Facilitated processes aligned participants around a common goal. The strength of the process and the strategic priorities developed resulted in:
- the State of Oregon approving the release of 100% of the funding that had been at risk and additional funding of around a further 30% for the following budget cycle
- two other funding sources continuing to make financial contributions.
Prior to the project, representatives of funding sources indicated continued funding for RAIN Eugene was at risk unless the organization produced strategic priorities that were supported by full consensus of the governance body.
Feedback from participants indicated facilitated processes unpacked some very complex topics and helped them to develop a framework to think about, talk about and ultimately create a plan for the future of the organization.
The Executive Director endorsed the facilitated process saying, “The process was enjoyable and educational, and the results were more than we could have hoped for. The value that this has created for our organization cannot be overstated. It was, and will continue to be, crucial to our mission”.
Feedback from board members included:
- “Facilitation helped a diverse group of board members navigate towards consensus on the key elements of RAIN Eugene’s programs and outreach activities in a skilled and time-efficient manner. The resulting strategic plan document is now a framework we can refer to and work from to grow the organization”.
- “The process got the team aligned and moving together towards a shared goal”.
Context and challenges
The Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network (RAIN Eugene) is a consortium of government, higher education and the business community. We connect the local innovation ecosystem around the University of Oregon and the cities of Eugene and Springfield with the entrepreneurial community to create high impact, innovative, traded-sector companies that can grow and thrive in our community.
Located in Eugene, Oregon, RAIN Eugene is managed as a virtual non-profit by the University of Oregon, the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Eugene. RAIN Eugene has two employees and a 10-person board of directors who engage a broad collaborative of economic development agencies, funders and entrepreneurs to achieve the organization’s mission and regional economic development goals.
RAIN Eugene was at a crossroads.
- Facing externally, we must consistently add value to the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem, be responsive to local needs/opportunities, collaborate well with partners to leverage collective assets and persist in the quest for funding sustainability.
- Facing internally, we had not yet operationally or culturally implemented a recent merger with another business incubator organization. We had new governing board members and a newly appointed executive director. Gaining trust and forming effective working relationships was an important dynamic we wanted to address.
RAIN Eugene wanted to shift from reactive to strategic mode whilst not losing its entrepreneurial spirit. We wanted to create governance agreements that would provide more formalised structure for effective planning and implementation of growth strategies.
The purpose of the organization is to foster innovation ecosystem. This requires adaptable, nimble response to a wide variety of new business start-up opportunities… too much process and too rigid a structure would dampen this adaptive response. Yet, too little organizational structure and clear governance and communication agreements among the leaders hampered the organization’s ability to optimize efforts, stabilize services, and scale/grow impact.
Desired outcomes for the planning process included:
- Foster group connections, candour, and trust (team forming).
- Establish strategic priorities for a two to four-year planning horizon.
- Provide a frame to position for state funding and clarify expectations for executive director performance.
- Assist in codifying board governance policies (a critical few) to support effective governance, as it relates to the strategic plan.
RAIN Eugene engaged Kathy Smith of KJ Smith Associates to design and facilitate the process. The approach involved four stages:
- Process design and agenda development, working closely with client project leaders and engaging stakeholders in seeding process design.
- Facilitation of planning sessions. Facilitated four extended sessions of four to six hours each and one brief session to review/ratify the draft plan. Preliminary agendas for each session were finalised in advance of each session. The client provided background content materials necessary to support productive discussion and decision-making. The facilitator provided process materials and support aids.
- Documentation of a draft strategic plan derived from the planning discussion and decision-making process. A recorder/writer was dedicated to documenting a summary plan that reflected the decision framework, strategic priorities and major initiatives within each priority.
- Facilitation of follow-up discussion to reach agreement on a plan of change/change facilitation as it transitioned to the Board chair, vice-chair and executive director.