Initial Publication Date: July 9, 2018

Make Change Happen at your Institution

Information on these pages are drawn from presentations by Judith Ramaley, President Emerita and Distinguished Professor of Public Service, Portland State University

Related Videos

This suite of web pages builds on discussions begun in a series of InTeGrate webinars featuring Dr. Ramaley.

Expanding the Impact of InTeGrate Projects, February, 10, 2015

Supporting Departmental and Institutional Change by Teaching for a Sustainable Future, June 18, 2015

Making Change Happen at your Institution, May 27, 2016

There are no simple, explicit answers to most questions about how to make sustainable change happen at institutions. Because each institution and department is unique, making a department stronger depends on factors such as what is going on at a particular institution, who is in the cast of characters, and what issues and priorities are on each person's mind.

Despite this hurdle, there are a few General Guidelines that can help you design answers that fit your campus context and the many different ways that others at your institution look at problems and possibilities. These differences in mindset arise from each person's disciplinary perspectives, the standards of proof that each discipline honors and expects, as well as from the kinds of experiences that people have had, both on campus and in their personal lives that affect their overall attitudes and expectations. It takes experience and a significant amount of patience to "read" the characteristics of your own campus culture and to learn to see issues through a lens different from your own. Reading that environment will enable you to navigate effectively within your own campus culture and context.

Reading your Institution: A starting guide

In terms of reading how your institution works and how to best facilitate change, here are some questions to think about to get started:

  • What else is going on that may be creating momentum and avenues for collaboration?
    • Are there any campus-wide efforts to enhance the student experience or improve retention/graduation rates, career-readiness, etc.?
  • Are you working in a conducive environment that embraces collaboration?
    • Looking at your local environmental setting, what challenges or concerns are there (extreme weather events, flooding, drought, sinkholes, etc.) that you can use as a laboratory for your students and as a focus for scholarship and collaboration?
    • Is your institution involved in any sustainability projects either internally or in partnership with the broader community or both?
  • How ready is your campus to engage in significant change of any kind?
    In particular, think about your institution's:
    • Policies and practices
    • Experience with successful change efforts
    • Distribution of resources, including what kinds of information are used to guide allocations
    • Infrastructure to support faculty leadership and is there a shared governance model
    • Capacity to engage in evidence-based change and effective institutional research efforts to support this
    • Leadership support for intentional change
    • Existing examples of collaboration internally or with the broader community surrounding your institution that offer lessons and opportunities
  • In what ways can your project contribute to the capacity of your campus to adapt to changing expectations, needs and conditions? What connections do you have to other change efforts?
    • Who knows about your work and who cares?
    • Have you gotten the attention and buy-in of senior administrative and faculty leadership?
    • If you have had significant turnover in leadership since your project got underway, what are you doing to get buy-in from the new President, Provost, Dean, Faculty Senate Steering Committee, other?
    • Can you clearly state how your mission will directly relate to the campus' mission? What assets already exist that support the work - related projects, special strategies/signature themes?
    • How do you know who to go to? -- Who are the gatekeepers and stakeholders who are setting institutional priorities and who control distribution of resources (and is governor/government hands-on or no?) Capitalize on where you can generate the most interest on your campus governing/decision-making board.

Setting up a Cycle of Innovation

The process you are undertaking that is not a simple task. The path to systemic change is a long journey with obstacles to overcome, occasions to recognize accomplishments, opportunities to evaluate the process, and pauses to plan the next set of goals. It is an iterative process that will develop overtime at your institution and requires you to adapt and be as resilient as your students will be.

Below is a general step model for how to go about change at your institution. Setting up this cycle of innovation creates a process that works continuously from the beginning and as you expand your project.

Related Resources

The Network of STEM Education Centers (NSEC) has developed a resource on Developing an Interative, Ongoing Process to communicating mission and vision.

Step 1. Create a compelling case for change using both qualitative and quantitative evidence to tell the story

Step 2. Select the first target

Step 3. Set meaningful goals and measure progress toward achieving those goals

Step 4. Identify and use available capacity

Step 5. Make connections that reinforce and expand the effort and its impact; adapting as needed

Step 6. Learn from the experience, rebalance and apply the lessons learned

Step 7. Select the next target and repeat these steps.

Institutional Change Resources at For Higher Ed

Explore the General Guidelines

Understand your Campus Culture

Campus culture can provide insight into the values and beliefs of the campus' members and its surrounding community. Understanding the campus culture is key in designing a shared vision for desired change.

Read more »

Create a Positive Context

Keep it positive! A change agenda should be framed in a way that offers a positive message and does not build walls or assign or imply blame. Create an environment that listens to and values the community's contributions and experience.

Read more »

Understand Potential Reactions to Change

Change isn't easy and potential for change can elicit a defensive response. Thus, understanding potential reactions to change is helpful in designing your plan, pitching it in a non-threatening way, and preparing for potential challenges.

Read more »

Initiate a Change Effort: An Exercise

This exercise consists of a series of questions that can lead thought about how to get a new change effort off the ground in a particular context.

Read more »

Sustaining Change Over the Long Term

The path to systemic change is a long journey that requires setting up a cycle of innovation that promotes effective communication of your findings and how they fit within your campus culture and your institution's mission.

Read more »

Student Success Change Efforts

Defining 'what is student success and what does it look like' is complex in nature, but it can provide a solid base for designing the goals of your department or program. Once desired outcomes are defined, work backward to set up how to meet those outcomes.

Read more »

Apply an Equity Lens

Many institutions are seriously engaged in creating a truly equitable and inclusive educational environment across the entire campus community. If this is the case at your institution, you should be able to draw upon local experience and guidance to help you undertake a project to promote student success and to facilitate new kinds of student outcomes.

Read more »


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