Process and Timeline

  • Phase 1

    Generate Ideas



    Lots of big ideas

  • Phase 2




    Hone our best ideas

  • Phase 3




    Refined prototypes

  • Phase 4




    Improved ideas, assess feasibility, relevance

    Get involved

  • Phase 5




    Implementation plan developed

We have asked the entire Western Michigan University community to step up and get involved in envisioning our future—and you have. We got our students, faculty, staff, donors, alumni and community members to participate in this initiative, and we're excited about the involvement thus far.

It is going to be a process—rarely is the first idea the best idea.

Phase 1 Recap

Dr. Jennifer Bott, provost and vice president for academic affairs and Tony Proudfoot, vice president of marketing and strategic communications hosted six town hall-style design sessions and integrated leadership meetings and a retreat with the President and Provost Council. Design session attendees were asked to articulate what they think is working well at WMU, or with college in general, and what is not. They discussed how WMU can provide more value for the investment.

Groups were then asked to sort their individual thoughts into common themes. Similar ideas were categorized and groups worked to identify the strongest themes. They then transformed their individual thoughts into collective big ideas, the goal being to collect as many big ideas as possible.

Phase 2 Recap

The Think Big team analyzed the 141 Big Ideas generated at the town halls, their features, benefits, and differentiators. The team identified commonalities, where there were duplicates, and distilled the big ideas to a list of approximately 100 Big Ideas, 30 common features, and 30 common benefits. Please preview outcome of that process here.

The Design Group was comprised of 41 faculty, students, staff, administrators, alumni, and community members who were very reflective of the breadth of engagement we are fortunate to have at WMU. It worked to further hone these ideas. Utilizing the principles of design thinking, they distilled the ideas you came up with to create four design prototypes for a bold future. Phase 2 concluded April 5.

The team was guided by 5 design constraints and 6 points of view:

Design Constraints

Our Big Idea must be:

  • 1. Future-oriented and distinctive.
  • 2. Simple, believable, and easy to share.
  • 3. Inclusive—everyone matters.
  • 4. Student-focused.
  • 5. It must not be constrained by current practice.

Points of View

These Points of View were developed by the Integrated Leadership Team through a series of interviews with students, faculty, staff, alumni, employers, and community members. The purpose of these conversations was to develop a true sense of what the entire WMU community’s sense of need is at this time and looking into the future.

  1. Students need transformative applied learning, or hands-on experience because a degree gets the interview, but demonstrated success gets the job.
  2. Students need a degree that has unquestionable and easily identified value that exceeds their investment of time and money because they come to campus overwhelmed by the cost of education and unconvinced it will pay off.
  3. WMU must draw the outside in. Employers and communities need to feel they are part of the university community and contribute to the success of our students because the speed of change will create challenges that require accelerated discoveries, create challenges we can’t yet define, and require the most talented workforce the world has ever seen.
  4. Students need a community where they belong, where they feel success and failure are part of learning, where they learn how to connect with others, and where they have room to maneuver as they learn more about their interests, because our teens and college students are facing a mental health crisis. They are anxious and depressed because of disconnection and uncertainty about their future.
  5. Donors, alumni, research funders, and the community need to feel that WMU is moving the world forward because WMU can help them make their mark and solve problems.
  6. Students need a diverse community because they need to learn about themselves and those different from them in order to succeed in an increasingly diverse and international world.

Phase 3 begins April 11 with the kickoff of a series of design workshops. We want to get the entire WMU community's feedback on the ideas the Design Group develops. Our aim is to learn which ideas generate the most enthusiasm, which are authentically Western, and how do we make them even better. Then this summer, we have a lot more vetting, testing, and research to do with a larger audience.

By this time next year, we together will have conceived of, created and implemented some big ideas. There are several more phases to tackle. We're excited to continue the conversation and work together to reimagine our future. Please continue to check back on our progress and stay engaged.

A process for innovation

How is this process different from other efforts?

It’s a good question. The Think Big Initiative is based on design thinking. This approach will help us avoid some of the biggest pitfalls organizations fall into when pursing big ideas. First, we are investing the appropriate time, discipline, and effort to create a truly distinctive idea. The university is investing in town halls, design teams, websites and communications, prototyping, and research to ensure we get to the right idea.
Second, are creating a process that has empathy for our stakeholders built in. We’re not building something and asking students, donors, employers, and research agencies to evaluate the ideas as good or bad. Instead we are bringing them into the design process. They are building the ideas with us.
And finally, we are using creative techniques that design truly novel ideas. We will lead numerous cycles of divergent thinking, followed by convergent thinking. This process gives rise to everyone’s voice and allows the most compelling ideas to rise to the top.