IMS Strategic Planning at a Glance

IMS Strategic Planning at a Glance

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By: Zeynep Yilmaz

Many of you are aware that IMS recently had its first strategic planning. The brochures highlighting the strategic priorities have been widely circulated, and if you haven’t seen them, you can pick up your copy at the IMS office. As with every new process, there are questions about how the proposed changes will affect IMS students and faculty members. With the assistance of Dr. Allan S. Kaplan, Director of IMS, I have compiled a guide to the IMS Strategic Plan with answers to some of the most commonly asked questions:

“What is strategic planning, and why did the IMS need this?”

Strategic planning involves putting together a roadmap of goals regarding where the IMS should be in the next five years and a roadmap of how to get there. The IMS had never formed a strategic plan previously, and having a concrete plan allows the department to make informed decisions about where to invest resources and energy. Dr. Kaplan emphasizes the importance of this process, adding, “When it is done right, strategic planning is really a way in which people can come together and work toward a common vision.”

“What was the process of strategic planning?”

The groundwork for the strategic planning started in the Fall of 2011. With the approval of the IMS Executive Committee, The Potential Group was chosen as the strategic planning consultants for their inclusive, engaging, and bottom-up approach. “In some strategic plans, work is done by the consultants in a top-down manner,” explains Dr. Kaplan, “but in our case, the majority of the work was carried out by the students and faculty in the Core Team, under the guidance of the consultants.”

After hiring the professionals, a core team of 35-40 IMS students and faculty members was established with the goal of engaging as many stakeholders as possible by asking a series of questions that stakeholders felt were important for the IMS to address. Each member of the core team identified three people to interview, and the interviewees consisted of members of the IMS, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, provincial and federal governments, and funding agencies. The process generated over 100 responses, and this information was collated and brought to the table at the IMS Strategic Planning Retreat in January 2012, which was open to all IMS students and faculty.

Dr. Kaplan shares one aspect that stood out to him throughout the strategic planning process: “Many interviewees stated that the IMS was unique in its personal touch with students, dealing with each student’s needs as such needs come up. Graduate coordinators in particular were identified for their approachability.” Through this process, the main initiatives for the strategic plan were developed. Since then, the core team has met to discuss implementation procedures and identified leads for each initiative. Dr. Kaplan highlights the accountability in the process: “The goals were meant to be very concrete and quantifiable, so that we can assess in a year and in five years from now whether we have accomplished our goals.”

“What kind of changes can I expect to see in the near future and in the long-term?”

First, the IMS logo has been revised with a new tagline: “Translational Research and Interdisciplinary Graduate Education that Advance Human Health.” Five key words have been identified for each of the strategic initiatives: (1) uniqueness; (2) connectedness; (3) presence; (4) belonging; and (5) engagement.

“Uniqueness” will focus on creating unique program offerings in translational research that will set the IMS apart from other graduate departments. “The first step is already underway, as the IMS has put forward a proposal for a new a Master’s program in Translational Research,” says Dr. Kaplan.  “This is different from courses and workshops; it is the first such degree-granting program of its kind in Canada, and there are only a few others like it in the world.” This Master’s program is projected to start in September 2014. Future plans include the possibility of establishing a joint MBA/PhD in conjunction with MaRS and Rotman School of Business.

The goal of “connectedness” is to strengthen interdisciplinary connections. Although a number of collaborative programs exist, this theme will take it one step further by creating academic clusters, which will encourage and enable interdisciplinary collaborations. According to Dr. Kaplan, “Five years from now, our goal is that every student will be aligned with one of these clusters, which will facilitate research and networking, as well as give them a sense of belonging; the goal is to create a meaningful home for students and faculty.”

“Presence” will tackle the issue of identity and branding. “Believe it or not, some Faculty of Medicine members have never heard of the IMS!” exclaims Dr. Kaplan, emphasizing that the department needs to focus on strengthening its identity locally, nationally, and internationally. “The new tagline will serve as the first step in clarifying what the IMS is about, and it will keep us on track to become the global centre for excellence in translational research training.” Other long-terms plans under this theme include creating an alumni database and fundraising activities.

“Belonging” will focus on student experience: although the IMS Students’ Association (IMSSA) does an outstanding job in bringing students together, the goal is to increase the academic, social, and networking activities for our student body.

“Engagement” will address the issue of faculty involvement. “Although we have over 500 faculty members, only a small minority are actually active in important IMS activities,” says Dr. Kaplan. One goal is to expand the number of faculty involved in IMS Committee work, and expand the number of workshops offered to faculty related to helping them become more effective supervisors.

“Were students involved in this process?”

Students played a crucial role in the entire strategic planning process. I was lucky to be one of the student representatives involved, and I can proudly report that there were as many students as faculty in the Strategic Planning Core Team. In addition to direct student involvement through the IMS Executive Committee and the Strategic Planning Core Team, IMSSA conducted a survey to identify the needs of the students and where they would like to see the IMS in the next five years.

Given that students are the most important stakeholders, Core Team members interviewed many IMS students and graduates to capture their IMS experiences. Each initiative is co-led by one student to ensure that student engagement is sustained throughout the implementation process. “Even the strategic planners mentioned how impressed they were with the level of engagement of the students,” comments Dr. Kaplan, especially considering that one of the biggest challenges in strategic planning is engaging students and faculty.

“How may I be involved in the future steps of the strategic planning?”

Although the initial stage of the strategic planning is complete, it doesn’t mean that our work is done. Dr. Kaplan encourages the IMS community to contact initiative leaders and find out how they can get involved. “We need as many students and faculty members as possible to get involved in implementing these strategic goals. The strategic planning process cannot be accomplished without the ongoing engagement of everyone in the IMS.”