November 13, 2013  /  Barry Dornfeld

Faculty in higher education don't love meetings, but they want a say in the institution's strategy.  At a school of the arts, where the faculty, under previous administrations, felt disengaged from institutional processes like strategic planning, we helped design and participated in a launch event designed to engage a broad swath of educators and staff in the development of a new strategic plan. We adopted an approach already very familiar to them—a studio crit (short for critique), a teaching and learning technique widely used in design schools, in which student artwork is formally evaluated by a group of faculty and students.  It is a distinctive, unique communal practice that has deep roots in the singular ethos of art institutes.  Its premise is that the critiquing group can convey insight to the student, and offer a degree of objectivity to the highly subjective agendas of the student's private creative process. At this school, we loosely adopted the crit model and organized diverse faculty groups around particular themes, getting them engaged in coming up with key questions and initial goals around these themes, using facilitated conversation, post-its and other brainstorming tools. We then posted the output of the individual groups in a large room, and the faculty and staff Steering Committee chairs invited everyone in for a "gallery walk.” They facilitated the ensuing conversation which like all crits was thoughtful and far-ranging.  The crit approach is intended to leave the student as a better artist, through a new understanding of his work, his process and himself. Our approach to this strategy event was to do exactly that for the faculty, and for the administrators charged with forming and implementing the institution's strategic direction. The strategic planning process is ongoing at this institution, but the stakeholders now own it in a way that is authentic to their culture—and because they are engaged, will help them get strategy into action quickly.

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