The College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is widely considered to be one of the top veterinary schools in the country. Yet, a number of years ago, they were facing a situation in which donations to the school had plateaued amid an accelerating trend for the legislature to reduce support to the college (due to a downturn in the auto industry). Clearly, CVM was going to need to find other sources of income to support their college and to retain their outstanding reputation.

The dean hired Daniel Stone to assist in conducting a Future Search Conference (FSC) whose purpose was to establish a vision and long-term plan to guide the future of the college. The intent of the process was to engage faculty so they felt fully on board, and also to engage the donor and external stakeholder community so they would not only offer their insights and perspectives but also support the outcomes that they had helped to shape.

The FSC was designed by Daniel with the involvement of an advisory team including both people who were internal and external to the college. The final design involved approximately 100 individuals in a two-day event to forecast the future conditions in which the college would need to perform, craft a vision that would serve as a guiding beacon for all efforts in the college, and define action plans that would lead the college to achieve the vision.

The event was carefully designed so that all participants were fully engaged at every stage of the process; with a combination of table group work and plenary report-outs and discussion, a strong sense of shared purpose evolved during the course of the two days. So by the end of the event, there was a strong consensus on the direction that had been created and a commitment to seeing it achieved.

One particularly unique aspect about the FSC was that over 1/3 of the participants came from outside the college—the first time ever that the college had so extensively involved its external stakeholders. They were highly engaged in the discussions throughout the event. Their participation was so pivotal, that at the conclusion, the dean said that not only would he continue to engage external stakeholders in the future, but would involve even more of them.

The impact of this event was a tripling of donations to the college; it enabled the college to build two new facilities for specialized veterinary services. And it united the faculty and staff in an endeavor that continued throughout the dean’s tenure at the college.

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