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Case Study: Virtual Engagement in Action

Donald Norris

Tim Gilmour’s last blog introduced the potentially revolutionary impact of adding a virtual engagement layer that accelerates and enables a successful transformation experience, deploying the tools of video conferencing, whiteboards, and Generative AI. This layer enabled changes in the dynamics and outcomes of the transformation experience when combined with a toolkit of six planning tools, reinvented for Transformation for Turbulent Times. This blog describes the dynamics of these revolutionary tools in action at The School of Pharmacy-Boston, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

The Dynamics of the Virtual Engagement Layer In Action

We used the Miro whiteboard product to dynamically and consecutively array all of the elements of our planning and implementation process and to maintain a record in the cloud, available to participants throughout the process. In addition, we changed the dynamics of a standard planning process in the following ways:

  • Deployed facilitators trained in both our planning and virtualization tools. They facilitated working sessions with the planning teams and worked on the Miro board materials between sessions.

  • Rather than half-day or full-day face-to-face planning sessions, we convened the planning teams in two-hour virtual working sessions, with a week or two between sessions.

  • Participants used conversation and sticky notes to contribute to the various planning exercises and capture inputs. The two-hour sessions were broken up into a combination of presentation, conversation, and highly active work sessions.

  • The facilitators worked on and improved the work products between sessions. The individual members of the planning team could also revisit and improve their work products between meetings. The Miro Board became a running account of all working sessions and changes made between sessions.

  • The planning team assumed greater ownership as the process progressed. The members were given time between sessions to refine their work product and develop their skills in operating in the virtual engagement environment.

  • In the process, planning teams identified opportunities, clustered them into big ideas, then synthesized those into 5-7 strategies. These strategies were synthesized and refined by the facilitators and members of the planning team. As the process progressed, we discovered how to use analytics and generative AI to improve the written text and construct strategies.

  • The individual strategies were incorporated into a short strategic plan, including a one-page graphic summarizing mission, vision, core values, and strategies. The strategic planning process and draft plan were completed in 11 two-hour sessions. We found we could complete such strategic planning processes in half the calendar time and cost of traditional, face-to-face processes. The dynamics of the experience and outcomes were also substantially better and far more suited to the challenge and opportunities facing institutions in turbulent, transformative times.

  • Moving from strategic plans to implementation, we formed multiple teams, one associated with each strategy. Other working groups emerged over time to help with futuring, analysis, and synthesis.

  • These teams built expedition maps, which were subsequently used to orchestrate transformative change over time. Each expedition map combined information on 1) specified desired future states, 2) accelerators and decelerators, 3) financial resources needed, 4) organizational capacities to be acquired, 5) targets and outcomes, and 6) required changes in culture.

  • The expedition maps were progressively refined to take account of both aspirations and organizational capability and refine the expectations for what could be achieved in particular terms and years.

  • The expedition maps were then continuously updated in response to changing environmental conditions and trends. They became part of the implementation process, which we came to call “orchestrating transformation” - a better description fitting the times.

  • The expedition maps were available in real-time throughout the course of the orchestration. They could be adapted continuously to capture new changes in the environment, evolving views of the future, and reassessments of the institution’s capacity to achieve the outcomes and metrics established for particular timeframes. A strategic initiative team was associated with each expedition throughout the orchestration process, collaborating with the leaders and staff responsible for operational action planning and execution of each strategic initiative.

How Did This Virtualization Capacity Improve the Transformation Experience and Outcomes?

Six characteristics of the components of the Virtual Engagement Layer proved useful:

Virtual Whiteboard Provides a Canvas Where the Paint Is Always Wet. The virtual White Board captures an easily accessible chronological history of all of the inputs, conversations, and outputs of the strategic planning and implementation processes. During strategy crafting, this enabled views of the future and strategies to be rapidly prototyped and continuously refined. This both accelerated the process and elevated the quality of the strategies. The continuously changing expeditionary strategy maps were used to turn implementation into the orchestration of transformative change --- weaving together strategic actions, building organizational capacity and leadership talent, changing behaviors and culture, and achieving measurable targets.

Actively and Deeply Engage Larger Communities. From the start, we observed that the deployment of these suites of collaborative tools leads to better use of participants' time, much more meaningful participation by all involved, and greater buy-in. Moreover, transformative change requires the active and continuing engagement of hundreds of participants across the institution. Virtualized processes, supported by analytics and Generative AI (GAI), are essential to enlisting such an army of participants in transformation.

Reach Out to External Partners and Stakeholders. As institutions diversify their offerings and modes of learning to become the new breed of learning enterprise required by 2030, they will involve more partners and collaborators. Our virtualized planning ecosystem has proven adept in involving such collaborators in strategy crafting and orchestration and building insight and buy-in. Moreover, these virtualized tools have been used to include participants across multicampus systems to collaborate in ventures that have proven impossible using traditional planning processes and means of engagement.

Facilitate Active Orchestration of Transformation. To actively orchestrate transformation without a virtualized platform would be impossible. The combination of managing through expedition maps, continuously refining, tracking accomplishments and “early wins,” and charting changes in behaviors and culture requires the sort of data and analysis capacity provided by the Miro board supported by analytics and Generative AI (GAI).

Deploy Generative AI Throughout the Planning and Orchestration Processes. We have already used GAI in our suites of new tools to facilitate writing and synthesis and to summarize session notes in record time. We are now preparing to use GAI to brainstorm, facilitate strategy crafting, analysis, and execute new projects – and enhance productivity and performance. The Miro board-based record can be accessed by GAI to generate enhanced/revised strategies that reflect changing conditions and identify necessary interactions between strategies.

Generate Images to Maximize Visualization. Humans process visual images 40% faster and better than text. Therefore, we plan to use analytics and AI to dramatically increase the use of visualization, on a continuing basis, throughout planning for and orchestration of transformation, using the virtual engagement layer as the platform.

Coming Webinar Series on Getting Started on Transformation

The potentially revolutionary impact of new practices and tools will be explored in greater depth in a new webinar series from the Society for College and University Planning, “Getting Started on Transformation.” The series will feature three Webinars:

● Destination 2030: The Need for Transformation Architects (May 24)

● Leveraging New Tools to Revolutionize Transformation Efforts (June 7)


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