Online Conversations Guide Strategic Planning at Kent State in First-of-its-kind Engagement Process

Unique approach to shaping academic affairs engages audiences to ensure their voices are heard

Unique approach to shaping academic affairs engages audiences to ensure their voices are heard

Kent State University has completed a first-of-its-kind online engagement project to enable its faculty, staff and students to participate significantly in envisioning the university’s academic future.

In a unique approach to shaping academic affairs at Kent State, faculty, staff and students were given the opportunity to share their opinions on the university’s academic future.To engage the school’s community in substantive conversations around its Academic Affairs Strategic Plan, the university hired Ohio-based tech start-up the Civic Commons. The Civic Commons is an online engagement organization that works with schools and other institutions, municipalities and businesses to orchestrate productive, interactive conversations that inform and/or determine key decisions.

For several weeks late last year, the university posed questions based on its six strategic goals, including student success, academic excellence, expanding research and creative endeavors, engaging with the world, securing finances and developing its people.

Kent State faculty, staff, students and advisory boards were encouraged to participate in ongoing dialogues over the course of two weeks to generate ideas to directly shape the strategic plan for Division of Academic Affairs for the next three to five years.

“Our hope that the Civic Commons would increase input into our strategic planning process has been realized,” says Todd Diacon, Kent State’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Hundreds of people added their voice via the Commons, and I appreciate the willingness of our faculty, staff and students to voice their opinions, and the ability of the Civic Commons to facilitate the process.”

The discussions, moderated by members of the Strategic Planning Committee and the Civic Commons, sought input from every corner of the university community — undergraduate and graduate students, adjunct and full-time faculty, staff, administrators and more — calling for open, dynamic, transparent dialogue. Provisions also were made for reluctant participants to write in anonymously if they preferred. In-person round-table sessions also were held across Kent State University campuses to allow for participants to give face-to-face feedback to committee members or to input data into the Civic Commons site at public computer stations.

“Now that we have the results from our data collection process, the Academic Affairs Strategic Planning Committee is working very hard to translate this information into actionable strategies to make Kent State a stronger institution,” says Carey McDougall, an associate professor of art at Kent State University at Stark and co-chair of the Academic Affairs Strategic Planning Committee.

The engagement resulted in a frank discussion of the school’s future and a range of suggestions, with more than 2,000 Kent State community members reading or participating in the dialogue. To date, 2,570 suggestions or concerns were recorded and will be incorporated into the committee’s final recommendations. 

“Once a final draft of the plan is developed, we will be sharing this draft with the university community through the Civic Commons, as well as other channels,” says Stan Wearden, dean of the College of Communication and Information at Kent State and co-chair of the Academic Affairs Strategic Planning Committee. “Everyone will have an opportunity to provide feedback before it is submitted to the provost.”

Some notable points of consensus were the need for greater student support services, including financial aid and for greater promotion or recognition of faculty and research work. The university also garnered ideas for new ways to engage with academic communities abroad and to provide services for its immediate community.

“Working with Kent State University to engage its students, faculty and staff online as part of its Academic Affairs Strategic Planning process has been terrific,” says Mike Shafarenko, president of the Civic Commons. “Its leaders need to be commended for applying an innovative engagement process to an otherwise common institutional practice and, as a result, being the first nationally among its university peers to do so.”

“We’ve found that a time-limited, moderated online conversation in a civil and transparent environment yields posts and interactions that are articulate, rich with detail and often build on ideas contributed by others,” says Dan Moulthrop, curator of conversation at the Civic Commons. “In the six weeks on the Commons, the Kent State community has generated a body of candid observations and ideas that might have taken years to develop, and its Strategic Plan will benefit greatly from all that insight.”

Kent State’s eight-campus system, among the largest regional systems in the country, serves both the development of a true living/learning approach at the Kent Campus and the regional needs on seven other campuses throughout Northeast Ohio. Kent State is ranked among the nation's 77 public research universities demonstrating high-research activity by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In 2010, Kent State celebrated 100 years of guiding students, providing vital resources to Ohio and producing graduates and research that have the power to change communities.

The Civic Commons, a social media site dedicated to civic good, was founded in 2010 with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Fund for Our Economic Future. In addition to its tools for citizens, the Civic Commons provides subscription-based engagement services for organizations and businesses on a national basis. The services are dedicated to building two-way conversations that inform and/or determine key decisions to expand and deepen the relationship between organizations and the communities they serve.

For more information about the Civic Commons, visit

POSTED: Monday, January 28, 2013 - 12:00am
UPDATED: Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - 4:40pm
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