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In part one of this topic, I challenged us to think more broadly about innovation within theological education. I think we are missing some big opportunities for significant levels of innovation. Innovation can be about much more than “product” or program innovation. As I mentioned in part one, I strongly believe that theological education is about much more than offering the “product” of a degree. However, that is where we spend most of our time innovating. Again, while that is helpful, we may be missing the opportunity to innovate in ways that can bring dramatic shifts and improvements to our system of theological education. That opportunity is based on integrated innovation efforts. Part two provided a few thoughts on what I think it may take to begin integrative innovation efforts at our institutions. Finally, this post builds on those foundational concepts and looks at where to start.

Where to start?

If we are going to move beyond program innovation (Product Performance and Product System) where should we start? I would start by looking at the category of innovation Doblin calls Configuration. The category includes three types of innovations which are all great. However, what I primarily like about them is the simple fact that each requires us to be integrative in our thinking.

Profit Model (the way in which you fund your operations)
In this type of innovation we are looking at how we fund the institution. Traditionally, we have relied on (net) tuition, donations, endowments, etc. Profit model innovations require us to think more broadly about how we gather funding and the models we use. Are there better tuition models which could be offered in more effective payment methods which enable students to participate in new programs…programs which work only because of the new funding model?

Network Innovation (connections with others to create value)
Network Innovation seems to be an untapped resource within theological education. Partnerships, collaboration, and multi-institutional programs could be great for theological education. Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary’s Plus Program is a good example of a partnership. Partnerships could impact content, delivery methods, support systems, program development, funding, business models, and much more.

Structure Innovation (alignment of your talent and assets)
In 2009, Northern Seminary began thinking about this type of innovation and the results were amazing. Rather than looking at “departments” or “job descriptions” that needed to be filled, we began looking at our assets, our people, and the tasks that needed to be completed. We created what I refer to as an “organizational network” versus an organizational chart. We do not have a Dean or CFO or VP of Advancement in the traditional sense. By aligning tasks and talents we streamlined operations, became significantly more agile, and developed new innovative systems of support.

Process Innovation (signature or superior methods for doing your work)
Process Innovation has the potential for significant impact. Many institutions do not review processes on a consistent basis. We tend to find something that works and then stick with it. However, process innovations can be very beneficial if the right people are involved. Are there processes you could adjust which would improve your student experience, programs, services, or budgetary issues?

Did it work in practice?

It is easy to say these things, but how does it work out in practice? Well, I would be lying if I said it was easy. It takes time, concerted effort, and a willingness to try something new. Below are two examples from personal experiences. One is from my time at Northern Seminary, and the other is from my time with the Boy Scouts of America. Remember, I do not claim to be an expert in innovation. Rather, these are examples of integrated innovation efforts which had positive outcomes. They are offered in order to show how integrated thinking impacted the end result.

Northern Seminary
In 2010, Northern Seminary was considering a few big changes. We were thinking about participating in the federal loan program, adjusting our institutional financial aid, changing the number of courses we offered, and simplifying the payment process for students. At the same time, we didn’t want to change the number of academic programs we offered or the number of emphases. In order to do that we needed to find ways to ensure a certain number of students were in each course so that courses would not be cancelled due to low enrollment.

We approached these considerations in an integrated fashion by thinking broadly about the institution. At the “innovation” table sat each member of the cabinet, our financial aid coordinator, director of admissions, and a current student. What was the result?

The entire process of applying for financial aid was adjusted and tied directly to the creation of a student payment agreement and reporting. The business model was adjusted in order to take account for interest as well as reward registering for an entire year. Finally, students were served by a newly created automatic payment process. We were able to decrease the number of courses we offered because we were better able to project which courses would have the requisite number of students. We did not cut any program, emphasis, or core faculty. At the end of the 2010-2011 academic year we found that net tuition had increased by over 35% and staff time related to these processes had decreased therefore increasing our enrollment capacity.

Boy Scouts of America
While working with the Boy Scouts of America, I developed a soccer program for my geographic area. This program was significantly different than the traditional program and very different from other soccer programs in the country related to scouting. Eventually, the program became one of the largest soccer and scouting programs in the nation.

How was this program an example of integrated innovation? It looked at everything from funding/profit models, to staffing and service, to process and content. Funding for the program came from the community versus the individual students. Students couldn’t afford the traditional membership fees for the Boy Scouts. Leaders for the program were paid staff versus volunteer parents. Students were registered through their schools versus the traditional “sign-up” nights. Finally (and somewhat obviously), the program was based on soccer, versus strictly outdoor education.

Integrated Innovation

If you have read any of my other blog posts on this site you will not be surprised that I believe integrated innovation is important. I think there is a great opportunity within theological education and our work in the Church is too important to let that opportunity slip past us! Let’s see what God can do when we work together to move beyond “product” innovation. What do you think is possible?

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