Published on 2014/06/12

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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Readers Comments

dean 2014/06/12 at 11:02 am

I appreciate DeLalla’s innovative spirit, which is apparent in all of his pieces.

I would just say, John, that culture change takes time. I’ve encountered all three of the statements you listed at the beginning of your piece. For me, the solution has been to approach individuals I think I could convince to support some of my unit’s initiatives. For each new initiative I want to introduce, I identify and build up several of these “champions.” It’s easier to overcome some of those cultural challenges when more than one person is in support of an idea.

    John DeLalla 2014/06/19 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks for your comment – and yes – you’re right – getting buy-in from local stakeholders is key. They can advocate on your behalf – even if it takes years for the chance to occur. I’ve found that working with key faculty (meaning outspoken and respected) is a great first step.

Ian Roark 2014/06/16 at 4:53 pm

I’m not too familiar with the requirements of cloud computing technology, but how about enlisting programming students to develop what you need? I see this as an opportunity for you to have a program built to your specifications at no or low cost, and a real-world opportunity for students to hone their skills. If not students, perhaps recent graduates?

John DeLalla 2014/06/19 at 5:01 pm

Mr. Roark,
Thanks for your suggestions – I appreciate it! I’m looking at doing as you suggest – using alumni to develop and teach the class. We’ll see how it turns out. John

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