Special Features

  • Featured
  • 03.28.24

Strategic Planning for Institutional Research Offices

  • by Nadine D. Hylton


Institutional research (IR) practitioners are often at the forefront of their campus’s strategic planning and monitoring efforts. Yet, IR departments may not have a strategic plan for their department. Strategic planning for IR departments is an exercise in sustainability planning as it is an exercise in understanding the evolving role of IR departments on college campuses. With scarce human and fiscal resources and the ever-present need to collect and disseminate timely institutional data to the campus community, IR departments must create a roadmap that guides their work and engagement with the campus for the long-term.

Strategic plans or the roadmap guiding the long-term work plan for the department should cover a three-to-five-year cycle. In formulating this roadmap, IR departments must actively seek input from campus partners and collaborators to ensure the goals and associated work plan items included in the strategic plan are feasible, reflect the campus’s data realities, and provide opportunities for innovation. For example, engaging the Registrar and Information Technology is important in ascertaining what changes or updates to the student information system (SIS) may be on the horizon and to gain an understanding of how these changes will impact the work of the IR department. Meanwhile, an opportunity for innovation may involve the creation /convening of a data governance working group or committee to develop a campus-wide data glossary or make updates to the current glossary to reflect any changes to the SIS.

Closely tied to campus partner engagement is assessing current and future technology needs for the IR department. Technological needs of the IR department should reflect the work that the department is currently undertaking and seeks to undertake during the strategic plan’s term. In this regard, it is also important that IR departments anticipate their future technology needs by asking themselves whether the tools currently available will enable the department to efficiently complete the work it aims to undertake in the future.

An underlying factor that must be addressed in the strategic plan pertains to the department’s resources. Besides technology, fiscal and human resources should be assessed, and a determination made on what human resources (e.g., staffing) and what fiscal resources are needed to successfully implement the work plan articulated in the strategic plan. Pertaining to human resources, departments should ask themselves whether current staffing levels allow them to undertake the work outlined in the strategic plan, with potential follow-up questions including:

  • Are there any forthcoming staff retirements?
  • Will the staff need any professional development to equip them with skills necessary to implement the work plan emerging from the strategic plan?

Like most campus offices, IR departments should also engage in a prioritization exercise to ensure that adequate fiscal and human resources are available, or requests made to the campus administration to obtain these resources.

Strategic planning is an ongoing process and requires continuous analysis and engagement for the entire department as well as input from campus partners. Integrating strategic planning and monitoring into the department’s work plan is not only timely but necessary as the role of institutional research departments and offices evolves and the work produced by our offices is amplified internally and externally.

HyltonDr. Nadine D. Hylton s the Associate Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning at Nassau Community College, State University of New York. Dr. Hylton has close to two decades of experience in institutional research, assessment, and strategic planning.


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