A SUMMARY OF THE PLANNING PROCESS

Developing a master plan is essentially the process of responding to 5 basic questions about the institution and its place in the world:

-What is happening in the world around us?
-What is our current situation?
-Where do we want to be in five to ten years?
-How do we get there?
-How will we know if we are getting there?

The answers to these questions will constitute the elements of the plan. Here is a brief overview of how to obtain these answers and how it was done at the college during this planning cycle. The people referred to in the text as the "planning group" are the ones who are responsible for making the major planning decisions. Here this group is the Master Plan Task Force (MPTF) which is composed of the administrators, the division chairs, and representatives from the Senate, the Guild, the CSEA, and the ASB. The planning group needs a small committee to organize the planning process, gather the planning material, and facilitate its meetings: this is done here by the Master Plan Steering Committee (SC).

Question 1.Environmental scan: what is happening in the world around us?

What are the developments and trends in the various environments in which the institution operates?

Procedure: he best way to answer this question is to invite experts on these environments and bring them on campus to educate the planning group. This can be done in one big retreat or several afternoon gatherings over a period of weeks. After these presentation, the planning group draws its conclusions about what is happening: these will be the assumptions on which the plan will rest. Here are examples of environments and possible speakers:

-education: education researchers, University, K-12 and Chancellor’s office representatives;
-politics: elected officials or their assistants, research aides to the California legislature;
-technology: technology consultants, EduCause or League for Innovation experts;
-work force: economists, EDD secretary, local business leaders;
-demographics: internal institutional researchers.

For this planning cycle, we had three from the first group: Jim Brown from the Glendale Unified, Arthur Cohen from UCLA, and Carolyn Jarmon from Rensselaer; one from the second group: Jack Scott, our State senator; three from the third group: Mike Zastrocky from Gartner, Marc Milliron from the League, and K. C. Green who runs the Campus Computing Survey; and one from the last group: Jack Kyser from the LA Economic Development Corporation. All presentations were open to all members of the college community. Our demographics are provided through the Campus profile and other publications by Edward Karpp and the Institutional Research Office.

Result:The result of this "environmental scan" is a set of assumptions on what the institution should expect its environments to become in the future. These assumptions, adopted by the planning group, are then the building blocks on which the plan rests.

Question 2.Internal assessment: what is our current situation?

How are we equipped to cope with these changes and developments?

Procedure:To achieve a satisfactory and realistic answer here, the planning group must be able to rely on a thorough, multifaceted evaluation of the institution. There are several major elements of this evaluation: what is the quality of the college’s programs and services, how is it perceived by its various clienteles, what is the state of its own infrastructure and operations, how well is it doing financially, etc.

Gathering data for this evaluation can be done in a number of ways:

a) Through surveys and/or focus groups such as students, local residents, in particular business and civic leaders, K-12 and university representatives, and college personnel. Some of the surveys can be conducted by institutional researchers, but for phone interviews and focus groups it is sometimes more reliable to use independent (outside) observers, or at least neutral, non-administrative insiders. This is an area where professional consultants are often hired.

b) Through the measurement of various performance indicators such as retention and success rates, transfer rates, satisfaction of employers, efficiency of operations, financial data, quality and quantity of equipment and facilities, etc. Some of this can be obtained from college sources such as the Institutional Research Office or the college controller, but developing and measuring good performance indicators is often difficult for institution like ours, just as it is in the business world.

c) Through an examination of the college’s infrastructure and operations. Outside specialists are often useful here. They can provide a second, unbiased opinion that can be invaluable, especially in technical areas where the planning group has the least knowledge. This is also a place to check on the health of various programs and include the results of the program review process.

Here at the college we have followed the approach suggested in the “Balanced Scorecard” a book by Robert Kaplan and Robert Norton and which is based on four major components: the institution’s financial performance, its relations with its customers, the quality of its operations, and the capabilities of its personnel and its information systems. This approach makes a lot of sense and has gained respect and followers in business as well as in higher education; it is also recommended by our Gartner consultants..

To gather the data we have surveyed students and college personnel and conducted a number of focus groups. We have also incorporated all relevant data gathered by the Institutional Research Office and the Retention Office. We have talked to various college officials, and have tried to obtain as good an estimate of the state of the institution as we could.

Result:The result of this evaluation is the inventory of institutional strengths and weaknesses, major opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis). Here this inventory was communicated to all MPTF members and, in addition, it was also summarized in the form of Planning Papers which were published college-wide and explored the “challenges and opportunities” in various sectors of the institution.

Question 3. Vision and goals: where do we want to be in six years?

What kind of priorities and directions should we assign to the institution?

Procedure:This is the heart of the planning process. It is the place where the planning group has to make four critical sets of decisions:

1. revisit the mission statement and rephrase it as needed within the confines of state laws;
2. establish its core values, i.e. what it believes in as an institution;
3. formulate a vision for the future of the institution;
4. determine a set of goals and priorities.

This should be done by the planning group with the help of a facilitator. The process can involve several rounds, such as brainstorming, discussions, and prioritizing, before final review and acceptance. The goals should target the different areas that have been examined: instructional programs, student services, personnel, facilities, technology, finances, public relations, etc. They should aim at dealing with problems and taking advantage of opportunities.

The college’s current mission statement was revised during the last planning cycle and was left unchanged this time. It is largely determined by the State and it includes the educational values that the college supports. The goals were determined indirectly by looking first at problem points and brainstorming about strategies to deal with these issues. The strategies were then conflated and grouped under ten general goal statements from which emerged the major themes of the plan which in turn were reflected in the vision statement.

Result:This step leaves the college with a mission statement that includes its core educational values, a vision statement, and a set of major goals for the next six years.

Question 4:Implementation plans: how do we get there?

How do we implement this plan, i.e. the vision and the goals? What are the steps and the timetables, what resources do we need, who will be in charge?

Procedure:The planning group supervises this section and determines its broad outline and major components. But it delegates the development of detailed implementation plans to institutional committees. This may on occasion require professional services, again mostly in technical areas. Each of these implementation plans should contain the following elements:

• what is to be done and for whom;
• how it will be done, with steps and timelines;
• what resources are needed: personnel, services, IT support, facilities, equipment, and funds;
• who is in charge of each component of the plan.

We have developed a set of preliminary implementation plans that cover almost every section of the Master Plan. In these plans, we have again followed the Balanced Scorecard methodology: in each case we have first asked that preparers clearly determine who their customers were and what service they proposed to do or improve for them. Then we asked that they look mostly at what operations or processes they needed to set up or revamp and at what resources they would need in order to accomplish what they intended. We have left the specifics of steps, timelines, and responsibilities to the implementation groups to work out in the first year of the plan.

Result: The outcome of this step is the six-year implementation plans for the institutional goals. It is difficult, however, to plan very precisely what will happen six years in the future, and so these plans are by nature approximate. That is why we have focused here on getting a clear picture of what is to be accomplished and left many of the year-to-year details to be worked out during the implementation itself.

Question 5: Performance indicators: how do we know if we are getting there?

What key performance indicators (KPIs) should we measure to monitor progress and what targets should we have for them?

Procedure: This is what business people call "metrics" and "benchmarks." It is an important, and often neglected, section of the plan. What is needed is a set of measurable parameters that will give an observer a good idea of whether the institution is actually making progress in implementing its plan. Once these indicators are determined by the planning group in consultation with Institutional Research, each one must be measured immediately (or have been measured recently) to establish a baseline. Then, the planning group decides what values each one should attain at various stages of the plan. These will be the objectives.

These indicators usually fall into three groups:
.input indicators: what goes in;
.process indicators: how progress is being made;
.output and outcome indicators: what is the result: these are the most important.

The current Master Plan includes only outcome indicators since they are the most critical ones. Other KPIs on inputs and processes have been listed only in implementation plans as “strategic” KPIs. Since baseline figures were in many cases not available, no specific target numbers for the KPIs were included in the plan. The Institutional Research office will complete the determination of these baseline data during the first year of the plan and will then come back to the MPTF with proposed target numbers, i.e. objectives, for the duration of the plan.

Result:When this step is complete the plan will contain a set of KPIs and objectives. At present only the KPIs have been determined.

Prepared by Jean Lecuyer

Last updated: 7/22/2010 9:56:18 AM