A Collaborative, Ongoing University Strategic Planning Framework: Process, Landmines, and Lessons: Planners at Cleveland State University Describe That Institution's Highly Communicative and Participatory Strategic Planning Process

By Hill, Susan E. Kogler; Thomas, Edward G. et al. | Planning for Higher Education, July-September 2009 | Go to article overview

A Collaborative, Ongoing University Strategic Planning Framework: Process, Landmines, and Lessons: Planners at Cleveland State University Describe That Institution's Highly Communicative and Participatory Strategic Planning Process


Hill, Susan E. Kogler, Thomas, Edward G., Keller, Lawrence F., Planning for Higher Education


Strategic planning has been a recent activity at many, if not all, universities (Dooris, Kelley, and Trainer 2004; Rolfe 2003; Rowland 2002; Shattock 2002). The case study presented in this article examines the strategic planning process at Cleveland State University (CSU), which used a communicative planning approach to foster a collaborative organizational culture and establish a permanent, standing process. In this case study, we draw lessons from that effort to help increase our understanding of, and improve our success in, university-based strategic planning.

Willson (2006) reviews four planning approaches that are particularly relevant to university planning efforts: classic rational planning (consolidation and equilibrium), incremental planning (expansion and transformation), strategic planning (maximization of output), and communicative planning (human commitment). He argues that it is critical to link the appropriate planning approach with the particular organizational culture. He suggests that the communicative planning approach, because it best corresponds with human commitment, will lead to organizational cohesion and high morale.

Because previous strategic planning approaches at CSU were not always well received, a joint faculty-administrative planning committee decided that future planning efforts should incorporate a communicative planning model that involves "broad participation by stakeholders; engages different ideas concerning goals (ends) [and] ... seeks support for implementation that comes from participation and buy-in" (Willson 2006, p. 11). This approach also seemed best suited to CSU's culture and environment and was therefore used as the foundation for the planning efforts outlined in this case study.

We used a communicative planning approach to foster a collaborative organizational culture.

Planning at CSU

Since its founding in 1964, CSU has engaged in various planning efforts, as shown on the timeline in figure 1. This planning was of two types: master planning, which emphasized the physical development of the campus, and strategic planning, which focused on the university's institutional nature. Starting with the initial academic master plan in 1974 and culminating with a full-blown strategic planning process in the early 1990s, CSU faculty and staff attempted to grapple with the often less-than-friendly institutional environment and determine how CSU should best organize to cope with it.

While the strategic planning process of the 1990s was considered successful, issues such as declining state funding and increasing tuition reawakened interest in new planning efforts that would move beyond traditional planning, both in creating a more continuous process and in engaging the institution at all levels.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In fall 2002, CSU's president formed a committee to develop recommendations for a university planning process. This "planning to plan" committee was charged with developing a planning process that would include broad involvement, be consistent with the university's new vision, work in concert with the metropolitan community, link goals with budget and review processes, specify outcomes for each goal to measure progress, allow units to align their plans with the university plan, and provide regular communication about the planning process.

After two years of discussion, a planning structure was approved by the Faculty Senate and the university president in fall 2004. The three-year planning and implementation timetable outlined in figure 2 summarizes the approved comprehensive strategic planning process described in this case study.

Forming the University Strategic Planning Committee

In spring 2005, the University Strategic Planning Committee (USPC) was formed, comprised of 10 voting members and two ex-officio members. Of the 10 voting members, five were faculty selected by the Academic Steering Committee of Faculty Senate, and five were administrators selected by the president. …

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A Collaborative, Ongoing University Strategic Planning Framework: Process, Landmines, and Lessons: Planners at Cleveland State University Describe That Institution's Highly Communicative and Participatory Strategic Planning Process
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