On Aug. 26, the first Friday of a new academic year, 127 staff and faculty members gathered at the Reynolds Alumni Center for a strategic planning retreat. In late July, Dean David Kurpius invited all faculty and staff to offer input to the Journalism School’s strategic planning through this collaborative event.
At the front of the Columns Ballroom stood a large banner with strategic planning’s visual mark (or brand): FIRST | BEST | NEXT.
As people found their way to their tables and greeted co-workers, a bit of apprehension hung in the air. What could we possibly be doing for four hours on the Friday afternoon of a long first week?
Dean Kurpius provided a quick welcome, then pointed out that the direction of the School is yet to be determined and how crucial this event was in the process.
Jamie Flink of the Strategic Communication faculty introduced the visual mark and explained the branding of the initiative. The design was created by graduate student Catalina Costa to set a tone, distinguish this process, signal our intent and serve as a rally cry. Together – as the FIRST and BEST J-School in the world – we are shaping the NEXT evolution and articulation of the Missouri Method.
Next, facilitator Sandra Herron of MiddlEdge Inc. walked everyone through the strategic planning process and timeline before revealing the research findings. Data came from 18 facilitated conversations with faculty and staff from last May, two conversations with students, seven conversations with alumni and industry professionals in St. Louis and Kansas City and 64 responses to a blog post invitation for input.
Participants shared initial reactions to the research with others at their table. After dynamic discussion, a representative from each table shared one common reaction or insight with the larger group. Right away, there was enthusiasm about the possibility of reimagining the Journalism School. Most groups were not surprised by what the research revealed. And while change was intimidating for some, others saw immense opportunity in it.
Following a refreshment break, Sandra outlined a list of eight preliminary strategic priorities based on the research. Key topics included organizational structure; curriculum; research; innovation; alumni engagement; and recruitment and retention of students, staff and faculty.
Each participant then selected his or her top five priorities. Individual responses were tallied for each table, and then participants talked about how and why they set the priorities they did. It was refreshing to see such open discussion and interaction. Each table came to agreement on its five priorities and then reported to the larger group. A few tables added priorities not yet included; others suggested wording changes (we included a large number of writers and editors, after all).
At the end of the session, all staff and faculty were given an opportunity to vote again on their individual priorities as well as indicate if they would be willing to serve on a planning sub-team. Many commented that they changed their priorities from their initial vote based on hearing input from colleagues during table discussions and reports.
Here are our immediate next steps:
- Retreat participants were sent a link to a survey evaluation to be completed by Sept. 9.
- Any faculty or staff member who was not able to participate in the retreat and would like to weigh in on the preliminary priorities may contact Sandra at moc.egdelddim@ardnas.
- Sandra will summarize the retreat feedback and work with the NEXT Planning Team to refine the strategic priorities and launch sub-teams with interested volunteers.
- We will continue to seek ways to engage students and alumni in our strategic planning conversations.
The four-hour retreat, which admittedly was hardly a relaxing respite from our compound, puts us past the midway point of the strategic planning process in the thick of identifying and tweaking key priorities for the Journalism School. Not bad work for a Friday afternoon.
Jennifer Rowe is chair of the Magazine Journalism faculty.
Updated: September 30, 2020