Topic Team Toolkit Portland State University

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Portland State University
Topic Team Toolkit
Introduction to Topic Team Toolkit
As Portland State University undertakes the Portland State 2020 strategic planning effort, it is crucial
that that all of the people who have a stake in the operations of the university—students, faculty,
staff, administration, alumni, and people throughout the region—participate fully in creating the
university’s vision for the future. Among the most important venues for that participation are the
small groups we’re calling Topic Teams.
Topic Teams have a great responsibility for, and will have a great impact on, Portland State
University’s strategic direction through 2020. Each Team will tackle a specific issue facing PSU that
the Strategic Planning Development Team (SPDT) has identified as a key topic to focus on in the
final plan. Over the next few months, the Teams will work to research their assigned topic, discuss
possible actions the university might create to address it, and recommend those actions they feel the
university should undertake to make progress.
In order to meet the University’s timeline in completing this strategic plan, the SPDT asks that the
Topic Teams complete their recommendations by May 1, 2015.
Instructions
Forming the Topic Teams
To begin to form the teams, volunteers will be taken first from among the ranks of the SPDT. The
Project Support Team will then augment the teams by looking to lists of others who have expressed
interest in participating, and those who were nominated for SPDT membership but were not
ultimately placed on the team. The Project Support Team will then review this augmented team list
with the SPDT representatives on the Topic Team to ensure that an appropriate diversity of
voices/expertise is included. Once the Topic Team membership lists are finalized, each team will
have a kickoff meeting with a representative of the Project Support Team, who will assist them in
getting started, and in electing their co-leads.
Team Leadership, Size & Makeup
Each Team will be co-led by two Team Leaders from the PSU community who represent different
populations within the university—one faculty member and one student, for example. One Team
Leader must be a member of the SPDT in order to ensure connectivity between the groups. The
Teams work best with 6-10 people from an array of backgrounds and affiliations so that multiple
perspectives are present in any discussion. Each team should include at least one student.
Organizing the Topic Team Meetings
It will be important to keep the Team organized, and organizing its meetings will be very helpful in
bringing this about. We suggest creating and maintaining a standard agenda throughout the Team’s
meetings. (We’ve included a sample later in this toolkit.) We also suggest distributing the agenda in
advance, and bringing physical copies to the meeting as well; making sure the meetings begin and
end on time, so that every Team member feels their time is valuable; and distributing notes to the
Team as soon as possible after each meeting.
Suggested meeting schedule
Because its work is so important to the future of the University, each Team must investigate their
topic thoroughly and allow a reasonable amount of time for discussion and drafting of their
recommendations. The SPDT suggests that Topic Teams meet approximately biweekly as a group
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throughout the process and until they deliver their recommendation to the SPDT. In most cases, it is
anticipated that each team will need 5-6 meetings to complete their work.
Defining successful outcomes
A successful outcome for each Topic Team will be a completed recommendations document that
includes an overview of the current situation, recommendations for relevant measurable objectives
for the University, and several recommended initiatives that the University should undertake in order
to accomplish those objectives. More detailed descriptions of each of these elements can be found
in the “Definition of Terms” found on page 6 of this document. These recommendations will be
presented to the SPDT by the Topic Teams, and will be taken into consideration for inclusion in the
final Strategic Plan.
Mid-point check in
In order to make sure that each of the Topic Teams is making appropriate progress toward creating
a list of actionable recommendations that the university can take, the SPDT will schedule a check-in
conversation with the Team Leaders midway through the planning process. This will help maintain
focus within the Teams, answer any questions or issues within the Teams, and ensure each Team’s
work remains aligned with the work of the other Topic Teams and the larger strategic planning
process.
Minority reports
The Topic Teams, like the SPDT, will make decisions based on General Consensus. Each Team will
use consensus to arrive at its recommendations to the SPDT. However, this leaves the possibility
that some Team members do not agree with the Team’s final decision. In this instance, the
dissenting Team members may add a minority report, or a statement of their disagreement, to the
Team’s recommendations. These reports will become part of the final plan documentation, ensuring
that all points of view are captured in the strategic planning process. Please limit Minority Reports to
two written pages.
Resources
Charge from the Board of Trustees
The President received a charge from the Board of Trustees to initiate this strategic planning
process. Some portions of this charge are particularly salient to some or all of the topic teams:
“The plan should also reflect and contribute to achievement of statewide goals and priorities. The
plan should be based on reasonable assumptions regarding resources and assume that internal
funding decisions will continue to be made in the context of the Performance Based Budgeting
model.”
“The strategic plan should provide direction for the pursuit of this vision during the next five to
ten years, with a particular focus on the following:
How will PSU know we have become a ‘leading public urban university’? To which
institutions should we compare ourselves? How do we define and measure ‘leading’?
What is the time frame in which we seek to achieve the goal?
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What specifically do we mean by ‘excellence in student learning, innovative research, and
community engagement’? Are these equally important? What are the key metrics?
How much of our effort and resources do we focus on these three characteristics
compared to everything else? In particular, what trade-offs, if any, are needed between
the focus on `excellence' and that of providing broad access and opportunity?
How do the changes in higher education (reduced public funding, rising tuition and
concern about student debt, skepticism about the value of higher education, demographic
changes, rise of online learning, changes in the composition of faculty and staff, increased
pressures around salaries and benefits, diversification of providers, responsibility for 40-4020 and the completion agenda, etc.) influence how we pursue our goals?”
“What key changes and initiatives does PSU want to undertake in regard to our educational
offerings, methods of delivery, programs, business and employment practices, staffing, support
structures, funding sources and processes, etc. in order to succeed?”
Documentation
Should a Topic Team require any additional documentation to support their deliberations, the Project
Support Team will be available to gather salient materials. To request documentation, please contact
Project Manager Kari St. Peters at [email protected]
People
There may be a time when the Topic Teams need further clarity on any number of things—their
particular topic, what latitude they have, how their final deliverable should be put together, and so
on. They may also request assistance in facilitating through a complex discussion. They are
encouraged to contact the SPDT’s project support team for any such needs. A Team Leader can ask
for assistance by emailing Kari St. Peters at [email protected]
How to Use a Town Hall
Throughout the strategic planning process, members of the University community will be invited to
take part in Town Halls. Most of these Town Halls will be used to support the work of the Topic
Teams. Once a Topic Team has locked in on the specific problem they want to wrestle with, a Town
Hall will be a way for them to get input from the broader University community, or to bring in experts
for a panel discussion. These meetings could take many formats, but the use of Town Halls to make
the work of the Topic Teams engaging and transparent is encouraged. The Project Support Team
will reach out to Team Leads to schedule Town Halls for the teams.
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FAQ
What is a Topic Team?
A Topic Team is a small, focused group of individuals who explore a specific topic of relevance to
PSU’s strategic planning process and make recommendations about how to address it.
Who makes up a Topic Team?
A cross-section of the PSU community, including faculty, students, staff, administration, and
trustees, including members of the SPDT. Topic Teams are meant to be representative of the wide
range of positions, personalities, and background of the University community.
What does a Topic Team do?
Each Team is charged with investigating the topic they’ve agreed to study and making
recommendations for what actions the University should take to address it over the next five years.
What is my role on the Topic Team?
By agreeing to participate on a Topic Teams, you agree to contribute to the work of the group in
such a manner that you help the group create recommended actions consistent with the vision of the
PSU Strategic Plan. Your role is to:

Work with the Topic Team Leaders to keep meetings on time and on topic so that the best
use is made of people’s limited time.

Seek to involve others from the PSU community in the work of the group, even if they are not
members, so that the work is informed by a variety of viewpoints.

Strive for fact-based decision-making when possible, in order to reduce the impact of bias
and personal impression on the group’s decisions.

Participate and contribute in a manner that builds mutual trust and respect, and which brings
out the best work of the group.

Participate in a manner that is both respectful of PSU’s past and focused on its future.
Who is a Topic Team leader? What does he or she do?
Leaders are a pair of individuals who are responsible for leading the Topic Team in a way that is
consistent with the vision of the PSU Strategic Plan. At least one Team Leader will be from the
Strategic Plan Development Team. Leaders will:

Lead the Topic Team to create action recommendations for consideration by the SPDT so
that our vision can be achieved.

Conduct meetings in a manner that promotes dialogue among participants so that different
points of view are respectfully considered and recommendations represent the best thinking
of the group.

Be responsible for creating a working environment that promotes mutual trust and respect,
and is respectful of the time Team members commit, so that all participants believe their
contributions are valued and valuable.
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
Work with other members of the group to seek out and include other groups in the
discussions so that the entire Team benefits from the rich diversity of the PSU community.

Challenge their group to make decisions and recommendations that are fact-based so that
the impact of perception, bias, and “turf” is reduced.

Communicate with other Topic Teams, the SPDT, and other interested university
constituencies so that all of the Teams can benefit from, use, and avoid overlap with the
work of others.

Communicate at agreed-upon intervals, using standard methods, to maintain order so that
the Team can meet its ambitious timeline.

Make available to the Team any shared materials from other Topic Teams, and see to it that
requests for feedback from other Teams are completed on time so that information
bottlenecks do not occur.

Coordinate the resources necessary to achieve the Topic Team’s purpose.

Arrange for regular note-taking to capture the Team’s discussions, ideas, and
recommendations.
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Portland State University
Topic Team Strategic Template
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Definition of terms used in this template:
Situational Analysis
How well is PSU operating in the current environment?
This section of the template provides an opportunity to evaluate the current landscape for the topic.
The team should explore current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and capture a
summary of these elements in the appropriate quadrants.
Initial Questions
What trends in higher education are having the most significant impact on this topic?
In this section, the Team should consider whether there are any “meta trends” that need to be
considered in the context of this topic. Are universities across the nation experiencing a similar
situation to PSU? If so, those trends should be described here and include a connection to the PSU
context.
What are the most important considerations regarding this topic?
Is there any additional context that the Team feels is important to introduce this topic and the
recommended strategic direction? Please provide an overview of a few (no more than 5!) of those
considerations here.
Strategic Direction: What major action must be accomplished over the planning horizon?
After the Situational Analysis is complete and the Initial Questions have been considered, the Team
will use the output of those discussions to decide upon the Strategic Direction(s) that the plan must
address with regard to their topic. Strategic Directions are those major actions that the Team
recommends must be accomplished during the five years this plan will be in place.
Objectives: How will we measure success?
The Team should consider how to measure progress for the particular Strategic Direction they
choose. In other words, what is the end state we want to create by addressing our Strategic
Direction? Objectives should be specific and measurable and afford the opportunity to assess, on a
regular basis, how the University is performing against a particular metric. If metrics are used, they
should be metrics that already exist and are easily available to track.
Initiatives: What collective actions do we need to take, that are transformative in nature?
An Initiative is an effort that is required to support the achievement of the objectives that the Team
has identified. Initiatives should not be a standard part of operating the University – they should be
strategic and transformational in nature and provide for progress towards the strategic direction as
defined by the Team. Please provide a one sentence or bullet point description of each initiative.
What are the resource implications?
Initiatives may need funding, time and other resources (e.g. building space, community support) to
ensure their success. The Topic Team should outline, at a high level, what resources will be
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required. Please see “tradeoffs” section below if these resources will be reallocated from another
area or current priority.
What are the interdependencies?
Are there other topics or areas that are dependent on this topic’s success? What does this topic
need to have happen in other areas to meet the defined objectives? These types of
interdependencies should be highlighted in this section. Please keep the interdependencies to those
that are most critical – in the end, all topics are dependent on each other in some way.
What are the trade-offs? What should we stop doing?
For each initiative, there will be trade-offs. In order to focus our resources and attention on this
initiative, we will need to give up on other efforts at the University. These trade-offs should be within
the purview of the topic; in other words, the tradeoffs cannot be at the expense of other topics. In this
section, outline what the trade-offs could and should be, so that the objectives of this topic can be
achieved.
How does the equity lens apply for this initiative?
Each of the Topic Teams will also be asked to answer these Equity Lens questions. These questions
will be asked twice: first considering race/ethnicity, then a second time for all other groups, including
gender identity, LGBTQ, and people with disabilities. The answers to these questions will be
reviewed by each of the respective Equity Lens advisory groups, and suggestions for improvement
or mitigation will be returned.
People


Who is affected—positively, negatively, or not at all—by the elements of this part of the
strategic plan and what are the specific advantages and/or barriers to each group?
How have we considered environmental justice in this initiative—that is, will the
implementation of this initiative support the rights of all people to live in a healthy
environment?
Process

Does this initiative foster the development of processes that address barriers to inclusion and
contribute to the development of community capacity?
Power


How will this initiative support the empowerment of people from historically marginalized
communities?
What are the specific ways that this initiative is expected to reduce disparities and advance
social justice?
What are the major risks to implementing these initiatives, and what mitigating factors have
been identified?
This is likely self-explanatory. Please keep the risks at a high level, between 3-5 is fine.
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9
Situational Analysis
How well is PSU operating in the current environment?
Internal Strengths
External Opportunities
Internal Weaknesses
External Threats
Initial Questions
What trends in higher education are having the most significant impact on this topic?
What are the most important considerations regarding this topic?
Strategic Direction
What major action must be accomplished over the planning horizon?
Objectives
How will we measure success? What end state do we want to achieve or move toward?
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10
Initiatives (see following pages)
What collective actions do we need to take that are transformative in nature?
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11
Initiative #1
Description: <please describe this initiative in one sentence or bullet point>
What are the resource implications?
What are the interdependencies with other topic teams?
What are the trade-offs? What should we stop doing?
How does the equity lens apply for this initiative?
Race/Ethnicity
People
›
›
Who is affected—positively, negatively, or not at all—by the elements of this part of
the strategic plan and what are the specific advantages and/or barriers to each
group?
How have we considered environmental justice in this initiative—that is, will the
implementation of this initiative support the rights of all people to live in a healthy
environment?
Process
›
Does this initiative foster the development of processes that address barriers to
inclusion and contribute to the development of community capacity?
Power
›
›
How will this initiative support the empowerment of people from historically
marginalized communities?
What are the specific ways that this initiative is expected to reduce disparities and
advance social justice?
Gender Identity/LGBTQ/People with Disabilities
People
›
›
Topic Team Toolkit
Who is affected—positively, negatively, or not at all—by the elements of this part of
the strategic plan and what are the specific advantages and/or barriers to each
group?
How have we considered environmental justice in this initiative—that is, will the
implementation of this initiative support the rights of all people to live in a healthy
environment?
12
Process
›
Does this initiative foster the development of processes that address barriers to
inclusion and contribute to the development of community capacity?
Power
›
›
How will this initiative support the empowerment of people from historically
marginalized communities?
What are the specific ways that this initiative is expected to reduce disparities and
advance social justice?
What are the major risks to implementing these initiatives, and what mitigating factors have
been identified?
Topic Team Toolkit
13
Initiative #2
Description: <please describe this initiative in one sentence or bullet point>
What are the resource implications?
What are the interdependencies with other topic teams?
What are the trade-offs? What should we stop doing?
How does the equity lens apply for this initiative?
Race/Ethnicity
People
›
›
Who is affected—positively, negatively, or not at all—by the elements of this part of
the strategic plan and what are the specific advantages and/or barriers to each
group?
How have we considered environmental justice in this initiative—that is, will the
implementation of this initiative support the rights of all people to live in a healthy
environment?
Process
›
Does this initiative foster the development of processes that address barriers to
inclusion and contribute to the development of community capacity?
Power
›
›
How will this initiative support the empowerment of people from historically
marginalized communities?
What are the specific ways that this initiative is expected to reduce disparities and
advance social justice?
Gender Identity/LGBTQ/People with Disabilities
People
›
›
Topic Team Toolkit
Who is affected—positively, negatively, or not at all—by the elements of this part of
the strategic plan and what are the specific advantages and/or barriers to each
group?
How have we considered environmental justice in this initiative—that is, will the
implementation of this initiative support the rights of all people to live in a healthy
environment?
14
Process
›
Does this initiative foster the development of processes that address barriers to
inclusion and contribute to the development of community capacity?
Power
›
›
How will this initiative support the empowerment of people from historically
marginalized communities?
What are the specific ways that this initiative is expected to reduce disparities and
advance social justice?
What are the major risks to implementing these initiatives, and what mitigating factors have
been identified?
Topic Team Toolkit
15
Initiative #3
Description: <please describe this initiative in one sentence or bullet point>
What are the resource implications?
What are the interdependencies with other topic teams?
What are the trade-offs? What should we stop doing?
How does the equity lens apply for this initiative?
How does the equity lens apply for this initiative?
Race/Ethnicity
People
›
›
Who is affected—positively, negatively, or not at all—by the elements of this part of
the strategic plan and what are the specific advantages and/or barriers to each
group?
How have we considered environmental justice in this initiative—that is, will the
implementation of this initiative support the rights of all people to live in a healthy
environment?
Process
›
Does this initiative foster the development of processes that address barriers to
inclusion and contribute to the development of community capacity?
Power
›
›
How will this initiative support the empowerment of people from historically
marginalized communities?
What are the specific ways that this initiative is expected to reduce disparities and
advance social justice?
Gender Identity/LGBTQ/People with Disabilities
People
›
Topic Team Toolkit
Who is affected—positively, negatively, or not at all—by the elements of this part of
the strategic plan and what are the specific advantages and/or barriers to each
group?
16
›
How have we considered environmental justice in this initiative—that is, will the
implementation of this initiative support the rights of all people to live in a healthy
environment?
Process
›
Does this initiative foster the development of processes that address barriers to
inclusion and contribute to the development of community capacity?
Power
›
›
How will this initiative support the empowerment of people from historically
marginalized communities?
What are the specific ways that this initiative is expected to reduce disparities and
advance social justice?
What are the major risks to implementing these initiatives, and what mitigating factors have
been identified?
Topic Team Toolkit
17
Initiative #4
Description: <please describe this initiative in one sentence or bullet point>
What are the resource implications?
What are the interdependencies with other topic teams?
What are the trade-offs? What should we stop doing?
How does the equity lens apply for this initiative?
How does the equity lens apply for this initiative?
Race/Ethnicity
People
›
›
Who is affected—positively, negatively, or not at all—by the elements of this part of
the strategic plan and what are the specific advantages and/or barriers to each
group?
How have we considered environmental justice in this initiative—that is, will the
implementation of this initiative support the rights of all people to live in a healthy
environment?
Process
›
Does this initiative foster the development of processes that address barriers to
inclusion and contribute to the development of community capacity?
Power
›
›
How will this initiative support the empowerment of people from historically
marginalized communities?
What are the specific ways that this initiative is expected to reduce disparities and
advance social justice?
Gender Identity/LGBTQ/People with Disabilities
People
›
Topic Team Toolkit
Who is affected—positively, negatively, or not at all—by the elements of this part of
the strategic plan and what are the specific advantages and/or barriers to each
group?
18
›
How have we considered environmental justice in this initiative—that is, will the
implementation of this initiative support the rights of all people to live in a healthy
environment?
Process
›
Does this initiative foster the development of processes that address barriers to
inclusion and contribute to the development of community capacity?
Power
›
›
How will this initiative support the empowerment of people from historically
marginalized communities?
What are the specific ways that this initiative is expected to reduce disparities and
advance social justice?
What are the major risks to implementing these initiatives, and what mitigating factors have
been identified?
Topic Team Toolkit
19
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