Online brainstorm shapes university's future strategy

Round-the-clock online chats led to unprecedented levels of feedback, says institution's president

May 5, 2017
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An Irish university crowdsourced more than 20,000 comments from staff, students and alumni on its future direction thanks to a 24-hour online brainstorm.

As part of Dublin City University’s development of its 2022 strategy, the institution ran a series of online conversations involving senior leadership and ‘celebrity guests’, with staff and students invited to contribute to the debates.

Topics covered by the DCU Fuse event included how to enhance student life outside the lecture theatre, how to improve alumni relations and how to create new routes in postgraduate study for students.

“We had comments from Cairo to Canada and from the US and Russia,” explained Brian MacCraith, president of DCU, who took part in the round-the-clock digital dialogues.

The so-called 'DCU Fuse' session, inspired by student engagement methods used by the University of South Australia, was particularly helpful in including alumni in strategy development, said Professor MacCraith, who was one of the speakers at Times Higher Education’s Young Universities Summit, held at Queensland University of Technology, in Brisbane.

“No-one had to make any effort to go to a [strategy] conversation meeting – it was very easy for alumni to get involved,” he told THE.

“Anyone who did not feel comfortable about speaking in a public space was also able to contribute,” he added on why online discussion was preferable to the open policy sessions sometimes held by universities when creating long-term plans.

In total, the university received 20,000 contributions over the 24-hour consultation period, with an online platform created by DCU researchers registering 70,000 page views.

Inviting guests, such as former New Zealand education minister Steve Maharey, the former vice-chancellor of Massey University, and Anne Looney, chief executive of Ireland’s Higher Education Authority, was helpful in sparking debate among the university community, Professor MacCraith added. The event was kicked off with a discussion hosted by Richard Bruton, Ireland’s minister for education and skills.

“We had four conversation streams running in parallel and some were extremely popular,” said Professor MacCraith.

While the university had yet to process the results of the digital dialogue, the DCU Fuse initiative was important as it demonstrated the institution’s commitment to listening to staff and student views, he said.

“Generating ideas is an important part of developing a strategic plan, but the process is as important as the outcome,” he said.

“People want to feel that they are included,” he added.

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