Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Capabilities

A few blog posts ago, I opined that the most important technologies in advancement would be those that allow institutions to better listen and respond to their constituents. I saw demonstration of such a technology earlier this week. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you’re in the planning stages of a campaign and your trying to determine how internal aspirations map against external interests so you can set realistic, attainable fund raising goals. You get a bunch of people in a virtual room -- 100 faculty, 100 alumni from different generations, 100 major donors or whatever configuration works best for you -- all looking at the same decision-mapping information on their computer screens. The moderator proposes an agenda and invites reaction to it. You can allow the various groups to view the reactions of others, making it possible, for instance, for the alumni to see the reactions of their fellow alumni and of the faculty and donors, or you can arrange it so they can only see the reaction of their peers, while only you compare and contrast the reactions of the various groups, noting the most significant gaps and the greatest commonalities.

Once the agenda is formed, options can be teed up for discussion, including fund-raising emphases, communication strategies or organizational challenges. Participants are invited to make suggestions in each area, see all the suggestions made, then vote on the subset they find most attractive, then vote on the priority order of those options. Within a matter of seconds, the tallies -- presented literally, in graph or table form -- can be seen. In a ninety-minute session, hundreds of participants can weigh in on matters of import, watch how their opinions stack up against others, and how the general “will of the community” emerges, option by option, topic by topic.

Participants will be complimented to be involved in a substantive, consequential discussion, and better informed and wiser for having been exposed to views of other constituents. You will receive large amounts of invaluable information immediately and very insightful analyses of the voting patterns, and what they say about each constituent group’s proclivities, within a matter of days. The data, when interpreted though the lens of experience and intuition, can produce breakthroughs into new levels of understanding, both between institutional leaders their constituents, and between various constituent groups. Conducting a series of these 90 minute sessions over several months would involve and therefore cultivate larger numbers, and yield more current, valuable information for a fraction of the costs of traditional feasibility studies. Conducting these sessions once or twice a year would allow to monitor progress against the first discussion and to keep many more stakeholders on board.

This same technology can be used to weigh the depth and impact of a campus controversy, to see if it is reaching crisis proportions, how it is being interpreted by internal and external constituencies, where communication is breaking down and which messages are having the greatest resonance with which stakeholders. This “real time” decision-making tool can help administrators respond according the depth of feeling experienced in different ways by different constituents, and thereby avoid under or over-reaction.

This tool is no substitute for face-to-face interaction but a cost-effective way to augment and amplify finite human and financial resources. In these times, when our resources and those of our constituents are so constrained, threatening to erode our ability to communicate and build a stronger sense of community, these are indeed welcome innovations.

P.S. Here are my thoughts on engaging the Board in your campaign:

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