John Rigby, interim associate provost, institutional planning and assessment.
John Rigby, interim associate provost, institutional planning and assessment.

U of S prepares for next planning cycle

It is early days yet, but all signs are pointing to a change in style and process when it comes to building the University of Saskatchewan’s next plan for the future.

“Developing our new plan is really an extension of the mission, vision and values consultations,” explained John Rigby, the interim associate provost leading the institutional planning and assessment portfolio. “We want to capture and focus on the key elements from that process in this next planning cycle.”

Using the mission, vision and values document—approved last year—as a starting point signals a shift in the development of the institutional plan, said Michael Atkinson, interim provost and vice-president academic.

“As the process matures, so will the resulting document mature,” he said. “Our previous plans were integrated in the sense that they were compiled from unit plans with some additional institutional nuances. There will still be strong connections in what we do, and plan to do, across campus. But this approach integrates by creating a common starting point for moving forward.”

Atkinson stressed the impact on the university of the recent provincial budget does not affect its efforts to look to the future because planning must drive budget decisions, not the other way around.

Rigby said using the mission, vision and values as the basis for the new institutional plan is a change that goes hand-in-hand with a shift in attitude toward the process over the past 15 years.

The university’s first planning effort in particular was met with some initial resistance, he said, not only to the idea of planning itself but also “to the notion we should be deciding things in advance.” The second iteration saw the focus shift to content, while the third resulted in “hardly any discussion. That was an indication that perhaps it’s time to rethink how we’re planning.”

Rigby expects the new document will have “quite a different flavour” than those of the past. “I expect it will be visually much more interesting. It will be shorter than previous plans and there will be a lot more thought given to how we’re communicating.”

Part of that communication will be to remind people of the mission, vision and values process that included extensive consultation, and how setting goals for the future is the natural next step.

“The new institutional plan is in reality a long-term expression of our mission, vision and values, and in some ways that’s a journey without end,” Rigby said.

President Peter Stoicheff often refers to significant themes that emerge from the mission, vision and values—connectivity, sustainability, diversity and creativity—and Rigby said all four resonate with the wider community.

The themes become the criteria by which the university can assess progress toward goals for the future, Rigby explained. For example, a decision to expand the student body could be evaluated by asking how that growth would make the university more sustainable, connected, diverse and creative.

With its final form yet to be determined, Rigby said the document might be broken into the four themes and the goals associated with each, in essence “describing the journey we’re on as a university. I imagine it will be a general, hopefully exciting and inspirational outline of what we’re trying to achieve as an institution.”

He said the timelines for preparing the institutional plan are aggressive. There will be some general consultation “but we’re consciously trying not to replicate the mission, vision and values work.”

A preliminary draft is expected for public review no later than the end of May, with approval of a final document by the university’s three governing bodies anticipated in the fall.

Once approved, the document becomes the basis for developing college and unit priorities and goals. Rigby said it “must be firm enough to maintain our direction, but at the same time allow college and unit plans to be responsive to changes in the institution and changes in the environment.”

Atkinson added care will be taken in writing the document to ensure it reaches a wide range of internal and external audiences, from students, faculty and staff to Saskatchewan taxpayers and politicians.

“We want people to easily and quickly get a sense of the key priorities of the university, and to understand what we are and what we aspire to be.”

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