From Cautious Optimism to Active Advocacy

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Aspirational Statement

Jeremy Goodman, Assistant Provost for Institutional Research and Decision Support, Olin College of EngineeringGoodman-Olin.jpg

As a participant in the pilot review of the Statement of Aspirational Practice for Institutional Research, I read and reviewed an early draft of the document and thought about how it could apply to my work and my campus. The parts of the statement about being student-focused in our work and broadening the scope of stakeholders struck me as not just aspirational, but inspirational, especially when thinking about how to set priorities and frame institutional research at a very small institution like mine. The statement addressed my work in exactly the way I wanted to be thinking about it. My excitement was tempered, though, with (what I shall politely call) concern about the statement’s discussion of institutional research leadership.

In that early draft, the language around leadership for IR was significantly different than the final, published version, specifically regarding the idea of the chief institutional research officer (CIRO). One of the key facets of the draft statement was that a position that functioned as a CIRO inherently could not be the institution’s director of institutional research. This language seemed too narrow and too prescriptive to fit the vast array of institutional types and structures that comprise AIR’s membership. As a one-person office, I particularly took exception to the idea that the “thinker” and the “doer” needed to be two separate people. In fact, I saw greater value in explicitly integrating the strategic leadership of the IR function with the daily practice of it to ensure that an institution could truly aspire to the other excellent ideas contained in the statement. With the release of the final statement, I am pleased that it reflects the feedback provided by the pilot institutions and offers a more holistic and inclusive perspective.

Ultimately, though, the aspirational statement, both in its draft and final forms, has prompted me to rethink my philosophy of institutional research. Over the last year, I have begun to integrate its ideas into my daily practice, while always thinking about what more we could be doing institutionally to better align ourselves with all of the aspirational concepts. For example, in a key report to the Board of Trustees, I ensured that one of the first things we covered was the potential to impact students. I’ve begun working directly with many more colleagues to understand what data they need to do their jobs more effectively and how I can provide resources and training to support their goals. I’ve tried to move past looking at my job as a series of annual reporting obligations (and daily interruptions to fulfilling them), and instead focus more time and energy on answering big questions that relate to institutional strategy and success. In two weeks, when a new research analyst joins my now one-and-a-half-person office, I will use the aspirational statement as an important training tool for her to understand the larger context of the field she’s entering.

Perhaps the most important change of all, though, is that I no longer struggle to describe what I do when people ask about my work because it’s become crystal clear to me thanks to the aspirational statement. I connect people with the information they need to make good decisions, whether they are individual prospective students consulting a college guidebook or a group of trustees who are making potential institution-changing decisions (and everyone and everything in between). This is the impact that the aspirational statement could and should have on all our campuses. This is how we can all begin to see together, just a little more clearly, the bright future of the institutional research field as we all aspire to take something great and make it even better.

Related Content

Statement of Aspirational Practice for Institutional Research 



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Total Comments: 1
Lisa posted on 7/21/2016 6:36 PM
I appreciated these comments, especially the thought that they "thinker" and the "doer" can be the same person. I am also the sole person in my IR office, so much of what you said spoke directly to my experiences. I'd be interested in hearing more examples of practical ways to incorporate this philosophy in the midst of the daily tasks and regular reports that are required.