Guiding the development of a strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion—and orchestrating the implementation of that plan for a college campus—is a major endeavor and a daunting task.
The key is to prepare thoroughly and to move forward in the way most appropriate for your unique campus community. Taking the time to determine the scale and scope, vision and goals, timeline and process for your effort will help you develop the foundation, structure and steps needed to build organizational and cultural change that is not just surface-level, but deep and enduring.
The essential first steps involve building a shared vision with campus leaders; engaging students, staff and faculty across campus; and reaching out to alumni and other stakeholders. A clear process must be developed and communicated to all participating units or departments.
Organizing a DEI Strategic Plan and implementing that plan at a campus-wide scale also requires significant infrastructure and support. Professional staff at the central level are essential to guide both planning and implementation.
In addition, central university support is necessary to oversee and coordinate annual progress reporting, meetings and professional development events, data collection and analysis for key metrics, communications for campus and external audiences, and matters requiring legal counsel.
While this Toolkit Guide can be instructive for organizing a campus-level DEI initiative, it’s important to note that the U-M plan was exceptionally large and complex, reflecting the diverse and decentralized nature of the university and its health system.
The process involved the simultaneous activation of a central campus plan along with 51 campus unit-based plans, which were coordinated to create synergy and enhance the overall impact.
- Create a substantive, clear and well organized strategic planning process
- Provide tools and resources to participating units and/or partners, including guidance for unit-based planning and implementation along with templates for communications
- Model inclusive and equitable approaches for engagement, decision making and communications
- Develop a planning process that is flexible and capable of evolving over time
- Implement ample feedback opportunities for constituents and partners
The first objective for successful DEI planning is to ensure that those in executive leadership roles fully support the work of organizing a strategic plan and implementation process.
Without strong, vocal support from the president in particular, it’s unlikely that any major DEI initiative will succeed. Thus, your first-order priority is to assure that top leadership is aligned with the overarching goals of DEI and willing to invest significant resources in a strategic planning and implementation process.
Creating an organizational structure that includes key collaborators is also essential. At U-M, we assembled a group of our most senior leaders—including the president, provost, and 7 of our 19 deans—to form the Diversity Executive Leadership Team (DELT).
A high-level professional staff member served as the strategic plan development facilitator, leading up to the strategic planning year. This staffer worked closely with our Chief Diversity Officer and legal counsel, met regularly with DELT, and maintained close contact with executive officers.
Together, we developed the planning process to be used by units in the following year. To galvanize and engage the campus in the strategic planning process, the president appointed a Chief Diversity Officer and a Deputy Chief Diversity Officer to provide ongoing leadership during the five-year implementation.
While it may seem obvious, a campus-wide DEI strategic plan is for—and must involve—everyone on campus. It is essential to consider diversity, equity and inclusion in both the process for constructing and implementing a DEI strategic plan. A truly campus-wide initiative will include five groups of constituents:
- All students – undergraduate and graduate
- All staff – from custodians to unit directors and from finance to student life
- All faculty – from adjunct lecturers to tenured faculty across all disciplines
- All other constituents – such as alumni, patients and community partners.
- All “satellite” units –including campus libraries, museums and research centers
Before the strategic planning process itself can begin, it’s imperative that you plan the planning process. That includes organizing human, financial and technical resources and developing the communications and tools that will support a coherent planning process across the organization.
Inadequate support for your campus-wide DEI strategic plan could diminish both the process and the outcomes. Those charged with leading the strategic planning process will need strong and consistent support, along with collaboration and honest feedback, from top-level leaders.
They will also need capable administrative and professional staff. Leaders may need to regularly remind the community that the DEI strategic plan is a top priority for the institution, and one that exerts a direct impact on its successful future.
Engaging your campus in developing a DEI strategic plan will build commitment and ownership, and the process of engagement may be best if approached on multiple levels.
For example, you could create an organizing structure similar to the one UM established, including an executive leadership team; a working group involving unit leaders from across campus; and student, staff and faculty advisory boards to inform your planning process and prioritize your goals.
Partnering and collaborating with existing groups such as Student Government, the Faculty Senate, and campus-wide staff committees is an important way to engage your campus and build broad-based involvement.
It’s important to be realistic in evaluating the potential scope of your initiative and the staffing needed to support it. Better to have a contained but well-run effort than a huge initiative with inadequate resources.
Ask key questions of key stakeholders: Should we have one single plan for the campus? Or, as with U-M, should individual campus units develop their own strategic plans that become part of the campus-level plan? How should we define our campus-level vision and goals?
At U-M, we engaged 51 units in a year-long process of developing their individual strategic plans while simultaneously creating a central plan that both supported and expanded upon the unit plans.
We provided a core structure for the plans based on domains such as teaching and learning, research and service, and promoting an equitable and inclusive community. We also provided a template for each unit plan that included strategic objectives, annual action items, and overarching goals for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Each month, we met with a group of DEI Leads representing units from across campus as they constructed DEI strategic plans within their units. Once the plans were submitted, they were reviewed by DELT, our leadership group, and the units received feedback on their efforts.
Implementing a campus-wide, centralized and decentralized strategic planning process requires steadfast commitment. It is vitally important to create basic infrastructure to support this endeavor over the course of time. Recommended elements for a multi-year DEI strategic plan implementation include:
- Creating a highly visible campus launch event, with an annual anchoring event in subsequent years. At U-M, this was our DEI Summit (see related topic for details).
- Hosting regular meetings with DEI Leads or other campus leaders and liaisons to share information, exchange ideas and develop best practices
- Continuing to engage the campus through regular town halls and community events to allow feedback, new ideas and priorities to surface
- Responding to negative incidents that may occur on campus or at the local, national or international level. Providing support for those who are directly or indirectly feeling their impact is important. It’s also advisable to offer guidance for leaders across campus on ways to be responsive and to maintain communications at the campus level.
- Provide professional development on DEI topics for all “layers” of the campus community, from executive officers to deans, department chairs, students, faculty and staff at all levels and from all functional areas.
U-M’s DEI Strategic Plan and Implementation continue to be evaluated and assessed in a multitude of ways:
- An annual reporting process highlights progress in support of action plans and strategic objectives for each participating unit. An online tool is pre-populated with each unit’s stated annual actions to support achieving the objectives, to which units add completion status and statements of progress and impact.
- A Central DEI Progress Report is produced annually and provides both transparency and accountability by describing progress to date and work underway for all annual action items that support strategic plan objectives. This report covers initiatives at the central campus level as well as spotlighting endeavors across campus, based on unit progress reports (see item 1 above). A listing of all unit objectives, action items, and completion status is published as well.
- A set of metrics, including demographic and campus climate data, are being tracked across the five-year implementation period. Large-scale campus climate surveys were conducted in year one of our implementation period and will be repeated at the end of the five-year window.
The impact of our DEI efforts has also been documented through the evaluation of signature initiatives at the unit level, through the tracking of quantitative and qualitative metrics, and in a notable shift in campus culture toward viewing DEI efforts as integral to our mission as a public institution and essential to our achieving excellence in teaching, research, and service.
We should note that this effort is ongoing, and progress is uneven and difficult to fully assess. As further evidence that our work is having an impact, mechanisms are now in place to identify areas in need of attention and to address those needs.
- Assess your campus readiness. Are top decision-makers on board with DEI? Are the resources there? Meet with key stakeholders for their perspective on engaging in a strategic planning process. If university leadership—including the president—isn’t solidly behind the initiative, it’s best to shelve plans for now.
- Review your capacity for assessment and evaluation. Data is a key element in shaping and informing DEI needs, and in demonstrating accountability during and after the planning and implementation effort.
- Undertake a campus-wide DEI audit. What programs are in place? What DEI-related work is underway? Identify key gaps and opportunities to guide your strategic plan.
- Develop a timeline for the pre-planning process, for building the strategic plan, and for implementation.
- Create a communications plan to keep your campus informed and engaged throughout the planning and implementation process. You can do great work, but if you don’t communicate effectively, you won’t achieve the transparency and accountability so essential for building trust, and your efforts may be overlooked or misunderstood.
- Build a strategy to support “planning for the plan.” Before you launch a campus strategic planning process, prepare for it. Make sure that staff and support are in place for both the strategic planning process and implementation.
- Having unit-based liaisons as partners, as we did with DEI Leads, is a highly effective method for coordinating a campus-wide strategic plan and implementation. Leads become the lifeblood of the process, a source of support for one another, and a sounding board for campus leadership.
- Managing expectations is important throughout the planning and implementation process. The plan won’t be perfect, nor will the implementation. It’s important to realize that there will be learning and adjustment throughout the process.
- Both the process and the outcomes are important. An inclusive and thoughtful process not only helps to assure effective outcomes, but also demonstrates the goal of being an organization that is continuously striving and learning in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.