Thompson Rivers University 50th Anniversary
Thompson Rivers University 50th Anniversary

Fostering a new vision, one step at a time

Research shows that people expect many things of leaders. Integrity, competence, communication skills, and relatability are likely high on most lists. But I find one expectation is particularly interesting: the idea that a leader should have a vision. There are situations where leaders come into an organization from outside with a ready-made vision for change. Much more frequently, a leader’s job is not to provide an instant vision, but rather to foster the development and spread of a vision, and to become its best proponent. In other words, the leader’s job is to ensure there is a shared vision, not necessarily to be the only person to provide it. This shared-vision approach is especially relevant to complex organizations like universities, which have many goals and many key stakeholders.

At TRU, guided by these ideas, I have sought wide help and input, and have launched the best process I can think of to develop a shared university vision.

Developing a new vision for TRU

Envision TRU began in March of 2019 and is a one-year process to encourage dialogue from as many people as possible about the university’s future — a dialogue that will have tangible outcomes. To make the process inclusive, we’ve created many ways to participate: online discussion forums where anyone can write a comment or rate someone else’s comment; small-group discussions; community meetings; background research in the form of environmental scans to read; individual written submissions; and a network of volunteer-advisors on areas of interest and expertise. To make the process a conversation (rather than a snapshot or an opinion poll), Envision TRU is iterative — different questions and phases of discussion build on what went before.

The whole process lives on the website, where individuals can read prior comments, reports, and submissions. I have made it my job to read every contribution, and there have been a lot. As of September 2019, Envision TRU is halfway through its second phase.

Phase One results

Looking back on Phase One, what have we heard so far? Two things. First, we have gathered an open-ended list of specific suggestions, proposals, and points of view that will be a bank of ideas for leaders in different parts of our university to consider. Second, we have identified broad themes of consensus about our future. These themes emerged from topics raised in online discussions, which in turn provided focal points for small-group discussions. Based on wide online discussion and deep exploration in small groups, the emergent themes for TRU’s future include the following:

  • Student success is deeply embedded in our institution’s culture and values. Our faculty and staff care deeply about students and work to help them reach their potential. They do this through programs and courses and through student support services, two of the other prominent themes in Phase 1 discussions.
  • Valuing employees is important for TRU’s future. To fulfill our mission, we need engaged, aligned, and well-supported faculty and staff.
  • Pursuing Indigenization is a prominent theme. Participants expect Indigenization, decolonization, and reconciliation to be key to our future identity.
  • Interculturalization is central to what we want to become. We not only attract diverse, international, and Indigenous students and support them to succeed, we also facilitate them to engage and learn from each other. Our faculty, staff, and graduates will demonstrate intercultural competence to make this happen.
  • The role of TRU in the communities we serve emerged as a growing theme in the dialogue, much more prominently than the last time TRU developed strategic priorities. Our faculty, staff, and students are and will be engaged in our regional communities. Locally applicable research and graduates with practical experience will define us.
  • Pursuing sustainability is part of who we are. Our values are related to our place, to the land, rivers, mountains, plants, and animals that live here. We have already achieved platinum-class sustainability and expect to do even more in future.
  • Valuing research is a critical component of who we will become and how we will contribute to society.

Participants also talked quite a bit about the need to confirm who we are (identity), reflecting TRU’s stage of development as a new, young, and rapidly growing university that is and aims to be different from others. I want to reflect on this sense of identity in future blog posts. For now, I suspect the bullets above contain key elements of our uniqueness.

The full report on Phase One discussions is posted online.

When I reflect on the consensus themes above, I see them as coming close to providing a statement of values for TRU — a statement of things that will be enduringly important to us. Such a statement will be one key component for the outcome of Envision TRU.

What happens next?

Through further stages of discussion this fall and winter, Envision TRU will add at least two more components. We will develop a new, short, compelling vision statement to convey and inspire the kind of university and world we aim to create. And we will identify a new, short list of strategic areas to work on in the next 5-10 years. All of our values will remain important and guide us, while the strategic priorities will be more selective areas where we want particularly to change, do more, or do things differently. These new components will join our existing statement of TRU’s mission, which is a description of our key activities. So far we have not identified a need to change the mission statement.

The vision, mission, values, and priorities will together constitute our shared affirmation of identity and trajectory for TRU.

I am very excited to see how the next stages come together, and what exciting ideas emerge to guide us.

And if you haven’t already, please add your voice to our future. Go to EnvisionTRU and find out how.

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