(this article is in development)
What is Strategic Position?
Strategic Position: can be defined as the sum of the competitive characteristics an institution or program possesses when compared to other institutions or programs in the global learning sphere or its specific market segments. For purposes of our discussion we are going to refer to any organizational unit one wishes to develop a strategic position for as the entity. Since the entity can be a system, an institution, a school or college, a program (such s executive MBA), a department, or a research laboratory our discussion will focus upon the general principles surrounding the development of Strategic Position. The concept of Strategic Position resides at a level above marketing, brand, communications, advertising, recruiting… It focuses upon the substance and the content that drives them but in itself is Strategy focused and not so much tactics.
Figure 1: Strategic Position Vectors details for illustration purposes six converging vectors that might be used in the process of developing a position strategy. In each case the first task is to inventory and describe the specific elements in these six categories that describe and relate to the entity for which a strategic position is being developed. A vector is a quantity having direction as well as magnitude, especially as determining the position of one point in space relative to another. Using the concept then we begin to examine these six elements.
Population Demographics and Segments
This is one of the fundamental areas and often overlooked or assumed to be same old. There are a number of perspectives to be considered the first of which is assumptions about geographic reach. Geographic reach is usually defined by cluster descriptions such as local/line of sight, regional, state, multistate, national, selected international, global that defines the geographic target area for the entity. For each cluster then population dynamics must be considered including population by age and gender, birth and death rates, future population condition (is population increasing with in migration or exiting the region outmigration). Population demographics are then informed by such insights as participation rates in types of learning, competitors within the cluster etc. Other threads continue to build the strategic picture for example social network utilization, network access, commuter routes and options, population economics and expendable income. While not exhaustive this should provide the point of this vector. Key questions as in all vectors, what is it now and is it increasing or decreasing.
Communities of Practice (CoP)
Provide a different context for evaluating the academic societal interface. As society grows more complex there has emerged communities composed of numerous skill and interests that focus upon complex problems. There are also a vast number of very traditional communities of practice very well defined in any profession. When developing the strategic position for any academic entity it is important to establish the scope of the communities of practice that contribute to the curriculum and bodies of research. And equally important to map the communities of practice graduates might enter upon graduation. The CoPs are then a touch point in curriculum design and development as well as curriculum evaluation. They help target marketing efforts, faculty recruitment, and potential enrollment analysis.
Spheres, Domains and Employment Segments
Build another key strategic layer of analysis that includes the employment sectors such as government, health, justice, as well as employment organizations and key influencers (i.e. regulatory and licensing). This is where Bureau of Labor projections are injected, employment outlooks are considered, and specific segment drivers are analyzed. A good example might be Schools of Education preparing students for teaching positions in K-12 might well need a very detailed analysis of the current state of accountability assessment across the U.S. Education domain and the global education sphere.
Research and Scholarship
The foundation of research and scholarship is essential to deeply infuse into strategic position thinking and strategy development. If a faculty and/or alums are already eminent in a field and their scholarship is already in the fore of one or many communities of practice then this needs to be mapped, and featured, nurtured and integral with the positioning work. You might be surprised at the number of academic programs we work with and evaluate where this element while well known in academic circles does not find its way into marketing, enrollment management, branding, strategic or academic plans or budgets. Another key aspect involves the academic vision for where the research and scholarship of an entity are headed.
There is much to consider in this vector. A common current practice is to clone, find a program already successful and proven and copy it. No programs exactly like it, forget it, must not be a market. Another common practice is to label an academic program with a great very appealing contemporary name then select (in Chinese menu fashion) one from column A and one from Column B to build the program from existing courses. Pressure is on to spend the least amount of money and time on curriculum design and development, quick to market, flood the marketing material and see what happens.
The proof is here in the academic learning outcomes. This is where an academic entity be it a college or school, a program or certificate makes its grade. Proof is key.