Northern Arizona University (NAU): Robust Strategic Planning Outreach and Strategic Planning with Multiple University Departments

NAU is located in Flagstaff, Arizona and has approximately 29,000 students. They came to us having already completed the internal process of developing a mission, vision, values, and goals for the university. The next step in their strategic planning process was to listen and gather input from a wide variety of stakeholders in order to build buy-in and consensus across the NAU community. NAU came to the SBI team as an outside facilitator to guide this step.

We collaborated with the staff to conduct a series of on-campus focus groups with 19 different stakeholder cohorts (e.g., faculty, students, staff, the Commission on Native Americans group, community groups, alumni foundation, etc.). We then prepared a robust summary document with compiled results from over 200 individual stakeholders across the 19 groups, including an analysis of the input, key themes across the various groups, and graphics to capture key data points. Finally, we facilitated an on-campus presentation of the results to the Executive Team, Cabinet, and Strategic Planning and Budget Council so they could determine next steps for incorporating the input and feedback into the university’s strategic plan. The Vice President of Finance, Institutional Planning, and Analysis said of the process that “people participated that otherwise would not have been able to if it had been done internally. SBI did a nice job of pulling information out of people and getting them to participate in the sessions. Using an outside, neutral party provided legitimacy. The two words that come to mind are ‘facilitation expert.’”

The NAU team later asked us to facilitate a second round of stakeholder outreach to provide input on the revised draft. This second phase included creating an online survey accessible by up to 1,000 NAU stakeholders, a series of open webinars where participants heard a brief overview of the strategic plan and were permitted to ask questions and share observations, and a series of invitation-only on-campus focus groups to solicit feedback from those stakeholders whose opinions or positions are most critical for the success of the strategic plan. As a result of this work, “the university is very well positioned and is moving forward on very solid ground with the new plan and with new buy-in and support. People are chomping at the bit and are very excited.” In addition to this second wave of outreach, we continued to serve as a resource to the Strategic Planning Director and the Strategic Planning and Budget Council throughout the process to support the successful roll-out and execution of the new strategic plan, including sharing observations and best practices, reviewing output from internal NAU meetings, supporting agenda development, and identifying key questions that must be asked to test for consensus.

We have continued our work with NAU over the years as we’ve partnered long-term, including:

  • Facilitating a full strategic planning process over an approximately six-month timeframe with the NAU athletic department, including interviews with a cross-section of key stakeholders, a series of strategic planning sessions, and a formal strategic plan document.
  • Working with the athletic department over an approximately two-month period to support the launch of their new Student Advisory Committee, including designing and facilitating a half-day workshop to launch the new committee.
  • Supporting the development of a new five-year strategic plan for an independent research institute within NAU. While they are an independent institution, this new strategic plan needed to be aligned with the university’s strategic plan as well as with the mission and objectives of other partner organizations. The acting director of the institute commented, “I would have never thought at the beginning of the project that we would get all of the directors onboard with the areas of focus, but [SBI] was able to bring us all into alignment and by the last meeting, everyone displayed commitment. Our facilitator’s ability to navigate us through the process to bring us to a common answer was really well done.”