The power of convening

Gatherings at Deans for Impact play a pivotal role. Even in this hyper-digital world, it is through in-person interactions that we build trust and make lasting commitments. When Deans for Impact launched, it was important that all staff be based in Austin because we wanted our organizational culture built through personal interactions. Convenings serve the same purpose: by coming together around a common purpose, we shape and reinforce our culture– and, ultimately, drive the kind of change we want to see.

Here’s how it works:

By solving individual problems, convenings foster growth for the group.

This August, for example, we held the inaugural Impact Academy, a leadership development experience for deans. During this gathering, these deans (called Fellows), along with several of Deans for Impact’s member deans, took part in group consultancies – an exercise which allows someone to get input and guidance on a problem of practice. For example, one dean talked about the need to balance urgent priorities, such as meeting accreditation requirements, with creating a culture focused on inquiry and continuous improvement. This consultancy experience not only helped each fellow get additional clarity around his or her problem, but also helped the group as a whole identify points of connections and find new ways of addressing challenges.

Deans can often feel isolated in their work. Attending in-person events connects them to a network of their peers and allows them to swap ideas and strategies. In a discussion about budgetary constraints at our last convening, for example, one member dean said that she tells her faculty that not all money is green—meaning that she shows them how to stretch their budgets by differentiating between restricted (“red”) grant dollars, which can only be used for specific projects, and unrestricted (“green”) funds, which can be used for general expenses. Convenings can break us out of our own echo chambers by providing opportunities to make connections and build community.

Group diversity promotes unlikely connections.

Since the membership of Deans for Impact is so diverse, our convenings are a place where people who might not otherwise have a chance to meet can talk to each other. This sparks new ways of thinking—and we also include speakers from entirely different fields to do this, too. At one of our semiannual convenings, we invited a medical historian to talk about the transformation of the medical profession and to help us think about the parallels between that and the ongoing transformation of the education field. Through unlikely connections, we are able to tap into a variety of perspectives.

It’s hard for busy leaders to leave behind their work, families, and other obligations to attend a multi-day event. But we’ve seen incredible ideas that to fruition by bringing people together and providing a safe space for them to listen, explore and innovate.

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