Musings from Texas AIR 2022 — Empowering Stakeholders to take Action on Data Findings.
I have become increasingly interested in understanding, and concretely describing how stakeholders take action on data findings. I hear this often… “we built our analytics platform/dashboard/warehouse now we need to take action, drive adoption, and promote a culture of inquiry using data to inform decisions.”
One of the themes that resonated with me as I spoke with IR Professionals at Texas AIR 2022 is that they are still siloed, still running reports, and still providing these reports to stakeholders absent of conversations and collaboration for next steps. In this way, we are missing out on the opportunity to address that
the iceberg is melting.
In higher education, enrollment (decreasing or planning around growth), analysis around student success, financial viability, assessment, and accreditation are all part of delivering on an institutional mission in servitude of learners. These challenges permeate through many departments and impact institutions at all levels. Regardless of where the proverbial iceberg is situated, when one discovers that it is melting, something must be done. As IR/IE professionals, we are in a unique position as we see the challenges from many different perspectives through data. For many colleges and universities, the current higher education business model is under pressure. Institutions need to take a holistic, data-centric approach to balance scales for their overall financial health. At HelioCampus, we provide our partners with the ability to take action on data findings. This is what I addressed in my presentation at Texas AIR.
My presentation spotlighted a partner institution, Northern Michigan University, and how Kotter’s 8 Steps to Leading Change can be used to drive the actionability of data findings. John Kotter has published a number of books and articles, one being “Our Iceberg is Melting” which I decided to read on the plane down to Dallas—I am very glad I brought plenty of post-it notes. I came away with quite a few items of interest. These relate to my presentation, in which I describe Kotter’s 8 Steps to Leading Change with a focus on removing barriers and short-term wins. They also relate to how we do work with our higher ed partners at HelioCampus, which is what I want to highlight in this post.
To summarize, the book is a fable about a penguin colony. One curious member of the colony (Fred) discovers that there is a threat to the iceberg on which they live. The problem is that none of his penguin colony members will listen to him. In this story, there is resistance to change, heroic action, and what seem to be intractable obstacles. The penguin team that comes together to tackle these obstacles come up with some very creative tactics. At HelioCampus, we work with our partners to take a holistic, data-centric approach providing the ability to track, measure, and manage institutional data.
- “Take me to the place that most clearly shows the problem”
One of the first challenges the penguins faced was to show others the severity of the problem. As Fred (the curious penguin) sought to build his team, he asked Alice (a trusted leader) to be part of his team. She asked him first to show him the problem. She said, “take me to the place that most clearly shows the problem”. Fred took Alice to areas of the iceberg where you could see the most dramatic impact of the melt, and what would happen in different scenarios where freezing of the melt would be catastrophic/detrimental to the iceberg. I’d like you to consider how you might do this at your institution, with data. What data elements and analytics tools might you use to focus key stakeholder attention on not only the issue/problem but what improvements mean for outcomes at the institution? When you can clearly articulate your vision, you have the backing of a champion/s, and will have more success in building your guiding coalition. Our strategic decision support and insights help partners to derive value from your data by giving you the ability to highlight and focus on areas of interest. We equip our partners with the tools needed to address these insights with key stakeholders and to further build their analytics team—Your Guiding Coalition, as described by Kotter.
2. “I need to think about what you have shown me”
Alice the penguin took a look at the iceberg and Fred’s findings, and said “I need to think about what you have shown me”. This is common for many change initiatives, when the culture and process of how we do business is going through considerations to change… people need time to process. At HelioCampus, we understand that this is a journey, and are prepared to assist you in answering questions that surface once stakeholders have the chance to view their data in ways they previously may not have had. To that extent…I would ask you to consider how each of your stakeholders would react to what you plan to show them, anticipate that they will need time to think, and then ensure that you go back to them for further conversations.
3. “I will need your assistance, I will need you to be prepared to help others see and feel the problem”
Alice told Fred “ I will need your assistance”, “I need you to be prepared to help others see and feel the problem”, and “be prepared that some birds won’t want to see the problem”. Alice and Fred remind us that we need to be prepared as IR professionals, that our audiences will need time to process what we show them, and that some will not immediately be open to change. We need to be strategic and calculated when we present our initial data findings. This means considering the audience (those whose trust and partnership we hope to gain), and their context.
4. “Walk around, keeping your eyes and minds open. Be Curious”
As the story progresses, Alice and Fred build a Leadership Council that agrees to consider solutions to the impending melting of the iceberg. During one of their meetings, an older and highly respected member of the colony suggested that they try something new. “Maybe you should do what Fred did when he found out about our terrible problem. “Walk around, keeping your eyes and minds open. Be Curious.” The Head Penguin, recognizing the need for a different approach, agreed. “Let’s try it,” he said, and so they did. The group of penguins walked around the iceberg and viewed the problem from many different angles and perspectives.
Just as the penguins needed to look at the problem from a different perspective, institutions can become siloed and require the need to look at a problem from a different perspective, with new information, or information presented in a new way. As IE professionals, we have the opportunity to promote curiosity as we build our diverse team. We have the ability to provide data elements to feed the curiosity of the group and help them to consider different approaches to solve a problem.
Considering different approaches may also mean looking outside our own institution. This was the next thing that the penguins did…The leadership group went to the west, and spoke with other penguin families, looked at different walls of snow, listened to conversations about melting and fish, and listened to birds share their experiences. I won’t share what they learned from the seagulls… you will have to read the book to find out. But what I will encourage you to do, is consider other institutions, and look at similar data elements. This is what our benchmarking clients do, they are able to compare spending with other member institutions using a common set of analysis factors, and are able to share information and best practices with members to drive meaningful insights. We enable you to do this by participating in our Communities of Practice through AEFIS Academy. Here, partners have the ability to work directly with other assessment and accreditation experts in the field to address critical questions and needs on continual improvement.
Change is not easy. And it takes a group of motivated, patient, and focused individuals dedicated to the journey. The discoveries along the way are the jewels of the journey, and part of your story. You just have to recognize the need, have the courage to start and when things get tough, stay focused on why you started the journey in the first place.
To learn more about how we can partner with you on your journey, please reach out to our team for further information and thoughtful conversation.