Broadening Understanding of Institutional Culture

Ask eAIR covers topics about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. This month’s question is answered by Claire Goverts, Assistant Director for Research, Analysis, and Planning at SUNY College at Brockport The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Subsribers are invited to join the discussion by commenting below.  

Dear Claire: IR work supports many stakeholders, meaning that IR has many “customers.” How can I broaden my understanding of institutional culture and develop a better context for stakeholders’ needs and goals?  

CGoverts2.jpgAn understanding of institutional culture is important for framing myriad data and project requests. As many IR professionals are well aware, we have access to many different data points that can be cut, sliced, diced, defined, and analyzed in different ways. When customers request data, they may not have the same scope of understanding about how we can display the data for them. Having a feel for institutional culture and the customer’s perspective helps IR professionals better define what information is needed.

The following methods have helped me get a better idea of my institution’s culture. Keep in mind that faculty, staff, and students contribute to the culture of an institution, and what works well with one group may not with another. The student portion can be a little tricky in the IR profession because we do not really interact with students as often as other campus employees do.

Be involved in campus committees and work groups

This is a fairly easy way to learn institutional culture. Committees and work groups allow for interacting with others on campus toward a fairly common goal. In these sorts of collaborative efforts, seeing how others define a question or suggest a solution provides insight about culture. Most of the time these groups are composed of faculty and staff, though I have been lucky enough to be on a few committees that include students.

Attend open forums when candidates are invited to campus

This is a nice option because it requires less of a time commitment than joining committees. Both the candidate-selection process and the questions that administrators, faculty, and staff ask during the campus visit can reveal institutional culture. I find it helpful that people asking questions usually identify who they are and the department in which they work.

Pay attention to campus members’ professional affiliations

Following the professional organizations that campus members are affiliated with can help IR professionals understand current initiatives in various professions, which will help frame customers’ requests. For example, we work with our Career Services office on alumni surveys, and that office has a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) membership. NACE has released its First Destination Survey Standards and I’ve been following the NACE blog to stay abreast of developments.

Follow social media

This is where one can get an idea of the topics of interest to students. For example, I occasionally search for Brockport on Twitter and skim the results to see what topics pop up. Seeing what issues students are struggling with or the great things they are doing can really add to one’s understanding of institutional culture.  



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