Transparency, Collaboration, Comprehensiveness

September 25, 2019
Landscape Architecture College & University

This is second in a series of articles sharing insights from our work with St. Cloud State University’s (SCSU’s) Comprehensive Facilities Planning process – a rich experience, full of learning for all.

Key to the planning effort in SCSU’s Comprehensive Facilities Planning Process were the commitment to provide transparency throughout the process, to cast a wide net in order to achieve a truly comprehensive Plan, and to involve as many people as possible who might be impacted by the Plan.

This was a big deal, and a courageous commitment for University leaders. They really wanted to hear from everybody. It became a chance to educate people about facilities and space utilization and to get their buy-in, but it was risky too. People feel strongly about ‘their’ space.

“The idea of being truly comprehensive is something most people overlook,” said Phil Moessner, Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management at SCSU. “A lot of campuses will sit down to write a CFP and only think about the academic and administrative support buildings. But a campus is bigger than that. You’ve got residence life and all the facilities that support student life and development. You’ve got athletic facilities that are key to how students engage and connect with the university.

The plan ought to be comprehensive enough to address all those functions – to take into account the whole campus, not just microcosms. If you look at all the areas collectively rather than as silos, it’s really helpful. I think our CFP did that really well.”

“We knew because of our enrollment situation that there was no way to do what everyone wanted to have done,” said Tammy McGee, then-Vice President of Finance at SCSU and the primary driver of the CFP update. “The two biggest currencies on a college campus are money (how much is in your budget, how much you are paid, etc.) and physical space. We knew going into this project that we would be working with people in an arena that would hit them right at their core, one way or another. How do we construct a process that both educates people, brings them along, and holds them accountable for whatever decisions get made? In order to do that and live it, we had to be as transparent as we could be.”

McGee said, “When we set up our teams we had representatives from all of our unions, from every major functional area on campus, from senior leadership to clerical functions, student leaders, deans from different academic areas/colleges, and more. It wasn’t always easy to get people on board, but it helped that the President was fully behind this. There were a couple of functional areas that had been slow to get him their strategic plans, but they got on board when the President reminded them that he couldn’t promise their priorities would be reflected in the CFP if they weren’t at the table with their own goals articulated.”

“If you’re going to be transparent, you need to be thorough,” said McGee. “People need to understand what the consequences might be for the decisions that are made, and they need to see their place in the larger conversation. The transparency gave us an opportunity to educate people, and not just come out with an edict.”

The University established a SharePoint site on the university website early on to give access to meeting notes, presentations and drafts of the plan to faculty, staff and students. There were multiple on-campus workshops, and each concluded with a campus-wide presentation, providing updates on the status of the work and opportunities to provide feedback and field questions about the plan. There were 200-plus meetings over the course of the process.

“All the effort for transparency and collaboration that went into the development phase gives the CFP a lot of credibility,” said Moessner. “There is buy-in across campus for this plan. If I tell people we’re doing something because it’s in the CFP, they get it. There are always a few who don’t like aspects of it, but they’re few and far between. I would tell anybody that the time you take up front to make sure that all constituents/stakeholders are really engaged and understand what you’re trying to achieve will pay dividends in the end – not just in the product but in how the product gets used.”

Written by Jonathan Martin, Landscape Architect