Compiling Strategic Planning Documents: The Big Ten and Friends

This page provides background on how the Big Ten and Friends Sustainability Group determined the best sources for the priority mapping exercise.  

In developing the Big Ten Prospectus, we mapped strategic planning priorities across the cohort of 14 institutions. There was variation in planning stages among these universities. A president or chancellor would often be in place for several years before initiating a planning process, and the scope of goal and objectives varied from 3 to 10 or more years in the future.

Consider the impact of presidential tenure, institutional planning culture, and presidential leadership styles on three Big Ten universities, as illustrated in Figure 1. Indiana University’s president served for seven years before releasing the Bicentennial Strategic Plan, but the resulting effort provided guidance for the entire system through 2020. This process was sufficiently comprehensive, inclusive, and relevant (given its timeliness for the review) that few sources were needed to supplement the strategic plan. Overall, the quality of these sources was very high.

Figure 1: Strategic Planning Document Sets (Ranging from High to Low Quality) from Three Big Ten Universities

In contrast, Ohio State hired President Drake in 2014, but the institution had a strong culture of college-based planning and provided only a strategic planning framework for the flagship campus. During the review, we supplemented this framework with presidential addresses; descriptions of mission, vision, goals, and values; and a strategic plan for regional campuses. While we considered these sources of medium quality overall, the additional documents helped to round out a clearer picture of priorities at the institution.

Similarly, the University of Michigan hired President Schlissel in 2014, and at the time of the review he had not publicly discussed any efforts to begin a strategic plan. In this case, we had to rely only on presidential addresses, comments made at trustee meetings, and informal interviews with President Schlissel. Because these comments reflected early presidential opinions and priorities that were not the product of an inclusive long-term planning process, we considered these low-quality sources. To balance the quality of these sources, we reviewed as many as we could find, broadening the likelihood that stronger themes and interests would emerge from the set as a whole.

Each effort to gather a set of sources that reflected executive leadership priorities was unique. As you collect and review strategic planning sources, consider a couple of questions:

  • How long have your executive leaders held their positions? How does this impact their level of strategic planning?
  • Do you have access to strategic planning documents at the campus or system level? If so, how old are they? Do they reflect current priorities?
  • How can you supplement strategic planning docs with other sources?

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