Planning to Plan

Planning to Plan


Photo credit:, available at


For many in higher education, summer is often a time of reflection, a time to look back on the previous academic year and identify successes and areas for growth. The assessment of the previous year lays out what needs to be done in the future.

As such, it is also a time for planning. It’s an opportunity to rethink how processes are implemented, who is (or should be) involved in various efforts, and what will be collected over the year to demonstrate effectiveness. The thing is, though, that even the act of planning needs to have a plan.


Planning to Plan

There are a few things I do in advance of a broad planning session with colleagues that may be useful to you as you prepare to develop metrics, assessment activities, or areas ripe for a deep dive.


  1. Set realistic expectations for the planning session(s).

Even in a day-long retreat, only so much can be accomplished. Determine in advance of your meeting what can be reasonably completed in the time you have allotted. In that determination, figure out what of those things can be ignored or left for another time.


  1. Determine what goals need to be achieved versus what would be nice to achieve.

Usually we have a set of goals for our area that need to be addressed, as well as competing goals regarding tasks, projects, or other strategic efforts. But, we can’t achieve all the things, at least not all at once. Thus, prioritize goals so you can work to tackle them in a logical order - time consumption, prominence, outcome application, whatever works for you.

  1. Figure out what story needs to be told. (This is really 2a, but can also be treated as its own thing.) 

Having expectations and goals to accomplish are great in theory, but only if you know what you want to be able to say at the end of the planning, at the implementation of that plan, and when the plan you’ve put into play comes to fruition. Your work during your planning session should lay the groundwork for you to easily convey your outcomes to the audiences who need to hear it.

  1. Assemble data, artifacts, and websites necessary for making decisions or determining next steps.

Determining what to do next requires you to know what happened before. Pulling at least broad information together before the planning session will expedite things during your gathering. I also suggest bookmarking common data sources in your web browser and sharing these at the start of the meeting with the participants so they, too, can look things up on the fly. There’s no reason for you to be the only one with the answers as you’re trying to figure out what to do.


  1. Be able to end the day with concrete action steps.

Leave your planning session with an annotated to-do list indicating what needs to happen, who is responsible for it, and each action’s due date. Planning sessions are only really useful if those involved know what needs to happen in advance of whatever is going to happen next.

  1. Follow up with participants after the fact.

Even though folks left with a list of to-do items, following up with a communication a few days later reminds folks who all is doing what and why you got together in the first place. So much happens after a planning session that a recap of what you did, what you looked at, what you decided, and who will do what will do wonders for your ability to accomplish the things you identified during your retreat.


In the end, planning for a planning session is no different than planning for an assessment project, program implementation, or strategic initiative. All require folks to critically think about what needs to be accomplished and how to accomplish it. Treating the planning session as an initiative itself can help clarify the process of going through it, and may result in others more readily understanding what it is they’re going to do in that planning session.

What tips do you have for preparing for assessment planning? Please share them in the comments below.

Matthew D. Pistilli, Ph.D., Iowa State University


Go Back


Blog Search