We are always learning new things about how to advance innovation and change in higher ed. Universities are complex environments, similar in many respects, but with countless unique features. Driving significant change on any campus is a big task.
Over the past nine years, we’ve learned a lot about how to spur and scale systemic change and how to transfer innovations from one institution to others. But we’re nowhere close to having it all figured out.
Here are two challenges that consistently get in the way of innovation and scaling that I’ve been observing in real-time:
- Coverage vs transfer. As anyone who studied education will tell you, there’s a fundamental difference between covering the material and transferring knowledge to another person. It’s one thing to talk about what you accomplished from a lectern, and another to help someone grasp what you learned so they can apply it in their own life. The same challenge applies to the concept of scale. In higher ed, too much of our work and how we communicate about it is based on a “coverage” approach rather than one that is designed to effectively transfer knowledge. For innovation to scale from campus to campus, the "mentee" campus has to understand the problem that the "mentor" campus sought to solve, their context in their original environment, what their first steps were, what they wished they'd known before they started, and what they would do differently. Our sector needs more scale if we are going to serve students better. This requires sharing about what we have learned from failure, rather than broadcasting our headlines about what we accomplished. The next time you are sharing a story of successful innovation, don't just share what you accomplished. Instead, focus on the problem you started with, the first few steps you took, and what you struggled with along the way- these are the valuable insights that will help another campus scale what you've learned and integrate your learning.
- Big change, small change: same rewards. We all enjoy getting some credit for making change happen. And when the change is massive, we’d like others to recognize how many boulders we had to move to get it done. But when it comes to innovation on campus, the rewards for small change and big change tend to be the same. The positive feedback you might receive from advancing significant systemic change is not proportionately greater than the amount you receive from advancing small change. You get the same kudos for small wins as for doing really long and difficult work. As a result, many people can navigate their careers notching small-ball wins while avoiding the deep, difficult systemic changes our students really need. Don’t get me wrong – we’re all for small victories. They can be really helpful in and of themselves, and they help build momentum for bigger changes. But we need to ensure that our sector isn't avoiding difficult and necessary change work and instead opting for the quick adrenaline hit we can get from advancing smaller change. We may also need to find ways to amp up the rewards for big, systemic changes that are going to impact thousands of students.
As the UIA continues to welcome and get to know our newest members, we’ve been super focused on learning about past attempts at innovation – those that succeeded and those that didn’t quite work – and understanding how we can help grease the wheels for more innovation throughout our network. What other insights have you discovered about the impediments to innovation lately?
This month, we’re welcoming two fantastic higher ed leaders to the UIA family: Dr. Sam Kim, UIA Liaison for University of Colorado-Denver and Dr. Rich Singiser, UIA Fellow for Georgia State University.
The UIA Central Team has been busy visiting with Alliance members all over the country. From Utah to Florida, these brief campus visits have been a great way to learn more about the student success work happening on the ground at each institution.
At the University of Utah, we met with the UIA Utah Leadership Team, including the U’s new Provost for Academic Affairs. Time was also spent with various members of the U’s extended student success team as well as seeing campus through the eyes of a current student. The day ended in a debrief session with cross-functional transformation change leaders supporting student success efforts at the U. The UIA Central Team helped identify potential areas of strength and improvement in existing cross-campus initiatives using the Postsecondary Institutional Transformation Assessment (ITA) framework. We can’t wait to visit again soon!
Learn with Us
- Pragmatic Optimism and Managed Transformation as a Higher Ed Leader featuring University of Utah president, Taylor Randall [blog]
- Innovation Spotlight Interview with Peter Temes [podcast]
- Weekly Wisdom Interview with Dr. Jolene Koester, interim chancellor of the California State University System [podcast]
- Higher Ed Lessons in Interim Leadership: A Conversation With Javier Reyes, Interim Chancellor, University of Illinois Chicago [blog]
Here’s what we’re learning about this month at the UIA:
- Practical tips for promoting a culture of learning at your workplace [McKinsey & Co]
- The possible downsides of design thinking [MIT Tech Review]
- Why leading authentically is key to building trust across networks [Udemy Leading Up Podcast]
- How your beliefs about the world shape reality [NPR Hidden Brain Podcast]
- The fatal health effects of discrimination on BIPOC [NPR Code Switch Podcast]
- Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers [Book]
Stuff We Love
A curated list of the latest and greatest things we’re using to stay calm and innovate:
- If email is your greatest challenge, try an email management app.
- This portable Bose speaker has saved countless UIA events.
- The Lab Team’s been busy using these free ideation and design tools.
- This memory foam seat cushion is a lifesaver for long days at your desk.
- Compression socks are a must for air travel and standing on your feet all day.
- April 13 - 15, 2023: ACE Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C. (Registration still open)
- April 17 - 19, 2023: ASU + GSV Summit, San Diego, CA (Deadline to register early: April 16, 2023)
- May 1 - 2, 2023: National Conference on Diversity, Race & Learning, Columbus, OH (Deadline to register: April 24, 2023)
- May 10 - 12, 2023: National Student Parent Support Symposium, Columbus, OH (Deadline to register: April 30, 2023)
- June 25 - 27, 2023: NASPA Conference on Student Success in Higher Education, Kansas City, MO (Deadline to register early: April 28, 2023)
Fundamentally, our role has been to move people out of darkness and into optimism and light. And that's what leadership is about.