July 24, 2020

Adaptive Campus Planner: Your Resource for Pivoting Your Existing Plan

Advising Leaders

By Kelly Sanford and Maggie Walsh

As colleges and universities respond to changing conditions and increased community spread of COVID-19 in their regions, many are revisiting fall reopening plans and making adjustments. Universities have set high-level priorities and policies, and these have been adopted by units and departments who have been carrying them forward with innovative and practical solutions.

Just when departments were ready to go public with their detailed plans, conditions shifted and plans needed to be adapted quickly. This tool aims to provide a straightforward and simple approach for revisiting and adjusting plans by considering what you offer (courses, housing, dining, student health, etc.) and how these may have to change. The situation continues to be dynamic and universities will continue to need to respond to new information, changing conditions, and other external drivers.

To help colleges and universities respond to these changing conditions, we created a tool called the Adaptive Campus Planner, drawn from our conversations with dozens of universities and work advising universities on if, how, and what to reopen.

The Adaptive Campus Planner is a tool to help plan and prepare for events that shape the operations of your institution. This worksheet is organized by your “offerings” – the services, functions, or programs within the institution, a division/school, or a department. After defining the situation at hand and identifying guiding principles, you move forward by considering the places, policies, procedures, products, people, and platforms for each of your offerings – and identifying what needs to change for each.


Why is an Adaptive Campus Plan Important?

In recent weeks, and even today, we see institutions shelving previous planning efforts and creating their Plan B, Plan C – so on and so forth. The Adaptive Campus Planner is a tool that allows a plan to pivot by establishing principles, adapting offerings, and anticipating roadblocks. The Planner can be completed at both the institutional level, as well as the departmental level, to get a either a bird’s-eye or boots on the ground planning perspective.

What are the 6 P’s of Adaptive Campus Planning? 

The Planner uses six factors to assess offerings across an institution. A successful plan should consider places, policies, procedures, products, people, and platforms. For each “P,” thinking through how plans need to change, whether or not existing plans are still needed, and what new plans are necessary establishes the “adaptive” part of the Planner.

  1. Places: Think physical spaces, such as residence halls, libraries, and classrooms. Don’t forget to consider student home environments for those online. 
  2. Policies: Think institutional requirements, such as grading policies, temperature checks, and late-drop policies. 
  3. Procedures: Think processes, such as booking a room, sanitizing a space, or facilitating service triage. 
  4. Products: Think tools and supplies, such as signage, promotional materials, and learning equipment / tools. 
  5. People: Think university stakeholders and logistics, such as staff roles, work hours, clients, and users.
  6. Platforms: Think digital resources, such as reservation systems, contact-tracing tools, virtual collaboration tools.

Let’s walk through an example. Imagine you are the division of Student Life at a research university which planned to invite all students back to learn on campus – albeit at six feet apart – and now like many institutions can only accommodate freshman, seniors, international students, and low-income students on campus. You now need to think through all the services/functions you offer like Student Health, Housing, Dining, Recreation, Athletics, Civic/Community Programs, and Student Organizations. Each offering appears as a row and stepping through the 6 P’s helps you think through how to adapt. Taking Student Health row for example:

  1. Places: Provide dedicated testing facility separated from well visits, upgrade HVAC system, and reconfigure waiting rooms
  2. Policies: Enable remote students to stay on institutional plan and access Telehealth services
  3. Procedures: Reconfigure schedule and operations to have sick and well visits at different times of day and in different spaces
  4. Products: Provide PPE to all staff, create a barrier at reception desk, provide signage for social distancing and new circulation paths
  5. People: Create joint task force with academic medical center for coordination and escalation of potential COVID-19 cases
  6. Platforms: Create digital queuing system to reduce in-person waiting and leverage Telehealth to reduce physical visits
Example Adaptive Campus Planner

The Planner builds upon the fact that the answer to fall’s biggest question is not rooted in physical space, nor limited to digital space. It is a completely “phygital” (physical and digital) solution. Our planner is centered around “offerings” — the different functions, programs, or services at your institution, or within your department. By looking through the lens of different offerings, you can create both the physical and digital solutions to create a truly flexible and adaptable plan.

To read more about common strategies for reopening and the 6 P’s framework, read about how New York University Shanghai navigated the reopening of their Pudong, Shanghai campus in early May 2020 here.

Entering NYU Shanghai requires a green health QR code and fever checks. (Photo courtesy NYU Shanghai)

How Do You Use the Adaptive Campus Planner?

Working individually or in teams in a facilitated workshop, begin by imagining a specific scenario you want to plan for and establishing planning priorities, then adjust institutional offerings by considering the 6P’s of Campus Planning, and finally anticipate the roadblocks that may alter your plan.

The Adaptive Campus Planner is focused on identifying the key changes to the operations of your institution in response to a major event. At the heart of the worksheet are your “offerings” – the services, functions, or programs within the institution, a division/school, or a department. After defining the situation at hand and identifying guiding principles, you move forward by considering the places, policies, procedures, products, people, and platforms for each of your offerings – and identifying what needs to change for each. Let’s break this down.

The Adaptive Campus Planner contains four sections: defining the situation, focusing on principles, adapting your plan, and predicting the roadblocks.

Step One – Define the Situation: Start by identifying the specific situation for which you will develop a plan. What has happened that has led your institution to make this operational change? What are the key shifts in operations that are occurring? Being clear on the way the institution is changing, and why it needs to change is key to establishing a strong frame of reference for filling out this Planner.

Step Two – Focus on Principles: After establishing a situation to plan for, be clear with your institutional priorities. Ensure you create principles to guide your planning process. These principles will serve as a check as you move forward throughout your planning process. Come back to them as often as you need. There are many facets of planning to consider, so explicitly stating your institutional principles will make sure your plan remains true to your priorities. When developing principles, a few areas to consider may be:

  • How are you communicating your planning process to the greater community?
  • How are you supporting vulnerable students in your planning process?
  • How are you determining the factors by which you will make decisions?

When answering these questions, among others, it may be helpful to answer the questions using a specific structure. You can use the following phrase to kickstart your principle planning process:

  • Our planning process will [insert what you will do] by [insert how you will do it.]
  • Ex: Our planning process will support the most vulnerable students by recognizing the differences in tools, spaces, and resources across our student population.

As you define your situation and your principles, the student perspective is critical. So, this fall we’ll be enrolling up to 20 institutions to take our Student Experience Snapshot survey, conduct a follow-up student focus group, and discuss findings with other institutions. You can learn more about this program here. These results should inform how you adapt.

Step Three – Adapt your Plan: This section of the Planner allows an institution to outline a selection of offerings, and assess the ways in which this offering needs to be altered in this new scenario. An offering might be a program, service, or function within the institution. Consider the different facets of campus through the lens of student touchpoints. For example, dining, housing, academics, recreation, and administration can all be considered different “offerings.” But, the tool scales to whatever level of detail you need. So, you could complete one planner on housing and include rows for rooms, bathrooms, roommate matching, programming, etc. as rows or you could do one planner on academics and include courses, tutoring, mentoring, skills workshops, showcase events, etc as the rows of offerings.

Here’s an example of the kinds of offerings you can use the planner to adapt at different scales, zooming in first on student life and then on student health within student life:

InstitutionalDivision or School Departmental
College or University

- Academics
- Technology
- Student Life
- Facilities
- Libraries
- Etc.
Student Life

- Student Health
- Housing
- Dining
- Recreation
- Athletics
- Community Programs
- Multicultural Initiatives
- Student Organizations
- Etc.
Student Health

- Primary Care
- Counseling
- Dental Care
- Exams and Screening
- Laboratory Services
- Health education
- Allergies
- Immunizations
- Etc.

Next, the Planner will help you consider how to adjust each offering by looking at places, policies, procedures, products, people, and platforms. Are there things that are working well currently? What might need to change or cease altogether? Are there new things that we should be doing? Throughout this section of the Planner, you will develop a comprehensive direction for where change should be focused.

Step Four – Predict the Roadblocks: The last section of the Planner reinforces that plans will change. Asking “what could go wrong?” is a great way to expose potential pitfalls in your plan. However, predicting and creating adjustments for when things go wrong creates a stronger and more adaptive plan of action.

How Will You Move Ahead? You’re Not Alone

brightspot hosted a webinar where we walked attendees through the Adaptive Campus Planner. To learn more, click here.

Here are some tips to help you move ahead:

Be transparent about your thinkingEven when you don’t have the answers, early communication with clear priorities and goals helps students, staff, and other stakeholders feel reassured and builds trust. In the absence of clear procedures and policies, explicitly laying out your assumptions, what’s changed, and key priorities goes a long way in reassuring your community. Check out our post on Best Practices for Communicating Change for more info.

Get feedback: Institutions can expect pushback from students, faculty, and staff about their reopening plans, and on both sides of the issue. While you won’t be able to meet everyone’s needs, this is an opportunity to build off what you’ve heard to develop solutions and align them to what stakeholders hold as most important to their success. At Bowdoin, feedback from the spring semester led to the development of a new course calendar that meets at different times of the day, so that students attending courses from distant time zones will have at least one course time that doesn’t fall in the middle of the night. Feedback isn’t limited to students and staff – make sure to continue to coordinate with other units who are planning in parallel.

Identify new personas (or adapt your personas recognizing new challenges): It’s challenging to imagine services when you are disconnected from your users experiences. For years, residential-based colleges have relied on a number of constants: students are living on campus or nearby, they have access to food, they have many places to study, and help is at their fingertips. With so many students enrolled remotely, staff and faculty need to re-familiarize themselves with additional challenges students may be facing (lack of privacy, competing demands at home, poor internet access, feelings of isolation, etc.) to spark thinking on how offerings will be adapted. Personas can help. When developing personas, it’s also important to recognize students’ motivations and drivers — they are resilient and creative — and integrating what motivates students into your plans will improve their likelihood of success.

Don’t delay your planning: With so many uncertainties, it can be tempting to wait until key decisions are locked in before ironing out the details (we get it, it’s a lot of work!). That said, having multiple plans just means that you will wind up with a high-level plan A, B, and C that provide the foundations for adapting should the need arise. Several universities who were planning to invite all students back to campus have had to pivot to a different scenario — and they used key assumptions remnant from the scenario planning phase to kick start efforts without returning to square one.

Role play and drill what might go wrong: Even with the best plans and procedures in place, something is bound to go wrong. Don’t just talk about what might change, role play and act this out, or hold a meeting focused on the domino effects triggered by a failure in the plan (asking if this happens then this will happen, and in turn… and as a result of that….) to explore the impacts that may be several steps removed from the initial event. Even if solutions aren’t readily apparent, identifying the challenges gets your team noodling on how they might adapt – and sometimes this activity can result in changes to core procedures that provide a net benefit to the experience, even if everything goes right.

Using the Adaptive Campus Planner, departments can better plan and prepare for events that shape the operation of their institution. Completing a canvas will spark collaboration and coordination across departments and help create a shared understanding of what spaces, policies, procedures, etc. need to change and how overarching principles remain intact despite changing circumstances.

How Did We Create the Adaptive Campus Planner?

In May and June, brightspot held eight sessions with leaders in student affairs, professional schools, campus architects, and libraries from 38 institutions to understand how schools were responding to the pandemic and preparing for their future. Through these conversations we uncovered insights about handling uncertainty, social distancing, and new norms. We learned that decision-making in the face of uncertainty, adapting spaces for social distancing, and the need for new behavioral norms were overarching concerns that cut across all institutions. We have also helped four institutions create reopening plans thinking through their services, spaces, staffing, and systems.

Now with conditions on the ground shifting, we recognize that colleges and universities need a quick way to get on the same page about how what they plan to offer may have to change – and be ready for it to change again as the fall gets underway. So, we reflected on all these conversations with dozens of institutions – including those who have reopened already in Asia – and the lessons from advising on reopening and distilled the key considerations into a flexible, scalable tool that can work for an institution, a school, a division, or a department.

We’d love to hear from you about how you’re using the Planner and what feedback you have on it – please drop us a line. We are always trying to improve our tools and help colleges and universities adapt. Good luck as you move ahead!