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Don’t Give Up Your Shot
Don’t Give Up Your Shot


Don’t Give Up Your Shot

Oct 26, 2021By Lindsey Waldrop

You’re ready to get started on a new project.

You’ve got buy-in from institutional leadership, you’ve researched and selected a best-fit partner (ahem) for it, and you’ve gotten a green light from procurement to move forward. You’re beginning to dream in primary and secondary brand colors and are ready to talk design ideas …

Pump the brakes for a moment, and let’s talk discovery.

The discovery process is where the magic begins. Don’t give up your shot at finding that magic.

For your partner agency, discovery is the process of getting immersed in your institution. However, we recommend that you take a step back and think about how the process benefits you — how you can leverage this part of the project to serve your strategic objectives.

We believe discovery has three potential benefits:

  1. Discovery can help you build, strengthen, or, in some cases, repair the lines of communication across campus. By setting the right tone, you can use the project to break down silos that often exist among departments such as admissions, advancement, or marketing and communications, and then focus on building bridges across departments in service of strengthening your institution’s brand. And all of this begins with discovery.
  2. Discovery can give you a forum for people to be heard.
  3. Discovery can open the door to addressing issues of governance.

You might be wondering who needs to be a part of this first phase of the project, or why it’s important to involve colleagues outside of your core project team. Engaging the folks who bring your campus to life will help to highlight what sets your institution apart from your competitors.

By putting a few simple measures in place, you can help to facilitate productive, enlightening, and fun stakeholder engagement sessions.

Three tips for planning the stakeholder engagement sessions of your dreams:

1.) Know who you want to include — and who you don’t.

Think about both the project’s formal and informal champions. Which up-and-comers have the drive and ambition to see this project succeed? Who will help to paint the most accurate picture of what it’s really like to attend your institution.

At a minimum, you will want to involve students, school leadership, faculty, and administrators who can share their insider perspective on your institution’s culture, community, and campus life. Key questions to consider:

  • Who can speak best to what is happening across your campus(es) in terms of enrollment and any recent trends? How is the current website integrated into your recruitment efforts? What pain points do prospective students experience when visiting the website?
  • Who is best positioned to share information related to students’ academic experience? What types of hands-on learning opportunities are available to students? Which programs are most popular, and which are poised for growth?
  • Who is best qualified to speak about the on-campus student experience? Where do students live? What type of clubs and activities are most popular? Do you have an athletics program? How would you describe the overall vibe on campus?
  • Who is able to address the institution’s approach to teaching? What innovative research is your faculty conducting? How does the school promote faculty thought leadership?
  • Who is best positioned to report on major initiatives at the senior leadership level? Who can share information related to the institution’s diversity, equity, and inclusion practices? What are your major or capital campaigns and fundraising initiatives? Which senior leaders are the champions of this redesign project, and how can you keep them engaged?
  • Get comfortable knowing that not everyone needs to be in attendance. In some cases, you’ll want to deputize colleagues to represent their departments or units. We’ve seen some of the best-intentioned sessions go awry simply because there were too many people in the room. The ideal size for a stakeholder engagement session is five to 12 people, and certainly no more than 15 people.

2.) Know what you want from them.

Spending a little time preparing participants for these sessions can go a long way.

Ask your partner agency to prepare purpose statements and potential questions in advance of each stakeholder session so you can share them in advance. This way, participants will know what to expect and can prepare for fruitful and purposeful conversations.

3.) Determine how you want to be involved.

An important goal of stakeholder engagement sessions is to uncover potential issues and opportunities the website redesign project will need to address. Take a moment to reflect on how your presence may affect how participants share feedback and how you’d like to be involved. Would you prefer to be an active participant and attend each session? Or would you prefer to create a more confidential space for participants to voice their thoughts? There is no right or wrong way to stay engaged in the process, but it is always helpful when you have had a chance to be intentional about it.

The discovery process can lay the groundwork for active participation and engagement. It can be the catalyst for a new spirit of communication and collaboration, a chance for people to feel and know they’ve been heard, and an opportunity for you to begin talking about long-standing governance issues in a relatively safe and nonconfrontational setting. Don’t give up your shot.

  • Lindsey Waldrop Director of Web Strategy Lindsey Waldrop specializes in developing and implementing ideas that elevate brand awareness through strategy, storytelling, and rich user experience across all touchpoints. She is a connector at heart and enjoys helping colleges and universities discover new ways to engage the hearts and minds of future students and their families.