Post written by: Dianne Dietrich and Nance McGovern on behalf of the SPN Steering Committee
How do you ensure you’re still on track with your strategic thinking, now that you’ve got the input and attention of more people? Further, how do you ensure that the goals you do create can be accomplished?
The Steering Committee of SPN (see the end for a list of contributors) tackled these very questions this year when they undertook the task of analyzing and revising SPN’s strategic goals. This process had two distinct phases that resulted in the generation of goals purpose-built to optimize assessment and achievability.
One of our objectives was to ensure that tasks we identified aligned with the original SPN goals and still reflected where the community wanted to go as well as how they thought we’d get there. With so many additional members signing on to be part of SPN, it was absolutely crucial to understand the needs of the emerging community and assess how the existing goals met those needs. Fortunately, we have an abundance of input from across the SPN community.
Members of the Steering Committee broke out into small groups, each assigned a specific cluster of thematically-related goals. They pored over meeting minutes, community calls, and working group notes to identify additional tasks that might have emerged. Each new task was mapped back to an existing SPN strategic goal or flagged as not directly aligned with the existing goals. For each set of goal-gaps, the groups decided whether it was necessary to generate a new goal to address the set of tasks, and when necessary, an existing goal was re-written to accommodate the gap, or a new goal was written.
Curious about how this worked? Here’s one example: the original goal, “Drafting, identifying and promoting models and standards for software preservation” became “Documenting and promulgating standards and methods to advance good practice for preserving software.” The revision reflects the service-oriented nature of the members and aligned with available information about the current community status.
This was such an important step of the process, and one that was foundational to the rest of the work described next. All of our source materials – notes, meeting minutes, working group notes – served as a barometer for SPN’s initial thinking. Through this, we were able to ask ourselves, “Is this what we all collectively envisioned when we signed on to be part of SPN? Am I, as a Steering Committee member, honoring the needs and goals of the community at large?” Once we were sure that the set of goals reflected the total input of the group at large, we could turn our attention to ensuring the goals were attainable.
Next, the Steering Committee set out to transform the goals using the SMART criteria. If your work intersects with project management or performance reviews, you might be very familiar with this set of criteria – specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s one thing to say, “we want to save all the software!” and another to say, “in two years, we will identify two to four grant opportunities to raise money to support software preservation.” While the former is definitely something we’re all feeling in our hearts, the latter is something we can reasonably accomplish and evaluate in the timeframe given. Of course, the process of turning your lofty hopes and dreams into something realistic isn’t always the easiest. With excellent coaching from our community cultivators at Educopia, the Steering Group collectively worked out a few examples together. Once we felt confident in our abilities to transform goals into SMART goals, we went back to our smaller groups and transformed the revised goals using the SMART criteria.
What ultimately emerged is a newly-calibrated set of goals that reflects the community, and are written specifically to set the stage for our work for the next few years. Everyone in SPN benefits from this process. Working Groups have a clear sense of timeframe for the specific goals laid out by the community; members have more concrete documentation of SPN’s activities that can be used for advocacy work; and the Steering Committee can clearly see the road ahead for SPN.
SPN Steering Committee
Stefana Breitwieser, Canadian Centre for Architecture
Paula Jabloner, Computer History Museum
Dianne Dietrich, Cornell University
Sophia Lafferty-Hess, Duke University
Wendy Hagenmaier, Georgia Tech
Daina Bouquin, Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Nancy McGovern, MIT
Seth Erickson, Penn State University
Neil Chue Hong, Software Sustainability Institute
Michael Olson, Stanford University
Matthew McEniry, Texas Tech University
Lance Stuchell, University of Michigan
Martin Halbert, University of North Carolina – Greensboro
Aaron Choate, University of Texas at Austin
Chip German, University of Virginia
Seth Anderson, Yale University