The strategy for the period to 2024 has not been devised in closed boardrooms this time, but with the help of Strategy Design Labs: working groups consisting of students and staff members coming together to focus on one of the strategy’s seven pillars. Some hard work has been done on the details of the new EUR strategy in recent months, including during joint sessions in the large hall of Erasmus Sport. In the process, the development of the university’s new strategic plan, Strategy 2024, has become a joint enterprise.
The members of the labs spent an average of two days a week taking part. One called it a ‘cool process’; another commented that it took a while to get used to not just talking and writing, but also presenting ideas visually with a model or a 3D object. Others said that they disliked the ready-made formats in which they worked, or, conversely, found the whole thing plain sailing.
Either way, they were there voluntarily and on behalf of the rest of the community. Because although the university wanted to encourage input from as many staff and students as possible, ‘only’ 80 people were able to claim a place in a lab in the end. Another 85 staff, students and external stakeholders gave interim feedback on the plans in the so-called Communities of Interest.
For those not selected for one of the seven Strategy Design Labs, though, all went quiet after the launch of the strategy framework in September. To recap briefly: in September the Executive Board presented the framework for the new strategy with the slogan: ‘Creating a positive impact on society’. Under this motto, seven thematic pillars were set out, such as research, education and support (see box). Starting in September, seven groups (one Strategy Design Lab per pillar) worked on detailed plans for each theme.
The seven Strategy Design Labs
The university wants to present the new strategy for 2019-2024 next year. With this in mind, seven Strategy Design Labs have worked to develop the seven predefined themes for the strategy:
- Future-oriented education
- Excellent scientific research embedded in society
- Developing our social impact and identity
- Making the most of our interdisciplinary potential
- Investing in our talent for the future
- Strengthening professional services
- Moving up to the next level of sustainability
The Executive Board and the deans came up with first six themes. The design lab on sustainability was added at the insistence of students from the University Council.
Paul van Wijngaarden, who led the sessions on behalf of the company GroupMapping, expressed admiration for Erasmus University, which has brought strategy formation out of the boardroom and onto the shop floor. “It’s quite something to bring people together from so many different places and get down to work.”
The GroupMapping working process is based on a method for ‘coming up with supported solutions for organisations by means of smart co-creation,’ explained Van Wijngaarden. The method – devised in the United States by an architect and a Montessori teacher in the seventies – is now used by many consultancy firms during change processes in organisations, or, as with EUR, to flesh out a vision for the university.
Ubiquitous wheeled whiteboards
We got a glimpse of the process on a Thursday morning in November, when the Labs and the Community of Interest – by now already at work for two months – came together in an airy sports hall on campus. The venue had been transformed for the occasion into an environment reminiscent of an AirSpace startup, with ubiquitous wheeled whiteboards with funny cartoons, a table tennis table and the odd rugby ball or football lying around.
With Lego figures and other material, the sustainability lab (formal title: ‘Upgrading our sustainability efforts’) visually re-enacted the study career of an imaginary international student. “To bring a subject to life, it can help to depict aspects of it visually. Not everyone does it, but it’s possible,” explained Van Wijngaarden on the use of these hands-on working methods.
In the different sessions, a draughtsman was used to depict various moments and situations in diagram and cartoon form. Van Wijngaarden: “Sometimes a drawing says more than a thousand words; it can work better to communicate visually about some topics, and not just with text.”
It was also clear in the sports hall that morning that the process was tightly controlled. While the president of a lab was still in mid-presentation, the music was turned up louder and louder as an unmistakable signal to finish off. Somewhat annoyed, he raised his voice so that he could conclude his remarks anyway.
After three quarters of an hour, the open session ended and the Communities of Interest left the room. The labs had the rest of Thursday and Friday to refine their plans further and consult with the other labs. ‘To allow people to speak freely’, EM was not allowed to attend.
On 10 December the design labs had to hand in all plans. Now the deans and the Executive Board are ready to forge a solid plan out of the sea of ideas. In the early spring, a first version of the plan is submitted to the University Council. At the opening academic year 2019 the plan is presented in full glory.