Annie Grier, Feedback Labs | November 17, 2023
Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) is a prestigious private, non-profit research university located in St. Louis, Missouri. Known for its academic excellence and significant contributions to research, WashU is among the top universities in the United States. The university offers a diverse array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs, spanning fields such as arts and sciences, engineering, business, law, social work, medicine, and more. WashU is committed to implementing a comprehensive university-wide strategic plan that embraces feedback practices. This approach ensures support and involvement from all stakeholders, including students, staff, faculty, and administrators, fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment for everyone involved.
The Here and Next university-wide strategic plan at WashU is led by the Office of the Provost. Here and Next is where research is built. Through Here and Next, investments are made in the growth of every person on WashU campus, building opportunities for collaborative impact within St. Louis and our region, creating meaningful, lasting change in the world. And through Here and Next, WashU will prove that dinstinction comes from sincere investments in our scholarship, our people, and our region.
Here and Next has a set of Guiding Principles; Academic Distinction, Community, Impact, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Global Perspective, and Stewardship. WashU’s commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion aims to be a diverse community fully committed to the principles of euqity, fairness, and inclusive excellence. To this end, the university is currently developing an Equity & Inclusive Excellence framework to facilitate and foster a campus community that centers on inclusivity and belonging. The framework allows for learning opportunities that foster intersectional awareness and understanding to be cultivated, empower all academic and administrative units to become more inclusive, and strive for intentionally equitable practices. We want to ensure that the framework is implemented effectively across all units and departments, gather valuable feedback, and using it to continually enhance the university’s commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and creating a more inclusive campus. Given the variety of stakeholders involved, applying a uniform framework across all units and departments can be a complex task. This could be a challenge to navigate if meaningful convesations are not had.
Centering Students and Stakeholders
In the pursuit of equitable and inclusive feedback practices, one key insight that surfaced during the LabStorm was the necessity of putting extra effort into reaching stakeholders who might be less willing or interested in engaging. Various departments can determine what this means for them, but a possible value emerged – prioritizing outreach to staff, students, and postdoctoral fellows. Often times these individuals voices go unheard. Although these individuals may not have the same power within the campus community as executive leadership, they hold the key to the continued long-term success and growth of WashU. Participants noted that it would be highly beneficial to try to engage these stakeholders more actively, even stakeholders who were historically resistant to university initiatives. Resistance, protest, and other such forms of involvement are still feedback, and a key skill required to lead these discussions with the ability to listen to criticism, and take tangible action to rebuild trust, which in turn will increase buy-in.
Integrating Diverse Perspectives
Another focus of the LabStorm was on the question of how to effectively engage individuals in conversation who were not often consulted during framework implementation. Participants suggested a shift in strategic planning that grants more accessibility and resources to individuals who are often left out of these conversations, such as facilities and dining staff and students from diverse backgrounds. Leading discussions about campus environments, future visions, and the role of administrators can contribute to a more accessible approach, and even just providing the space to have conversations about community needs can go a long way. Additionally, LabStorm participants highlighted a need for an iterative process that provides something to respond to, rather than open-ended questions from administration, which can reduce nervousness about providing feedback.
To incentivize the participation in feedback practices, an innovative approach was proposed: (1) hosting conversation circles and (2) to compensate individuals for leading discussions within their own communities. These circles, whether formal or informal, would bring together members of their respective communities to create and normalize dialogue on campus. Participants also highlighted the importance of identifying potential champions or campus leaders who supported the framework implementation, and campus leaders who have historically been critical of administration, to ensure that all groups on campus are being highlighted and engaged.
At the end of the LabStorm, the WashU presenters took some time to reflect on key takeaways from the discussion. These include embracing and taking action when faced with resistance, celebrating new team members, and creating an optimistic and diverse environment to increase feelings of morale and community.
Learn More About LabStorms
LabStorms are collaborative problem-solving sessions designed to help organizations tackle feedback-related challenges or share what’s working well in their practice.
Presenters leave the experience with honest, actionable feedback and suggestions to improve their feedback processes and tools.
To learn more about participating in a virtual LabStorm, please visit feedbacklabs.org/labstorms.