March 12, 2010
The university has learned a lot about itself – its strengths and the perceptions of the institution through the eyes of various stakeholders – over the course of the past few months, but it is still too early to clearly state the results of the Institutional Positioning Project.
Set up last year to ultimately describe the University of Saskatchewan’s place within Canada’s post-secondary sector, the project has moved through the extensive consultation phase with both internal and external audiences to the point of developing a position statement. For Heather Magotiaux, vice-president of University Advancement and project chair, the process so far has been illuminating.
“When we began this project, we knew that a lot of people have a very narrow view of this university, or no view at all,” she said. “Words like ‘farmers’, ‘football’, ‘cold’ and ‘boring’ were not uncommon responses but as we mined deeper, it was gratifying to discover many people who are passionate about the University of Saskatchewan, what it does and what it represents.&rdquo
Through surveys, focus groups and interviews with individuals and groups, the project committee and Interbrand, a marketing and branding firm hired to facilitate the process, identified a number of views and perceptions that speak to the university’s strengths. These include a friendly community, a hard-working approach, a beautiful campus, strength in areas of research and academics, and a good reputation in the natural and life sciences.
Internally, those consulted have included senior leaders, students, members of standing committees at various levels of the organization and faculty members. Audiences external to the university have included prospective students, academics from other institutions and key funders.
Magotiaux went on to explain that the entire project is based on three underlying principles – relevancy, credibility and differentiation – and finding where they intersect. The consultation process revealed common themes that she said meet the principles of being relevant to university audience needs, being a credible representation of the U of S and by setting the university apart from other institutions. These themes help shape a final position, but she stressed “they are not the position itself. They represent the benefits that we can offer our audiences.” The themes are the ability to have an impact, the ability to make connections and the ability to provide needed support.
“We think of the three themes as the pillars of what we ultimately determine to be our position,” she said. “For example, the theme of impact can be viewed as our ability to provide people both inside and outside the university with the opportunity to make a difference.”
The end goal of the positioning work is to develop a statement that describes both how the U of S is distinct from other Canadian universities, and how it is relevant to its stakeholders.
“Much of the really hard work is behind us now,” said Magotiaux. “The people we have consulted since last fall have been honest and very generous with their time and ideas, leaving us with a great deal of information to analyze and distill. There is still a lot of work to do to bring the position to life and, in some ways, this is the most exciting part of the process.”
Senior leaders and key external audiences will continue to be involved, she said. The University of Saskatchewan’s position will be finalized in April, but the project does not end there. What will follow, said Magotiaux, “will involve finding ways of incorporating the statement into everything we do.”