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"You cannot write the UT strategy in splendid isolation"

How do you sum up the strategy of an organization that has over 3,000 employees, 10,000 students and a complex environment containing many stakeholders into a workable and manageable statement? This is the remit that Mark van Vuuren and the Shaping2030 writing team were given. Last week, the team went into seclusion to write the first draft.

The associate professor of organizational communication and six team members went to Boekelo and ‘barricaded’ themselves in for a few days. They wanted to go somewhere new, away from everyday distractions, to truly focus on their assignment. “No, these are not things you can only dream up in splendid isolation”, says Mark with a smile on his face, as he reflects on the progress made during a hectic day of writing. “Although the end result might be a strict but simple story, that should not be the objective, as you want to create something that reflects the input of many people in the community.”

Great results

In recent months, research has been conducted and brainstorming sessions have been held for the purpose of creating a new strategy for the University of Twente for the coming years. “And not just at the university, but partners in the region and beyond have also contributed to this new strategy. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that we cannot do this alone. They hold up a mirror to us, but they also work closely together with us to achieve our goals.”

The document may consist of no more than ten pages. Mark: “It would be much easier if we could do this in 160 pages, and there are plenty of examples of organizations who take this approach. However, we want to keep it short but sweet. We only want to include the most eye-catching and surprising elements. At the same time, it can’t be like a sweet shop where you can simply pick and mix the things that appeal to you the most.”

Rich process

Surveying hundreds of people can lead to as many different opinions and views, that may vary widely. “The entire strategy process is a very rich process because everyone has an opinion and wants to contribute. That helps. This abundance of thoughts, opinions and convictions is not necessarily unanimous and may be contradictory. You want to do justice to what everyone contributes and that is complicated. At a certain point I felt like the conversations were going in so many different directions, that I said: I don’t know if this is a puzzle I can actually solve.”


But the puzzle needed to be completed by the end of last week: “Groups of colleagues worked in various tracks on various themes. We asked them what they believed the main idea behind the strategy should be: what absolutely must be included and what is vital? This provided the corner pieces and the edges of the puzzle. The other pieces of the puzzle will be pieced together sometime this week.”

Mark does not yet want to reveal too much about the contents of the strategy document. “But I believe it’s important that we keep in mind that the document we are producing will not silence opposing opinions, but should instead serve as the starting point for conversations. The road to 2030 is not being carved in stone, but is being carefully but firmly laid out.”