At a time of extreme uncertainty, what immediate, creative actions should we take to ensure W&M’s resilience over the next two years? In very pragmatic terms: what pathways to opening in person can we identify for the next academic year? Looking further ahead, what can we gain from this time of short-term creativity – drawing on the work of strategic planning, to date – that may help W&M flourish in the longer term?
"Plan Ahead Team" (PAT) Charge
Over 5 weeks of intensive work, this small, multidisciplinary team will plan generatively for 18 months of disruption during and post-pandemic. They will sketch middle- and worst-case scenarios for that period and coordinate the work of several small squads responding to those scenarios. Each squad will focus generatively on a particular domain of response, rapidly identifying potential actions to advance W&M's short- and long-term goals. Output at week 5: a portfolio of pragmatic actions to help see us through the next 18 months successfully.
Overall, the team's goal is to shift W&M's mindset to creative planning for the fall and beyond. Even as the pandemic unfolds in a fast-moving and disruptive way, this planning mechanism will identify potential short-term adaptations that should lessen potential negative impacts going forward.
Planning Ahead Process Description
Week 1 (May 4-8): Ideation and Scenario-Building [PAT]
We hope and intend to teach on campus, in person, next fall. What planning steps should we take, to maximize that possibility for the fall and prepare for longer-term impacts? After working through the questions below, the core team will build 2-3 medium- and worst-case scenarios around their answers.
Questions about what we have learned so far:
What aspects of W&M's organizational behaviors as a response to the crisis have potential long-term benefit if we were to retain them, and why? In answering this question, please reflect on the planning assumptions generated in January 2020 by the Strategic Planning Steering Committee.
Of all the concerns and challenges that manifested in this crisis, what will be our top concerns as we continue to operate during the pandemic? Which of these are most important for us to pay attention to and plan around?
What kinds of governmental restrictions might be in place that impact our plans and operations?
What processes and procedures need to be in place should we have a second wave or recurrence?
How much will people travel?
How many people can stay together / meet together at once?
How unsafe and uncertain will people feel? (Very, we already know.)
How financially vulnerable will people be? (Very, we already know.)
How can we raise awareness/provide training to people so they can recognize the psychological impact of living through this uncertain time?
Value and mindset questions:
What are the most important kinds of value W&M can provide our constituents in a pandemic age – traditional and new? W&M is a trusted institution that has navigated extraordinary crises.
What are the likely mindsets our key constituencies will have during an ongoing pandemic? How might we address them, given who we are at W&M?
I.e., there will be a high need to alleviate an ongoing sense of loss. Could W&M reorient towards a broader "us" – towards service and deepening human connections, because helping others alleviates our own loss?
Similarly, it may be harder to introduce people to one another, to new relationships, right now. The friction of building trust with newcomers is very high. So could building smaller cohorts help, particularly for new, incoming students?
"Us vs. Them" thinking is natural after trauma. Could we lessen it by seeking partners in projects directed towards solving a social equity or health equity issue?
Week 2-3 (May 11-22): Rapid Design [Squads]
Squads are led by PAT members and include W&M domain experts. They should put forth open calls for ideas, to the whole community, for W&M's best ideas to promote each squad's goals.
Squad charge: given the scenarios provided by the PAT, brainstorm creative solutions that apply across scenarios. Develop concepts fast and run them past key constituents and partners for feedback: faculty, students, staff, alumni, employers, regional entities, etc. Note: this phase is about generating, not implementing, potential solutions. In that generative mode, each squad has specific domains and goals:
Resilient Curriculum Delivery: structural adjustments that would increase the likelihood of a successful AY21 and beyond: late start, compressed semester, shorter sessions, use of summer, blended and flipped courses, smaller sections, etc. This group will connect with the deans' curricular baseline scan as warranted.
Resilient Operations: research-based scans of efficient improvements to the operation, culture, physical plant: hands-free fixtures and doors, at scale COVID-testing, electronic transactions, supply chain needs, etc. What will make our community safe and make them feel safe?
De-densify Space: creative solutions to spread out the workforce and student body so as to reduce risk of infection and illness: work shifts, lodging partners, rotate classroom venues, etc.
Expand Career Pathways: during the worst economy since the Great Recession, how can W&M community members support each other and our region? How can we help a surrounding region where many are furloughed? How might we partner with VA employers? How can students help alumni and alums help students? Could we create onboarding courses for seniors with their employers, free professional development for those who are furloughed, etc.
Forge Community via Broad Calls to Service: given the university's history and values, what broad calls to service might W&M initiate and lead: directed towards solving a social equity or health issue that the pandemic casts in relief? What will call our students back?
Week 4 (May 25-29): Convene and Converge [PAT and Squads]
Flash presentations to the president and the whole PAT – perhaps feedback from the community, SPSC, Cabinet+?
Identify what could be implemented and piloted during spring-summer
Identify what could be implemented during fall
Week 5-6 (June 1-12): Choose paths that are directionally correct
Decisions on paths forward by the president
Identify and assign implementation leads
Identify resources and execution pathways: consultations with existing governance bodies and processes, etc.
Open calls to the community to join the effort in defined ways
Select image for larger display of the leadership structures by operational mode.