Marcia Brown Mintz
College and university leaders face challenges and opportunities as never before—requiring imagination, consultation, and strategic decision-making to carry their institutions forward, all against a backdrop of a wide range of institutional interests and dynamics inherent in shared governance and the academic organizational structure. Successful change depends on the interplay and alignment of these multiple interests and dynamics, as well as on broad and appropriate participation and transparency of process.
One effective approach for managing issues and then implementing change or launching initiatives is CFAR’s “campaign approach to change.”
This approach begins with leadership articulating a strategic or organizational goal. The stage is then set for individuals from across the institution to participate in fresh ways, help build momentum for change, evolve the understanding of the key issue, and shape interests across the organization. The campaign approach is flexible and emergent, yet strategic in its direction and force. It draws on features of several different types of campaigns, including:
- Political campaigns: Creating a coalition strong enough to support and guide the initiative
- Military campaigns: Deploying scarce resources of attention and time and managing resistance
- Marketing campaigns: Tapping into passions and energy and effectively communicating messages about the prospective initiative’s theme and benefits
In practice, the campaign approach to change has several distinctive elements:
- Within the context of a strategic or organizational goal, the interpretation of the issue being addressed and the related change evolve through discussion among a wide range of participants across a number of different of events and gatherings. Participants discover or reconfirm their relationship to and conception of the issue through deliberation with others, and interests develop as the discussion unfolds.
- The approach invites contributions from individuals all across campus with relevant expertise and passion rather than relying exclusively on those with established roles and constituent representation, thus bringing new voices to the table and gaining broader perspective.
- Ad hoc teams of individuals across levels and units form to collaborate and in the process create developmental opportunities for emerging leaders. Moreover, those who influence and shape the discourse about the issue at the start may trade places with other participants and one another as understandings of the issue itself evolve.
- There is no sharp separation between planning and moving toward implementation. Pilot tests for relevant change are found in existing projects, programs, events, or other activities aligned with the strategic goal. Experience with these “found pilots” in turn informs and shapes understandings of ways to advance the strategic change, and in some areas implementation begins while the campaign is still ongoing.
- When it appears that the goal is within reach, leadership is presented with a recommendation and roadmap for institutionalizing the change or initiatives.
A recommendation developed through the campaign approach represents the contributions of many players, discussions, pilots, and other actions taken to legitimate the issue and the proposed course of change. This is in contrast, for example, to a recommendation from a task force that leaders usually circulate for further input before acting on. An effective campaign recommendation is ready to be implemented—having emerged from listening to the institution, sweeping many in, and experimenting and demonstrating within the process itself some of what it would take to make the change sustainable.
In important ways, institutional responses to the pandemic share similarities with the campaign approach. From pivoting to on-line instruction, living and working remotely, implementing public health measures, altering the academic calendar, forgoing or reimagining long traditions, and the list goes on, colleges and universities relied on the contributions and expertise of individuals all across campus, listened to voices from all corners, supported emerging leaders in new endeavors, and innovated and experimented on the spot to implement vital urgent change. Elements that worked well can be integrated into the approach to post-pandemic change. A silver lining of the pandemic experience.
 See Larry Hirschhorn, “Campaigning for Change,” Harvard Business Review, July 2002; and Larry Hirschhorn and Linda May, “The Campaign Approach to Change: Targeting the University’s Scarcest Resources,” Change, May/June 2000.