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Navigating the Maze: Overcoming Institutional Roadblocks to Innovation

Navigating the Maze: Overcoming Institutional Roadblocks to Innovation
Roadblocks come in all shapes and sizes when it comes to developing innovative programming. It’s a leader’s responsibility to navigate the maze and find pathways to success.
It was an innocent email from a former student that most continuing education (CE) program leaders would love to receive: “When are you going to offer a class or certificate in cloud computing security — having that will help me get a promotion at work!”

A new program idea with a prospective market while responding to community needs — a trifecta that highlights what an institution’s CE program embodies. But there is an issue, a big one in higher education today: roadblocks to innovation.

Some of the roadblocks I’ve encountered over the years include statements and sentiments such as:

  1. We’ve always done it this way (our culture doesn’t support innovation);

  2. We won’t receive funding/support if we deviate from the model (possible accreditation issues);

  3. We’re not rewarded for doing something new/different like this (culture and management support); and

  4. It’s too difficult and doesn’t fit our department’s mission.

How do you as a CE leader overcome innovation challenges? Here are three ideas I’ve attempted and used in the past:

1. Bribes

It sounds worse than it is: simply offer to put some money or skin in the game. Pay a faculty member over the summer to develop a new certificate course even if he or she is too busy to teach it during the year or afraid of teaching it online. Offer a department chair funds for a faculty travel pool in exchange for the top person teaching a weekend non-credit course. Find a new way to help partner with your institution’s colleagues so both programs can meet their respective program needs.

2. External Pressure

Sometimes using your extensive and key contacts outside the institution to reach into other parts of your institution with messages of support can help your cause. Other times just including campus leadership on messages to your external key contacts is enough to spur action or change.

3. Network

Why reinvent the wheel? Most likely your innovative challenge has been dealt with at another institution. Ask around your network or make use of existing professional networks around this space (UPCEA’s CORE website is valuable here) if you don’t have a strong network already. Also ask your staff, especially folks who joined your CE program from another part of campus or private industry: how did they deal with innovation challenges before?

Overcoming My Own Roadblocks

For the cloud computing program request, my first step was to reach into my current instructor and faculty pool to develop the program. Receiving no positive responses, I went externally to the industry association, where they could provide content, but not instructors, for a significant fee. I’m currently looking to innovate for a third solution; do you have any ideas?

Leave a comment below to continue the innovation discussion.

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