Working groups are developing 'to be' lists in strategic planning process

Nearly 65 people so far have been engaged in developing the next university strategic plan, including four working groups that are drafting where they see Iowa State going or becoming over the next decade.

Since organizing in early October, a seven-member steering committee, chaired by vice president for research Peter Dorhout, has determined the new plan's mission, vision and core values, with input and review from President Wendy Wintersteen:

  • Mission. Create, share and apply knowledge to make our students, Iowa and the world better.
  • Vision. Iowa State University will advance the land-grant ideals of putting science, technology and human creativity to work.
  • Values. Respect, purpose, cooperation, richness of diversity, freedom from discrimination, honest and respectful expression of ideas, integrity, access and excellence.

"The mission and vision contain elements refined from previous plans that continue to resonate and remain relevant," Dorhout said. "The core values represent our Principles of Community, along with integrity, access and excellence."

Dorhout has described the current effort as different from traditional strategic planning. This will be a nine-year plan, not a five-year plan. It is more about developing a "to be" list for Iowa State rather than a "to do" list. Another way the new effort is different is within the chosen themes for the plan.

The steering committee established four pillars, or themes, each meant to build on strengths of the university:

  • Innovative solutions
  • Education experience
  • Knowledge and discovery
  • Community engagement

"In a more traditional plan, research, teaching and extension would be separate, stand-alone themes. But in our process, we see them threaded throughout our four themes," said Dorhout. "We want researchers, instructors, extension specialists and students to see themselves in more than one pillar."

Each working group is tackling one of the four pillars. Each has 12 to 15 members, representing faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, administrators, ISU Alumni Association and ISU Foundation. The community engagement working group also includes representation from the Ames Chamber of Commerce.

The working groups will have met at least four times by the end of the fall semester. Their first task was to draft "to be" ideas for the themes and help define what success looks like.

They also are imagining the development of a process to identify and select future priority opportunities or projects that move the university closer to achieving its "to be" goals. Ideas that fill the "to be" pipeline could be brought forward by faculty, staff, students or stakeholders.

"We've been using the terms 'strategic plan' and 'strategic process' interchangeably. Both apply, with our current effort focused on how we put in place a continuing process of ideas, analysis and review over a nine-year span," Dorhout said.

 A dynamic process

The planners foresee a process that continues to engage the campus community and stakeholders in areas that have the biggest potential impact.

"It'll be a dynamic process that looks at resources available and makes commitments as appropriate," Dorhout said. "Some may be universitywide projects, others may be funded by partnerships with a college or department. Private-sector funding also could play an important role."

The intentional design of the new strategic plan -- or strategic process -- is to keep people engaged in the years to come.

"It can be a living process, not a static plan that sits on a shelf after completion," he said. "We want it to continually think about what we want to be and how we get there. An important part will be communicating progress. We need to be willing and eager to tell the stories of great achievements and milestones happening here." 


In December, the four working groups will work to complete their draft "to be" statements and share them with the steering committee. The groups are identifying campus and other stakeholder engagement opportunities that will be planned through next February.

The working groups' ideas on the strategic process that helps guide decisions throughout the life of the plan will be completed in February. A final draft plan is set for April.

Helping to facilitate and provide guidance to the steering committee and working groups are Karen Bramow, strategic plan project manager in the office of vice president for research; Mark Settle, a staff member with the office of strategic relations and communications; and consultants with RSM U.S., a firm with offices in Iowa and many other states.