Expanding Higher Education's Offerings
Luther College Round Table Services
Using state-of-the-art technology and skilled facilitators, Round Table Services provides group facilitation services to assist in strategic planning, problem solving, assessment, decision-making, policy-making, and consensus building. Its mission is to provide a collaborative environment for the college as well as the business and not for profit community. The college's Round Table Room, known on campus as the RTR, is a state of the art facility with 22 computers linked to the Luther network and the internet. FacilitatePro is used to support idea generation and decision-making in all kinds of group sessions.
"Round Table Services is the best thing I have ever seen for facilitating a group discussion. ...Because people can contribute anonymously, many who would otherwise not contribute do so because they are not in any way threatened by peer pressure, communication skills, or any of the dozens of other reasons that people do not choose to participate in a group setting" --Bob Erickson, bank consultant
Examples of sessions:
- Physicians and administrators from Decorah Clinic-Mayo Health System created their strategic plan
- A utility company explored ways to diversify their business ventures.
- Education majors assessed their curriculum; the results will be used in reaccredidation procedures required by the U.S.
- Athletic teams established team standards.
- Several thousand Luther College alumni were surveyed on a variety of college-related topics.
- A foundation board reviewed and prioritized grant requests.
- Woodlands cooperative members from the Upper Midwest participated in a brainstorming session to explore ways to enhance the value of their product.
Luther had been using a collaborative software product that functioned only on a local area network, and were looking for a robust alternative that could run over the Internet or an intranet. They found that FacilitatePro provided all of the decision-making support tools they needed, required minimal technical support, and could support both on-site and distributed meetings with high performance and availability. With their previous experience using collaborative software, it took only a short while for the Luther College facilitators to feel very comfortable with FacilitatePro.
Helping the Northeast Iowa Woodlands Cooperative define its mission
Recently, Luther College facilitators ran a session for a Northeast Iowa Woodlands Cooperative in order to brainstorm ideas for marketing their products in a sustainable way. The meeting sponsor wanted a chance to bring this diverse group of people in and let the ideas fly. The challenge was that the group had never worked together, and they were from very different backgrounds and points of view - from community professionals to local farmers to forestry experts. At the same time, livelihoods and a passion for sustainable woodlands were at stake.
"There was a lot of building on ideas, so there was a lot of consensus building, interjected with humor, that made it fun … it added energy." — Ann Mansfield
RTR Facilitator Luther College
Ann Mansfield, lead facilitator, worked with the meeting sponsor to develop some creative questioning and an agenda that would stimulate idea generation during the session. Once the thinking was done, set-up took only a few minutes. The agenda called for the group to first identify their mission, then to identify their key goals.
The team worked anonymously on the system, generating and building on each other's ideas. "In this particular instance, removing attribution was important, because of the likelihood that these individuals would not submit ideas to the process because they thought others in the room were experts and their own ideas were less valuable," noted Mansfield. In two hours, 17 people generated 100 distinct ideas. Throughout that process, the facilitators used categorization and a multi-voting technique, condensing four to six hours of work into two. Mansfield commented, "It made people feel they really accomplished something. The "build" function is a fascinating one for me - someone submits an idea anonymously, and another person can add in and either expand the idea or take it to another level, … from the comments throughout the course of the session - there was a lot of building on ideas going on, so there was a lot of consensus building, interjected with humor, that made it fun … it added energy."
As a result of using Facilitate.com, this group generated an impressive list of potential ideas for sustaining the woodlands in Northeastern Iowa that have the potential to be beneficial for the farmers and land-owners, reinforced by the forestry experts, and encouraged and supported by community representatives. The group recognized the added benefit that having developed consensus and shared interests, they will be able to continue to work together over time. Mansfield summarized it this way: "It was a very productive and high energy session -- the participants walked away very happy with their experience."
Expanding Luther's role
At Luther College, the Round Table Room is seen not only as a way to support strategic planning and student services within the college, but also as a venue for outreach to the surrounding community. Mansfield is excited about the future plans for facilitated sessions run in the Luther College Round Table Room: "All along, people have seen its potential (RTR)… with this type of session, we have been able to advance one more level, making use of the RTR not only on campus but also in the community."