Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Simplify Your Internal Marketing - Experiment and Evaluate Strategies to Promote Engagement in Academic Assessment

Working with new partners allows our team to continuously examine institutional assessment cultures. Early meetings with partners are inspiring brainstorming sessions that expose great ideas for improved practices. As schedules fill up and various individuals or units on campus begin to push against our assessment efforts, it is easy for attitudes to shift and for these meetings to become less productive venting sessions. Administrators find themselves unable to foster true cultures of assessment with no means to incentivize participation. The missing element between the mountaintop excitement of those initial meetings and earnest disappointment in the academic environment is the internal marketing plan that engages everyone in assessment processes. Without such a plan, developing a culture of assessment in academia is like working on a puzzle without the box to know what the big picture is.

Internal marketing strategies can be adopted from business and communication models. Strategies should be simple; there is no need to over think how you will reach out to other administrators, instructors, students and alumni. Remember, these people are your colleagues and consumers; growth is the target and you are all on the same team!

Set reasonable goals
. Plan to tackle bite size chunks while maintaining your vision. If you would like for all units to adopt a certain practice in the next academic year, let all parties involved know at the onset of the implementation. Then, provide updates on progress as individual units engage and adopt. 

Build a strong network
. Academic units are siloed and can be difficult to reign in. Ensure that you have each unit’s attention by creating a specific connection in each unit who can help you to get to know its culture of teaching and learning.

Know your audience
. Consider all of the stakeholders you are seeking to engage.  Ask them how they would like to learn about policy changes and practice recommendations. Demonstrate that you value their opinions.

Document problems, solutions, and ideas
. As you work toward your goals, keep public and private notes about the problems that have arisen. Document how those challenges were overcome and record ideas for improvement in the future. Key in on those providing negative feedback – share all sides of the arguments to demonstrate genuine transparency. All stakeholders should know how to access this information, but it should be delivered directly as well.

Experiment and evaluate
. The scientific method can be extended to any method of trying new assessment practices on campus. Consider five bullet points to summarize (1) what new practice was attempted, (2) who participated, (3) what goals were met or not met, (4) how this practice can be extended, – or – what information are you seeking to improve the practice, and (5) what the next steps are. Share this summary widely in the form of website posts, emails, social media, or digital displays on campus.

Recognize and celebrate success
. Participants respond to recognition and will maintain motivation if there are tangible incentives. Ask instructors to speak at events about their practices to provide experience that they can add to their CVs. Invite students to propose ideas to faculty and administrators. Publicize work that is being done in the name of assessment on your website. Highlight opportunities for stakeholders to present at conferences off campus to expand their networks.

Not every attempt will be a great success, but if your institution values assessment, it will invest in continued attempts. Before I started working in academia, I was hesitant to try new practices on wide scales for fear of failure or loss of respect from stakeholders. Academia is one of the few spaces in the consumer market that can embrace change without losing its consumers. The ideals of ready, fire, aim have grown on me because there is so much room for growth, faith in experimentation, and opportunity for safe risk.

Becky Yannes, AEFIS Team

For more, check out the following recommended reading

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