When Shift brings people together, it looks like walls covered in sticky notes, roundtable conversations, and whiteboards overflowing with innovations that teams are eager to try when they return home. We are known for bringing improvement networks together through this hands-on and interactive style of engagement.
The COVID-19 pandemic challenged us to think even further outside of the box. We were challenged to create real human connection, in a virtual world. While it is still unsafe to gather in-person, connection remains more important than ever. Without community spaces to learn from each other, attempts to improve systems risk being left to the status-quo: siloed information stemming from traditional organizational hierarchies.
That’s why we turned to our design principles to run inclusive improvement events when planning for the virtual Student Experience Project (SEP) network convening with our partners. We aimed to create an online experience that invited shared learning and embraced a shared vision of improvement.
For context, Shift’s primary role within SEP is to co-design and co-facilitate the improvement network with our educational partners and participating universities. As we designed the February SEP virtual convening, we anchored our plan on four key principles for meaningful and connection-oriented events:
Principle #1: All teach, all learn.
All teach, all learn is defined by the belief that everyone has something to teach, and everyone has something to learn. This principle engenders a commitment to creating change through listening to and learning from those closest to the issue we seek to improve.
Creating this all teach, all learn culture in an improvement network does not happen by accident – it takes intentional relationship- and trust-building across organizations, modeling transparency by sharing failures and successes, and designing structures that support authentic inter-organizational learning.
The SEP community gathers twice a year – in the winter and summer. These events bring together various participants – faculty and instructors, campus leaders, facilitators, data analysts, the SEP funders, and students.
Five months before the convening, we surveyed the teams to find out what they were most excited about learning and sharing to design the convening objectives. We launched a community-based proposal process, allowing everyone to pitch their ideas related to these objectives, and connected groups who wanted to share similar lessons. We wove people together in new and unexpected ways, supporting their collaboration to ensure they felt empowered to lead. This strategy involves months of upfront preparation but creates the stage for improvement teams to step into the spotlight to share with one another.
Principle #2: Share your “why?”
Everyone who wants to create change has a deeply personal reason for needing or wanting systems to change. Understanding this motivation, vulnerably sharing, and empathetically listening to the motivations of others helps improvement networks get closer to the collective why of their work.
Creating this culture of empathy and vulnerability is necessary when encouraging participants to share authentic stories, challenges, and often personal reasons for being involved with the initiative’s purpose. One network session cannot create this culture; instead, it is built through sustained practices over time.
Ignite Talks are one of Shift’s favorite ways to center the rich meaning of our work. It’s a short, personal story that conveys an individual’s connection to the work they do. Ignite talks quickly and effectively get to the core questions: Why continuous improvement? Why participatory medicine? Why improving student experience?
Watch an example of an Ignite Talk from Shift’s Erin Moore, who coaches ignite speakers for events.
Preparing to share these vulnerable stories in front of hundreds of people is hard and takes months of preparation, as does building the place in which these stories can be truly heard and felt. During this winter’s SEP convening, three community members shared their whys in an Ignite Talk. These five minutes of vulnerability and authentic connection inspired a sense of deeper purpose for our work together.
Principle #3: Amplify the voices of those closest to the system.
The most meaningful change comes from listening to and learning from the voices of those closest to the system – students, children, teachers, patients, doctors, and administrators. No matter the system, it’s the people most impacted by the issues whose perspectives drive equitable change. This belief in the power of knowledge that comes from lived experience turns a traditional hierarchical model of power on its head.
Within the SEP, students, faculty, instructors, and campus leaders are closest to our work to improve the student experience and equitable outcomes. As such, their voice and leadership within our community is a catalyst for change.
Throughout the convening, we structured a variety of sessions to bring out the differing perspectives from participating students, faculty, and campus leaders. In one notable session, students that led the SEP #WeBelongInCollege campaign formed a powerful panel with support from GetSchooled. These students described how vulnerable it was to share their experience during this campaign and the resonance and connection they found with others when doing so. Their courage was contagious and inspired an open and trusting tone that spread throughout the convening.
Learn more about the Student Experience Project #WeBelongInCollege campaign to hear these student leaders’ courageous stories!
Principle #4: Data is for learning, not judgment.
In improvement, we use measurement and data for learning, not compliance or judgment.
This is a cultural shift that occurs over time, undoing harmful data practices that rank, judge, or penalize. Data frequency, transparency, and understanding are essential to improvement. People involved at all levels of the system need to know how to use the data to interpret it and learn if new practices change outcomes.
Throughout this winter’s SEP Convening and other network learning events, we asked teams to share their data with the community to cultivate trust and to guide our work towards accomplishing our aims.
At this convening, we used the shared data to celebrate our successes and progress towards our aim. We also used the data to dig deeper – and explore the question, where do our biggest challenges exist in accomplishing our goals? Within SEP, the data highlighted the urgent need to better support students experiencing financial stress and homelessness.
Data also helps us learn from variation. We asked each campus team to identify faculty and instructors with exceptional results so we could celebrate and learn from them. We hosted a "bright spot” session to understand what and how they do it to explore the specific practices that could help others get better results as well.
Pulling it all together
Building and rallying a community around a shared vision for change is what we live for; it’s why Shift exists. Improvement initiatives ask a community to be reflective, curious, honest and determined to address the challenges at hand. It invites them to collaborate towards a shared aim, and to try – and try again – to progress towards that goal.
Take a moment today to reflect: how do you inspire your community to adopt an inclusive spirit of improvement?