IE 2.0 along with integrated planning has created a paradigm shift by challenging our existing approaches and assumptions. It requires that we look holistically at a problem, get curious, and ask deeper questions. Take for example, academic program reviews. These are typically done every few years for accreditation and, when done effectively, requires data from across the institution, including admissions, enrollment, financial, retention, and completions data.
IE 2.0 shifts academic program reviews from an infrequent, static, and painstaking process to one that is continuous, automated and facilitates ongoing discussion and evaluation. In order to facilitate this process, data needs to be replicated, transformed, and available through a reliable data platform. It requires a common language and data literacy, with ongoing opportunities to check in cross-functionally to review and calibrate progress. Ultimately, the success outcomes of the entire process depend on willing collaboration and transparency across the institution.
In the beginning, this might be an uncomfortable subject for some; however, data transparency is key for IE 2.0. Forward-thinking leaders must be able to address skepticism and fear of sharing data across departments in order to reach desired outcomes that benefit the collective student body and university as a whole.
Over time, creating transparency and buy-in means decisions will be made in the open, rationale and context will be provided and discussed, data successes will be shared, and everyone involved can learn to trust the process and see its value. Access to and ongoing integration of data for IE 2.0 should be viewed as a unifier - the paradigm shift - rather than creating fear and hesitancy over exposed information that could lead to an “us versus them” mentality among departments.
"The institutions that will thrive in the future will be those that use high-quality, relevant mission-driven data as part of their strategic, integrated planning process."— The Society of Colleges and University Planning
Interpreters and integrators
Institutional effectiveness professionals must serve as both interpreters and integrators to ensure success with IE 2.0. They must expand beyond the role of developing data-informed strategic plans, financial forecasts, enrollment plans, and other assessments of institutional efficacy toward unifying their institutions in solving complex, cross-functional challenges with a data-informed lens.
In their role as integrators, they must strike the right balance with various departments. For example, when it comes to finance and academic departments, it can be challenging and uncomfortable if punitive cuts are perceived as a sole, obvious solution. IE 2.0 would encourage a broader discussion to arrive at a favorable, balanced solution that fits best within the overarching mission and vision of the institution. New key data might foster productive conversations around how to balance high and low ROI programs across departments to stay in line with the university’s mission, while ensuring long-term financial sustainability.
Another reason for emphasizing integration and collaboration with the finance department is in part due to the increasing pressure and expectations coming from accreditation bodies. Spurred by the pandemic, accreditors are getting serious about financial sustainability. Institutions of all sizes will need to demonstrate that they are good stewards of resources and are planning wisely for the future. Accreditors and other key stakeholders will know that the institution is on the right track if it can point to evidence of planning, including digital tools and smart data practices that allow leaders to regularly review internal and external resource justification. Financial health metrics will need to be transparent and readily available to key leadership and stakeholders outside of the finance team, as well.
Signs that a cultural shift is taking root
So how do we know when IE 2.0 efforts are working? What does progress look like in day-to-day interactions? First, it’s important to remember that starting small adds up over time, and it’s always better to start with baby steps than stall or not take action at all. Providing more unified access to data as a starting point can be a great jumping off point to see what opportunities or problem areas resonate for your campus.
Some indicators to look for that show IE 2.0 is taking root on campus:
- Administrators and staff are asking each other questions and discussing smart data practices amongst themselves
- Enhanced understanding about how the institution operates, demonstrates results, and generates revenue
- Increased requests for more data from across campus
- Improved communication, collaboration and cross-functional relationships
If only someone would shout out, “Wow, IE 2.0 is really working for us!” With cultural change, the signals are subtle. But as feelings of trust and transparency increase among administrators and faculty, the institution as a whole, eventually becomes more proactive, flexible, and better able to adapt when conditions change.
Eventually, the process just becomes the way institutions do their work. And do it better.
This article was originally published on Higher Ed Dive.