Communication Key to Winning Institution-Wide Support for New ProjectsJennifer Sparrow | Senior Director of Teaching and Learning with Technology, The Pennsylvania State University
In the world of teaching and learning, the evolution of technological tools allows for the development of new implementations of these technologies that can create active and engaged learning opportunities for students.
Within higher education, there is an ongoing focus on student achievement, strong pedagogy and degree completion time. This, coupled with the convergence of technological and pedagogical innovations, has created opportunities for the creation of new programs. Of course, these programs cannot be developed and deployed in a vacuum. Learning technology leaders can help with the successful adoption of new programs with a clear plan for addressing institutional challenges, including socializing the new project, securing stakeholder buy-in, and communicating throughout the development and delivery of the project.
The first, and probably most critical point in successful deployment of a new program, is to develop a story around the new technology that helps to socialize the project. In higher education it is critical that the story be directly tied to the core mission of the institution. The story may answer the following questions: How is this program going to positively impact student learning? How does this technology help learners become actively engaged in their learning? Can this new technology or program help faculty with the challenges they face in teaching, research or outreach? The story should be tailored to the audience; it needs to have a personal benefit to faculty, administrators and students. When talking with the faculty, leaders should maintain a clear focus on how the innovation can help faculty with the challenges they are facing within their classroom. For students, the story needs to address their expectations for their learning experiences. For administrators, those who often provide funding and an institutional voice for new projects, the story needs to provide a clear answer to an institutional challenge. In order to tell these stories clearly, it is critical for leaders to listen to their stakeholders and to have an understanding of the challenges they face.
Telling the story of the new project, technology or program is the first step in securing stakeholder buy-in. In the higher education context, it is critical to have an academic sponsor or partner for any new project. In staying true to the strategic mission of the organization—teaching and learning in this case—an academic partner demonstrates the value of the project in meeting the goals of the organization. Leaders should also make sure to include individuals with influence in the organization among their additional sponsors. Often in higher education this is the chief academic officer and/or the provost. However, there are projects that could require buy-in from a dean, department head or vocal faculty member. Their support could help to share the importance and impact of the new project. One voice that should be leveraged for project support is students. If students understand the value of a project to their learning and can vocalize that value to faculty, deans and the provost, then a grassroots adoption of the new project or technologies can be driven through the student voice. When launching new projects, additional buy-in can be gained by having a small pilot of the project that allows for some successes and to work out any hiccups the project may encounter.
The most important pieces of continued project growth and success of new projects are communication, communication and more communication. The process of storytelling and securing stakeholder buy-in are only small parts of a successful communications strategy. A communication plan should be developed at the outset of any new project that includes both formal and informal communication opportunities. As a project moves through the planning stage, it is important to update stakeholders on the status of the project launch. Everyone involved in the project should use every opportunity they have to talk about both successes and milestones with interested parties. It is also critical to get new projects on the radar of university senior administrators early and often. The communication channels need to be varied, and should not be limited to solely electronic means of communications. As end users (in our case faculty and students) start to work with the new project or technology, it is critical to share their stories with the entire university. Allowing the end-user’s story to be told moves the project from being an IT project to being a university project. Having the project team think creatively and comprehensively about a communications plan will allow the work in this area to be strategic and opportunistic.
Being agile in launching a new project or technology in response to rapidly changing partner needs is becoming the status quo rather than a temporary state. Successfully launching and sustaining a new project requires carefully crafted project plans, pilots that address the speed bumps prior to a full project launch, and a project team that can execute the plans and talk about the project. These critical project management practices must be enhanced with significant thought about getting stakeholder buy-in from project conception to delivery. Telling a compelling story about the technology or project that answers the question: “How does this affect me?” can allow many different stakeholders to understand the potential impact of the project. Tying the project to the strategic mission of the organization and getting an academic department to sponsor the project will lend the project legitimacy and an operational base for the success of the project. Communication needs to be two-way to include telling as well as listening. The ability to tell a story about the project from a successful end user will provide other potential users the opportunity to see themselves as a part of the new project. The communication needs to be comprehensive and delivered through many different venues and it should certainly include personal, face-to-face interactions with current and potential project partners and other parts of the organization that may be affected by the project.
Author Perspective: Administrator