Technology Planning/Before We Plan
Prior to the actual writing of a meaningful Technology Plan it is key that an inclusive process begins to gather input from all the members of the relevant technology community. A strategic planning committee should be formed with representation from all areas that have a stake on what you'll plan and eventually implement. Be aware as much as possible of the politics involved and strive to not leave anyone out that can later negate positive efforts. You might go so far as to "keep your enemies close" in this endeavor. Better to address a potential show stopping issue in the discussion at committee rather than have it surface at a key junction later when you present the final plan and the issue can do major damage to any success or early adoption of the recommendations. The committee will form the input and discussion for a needs analysis which aids in forming true data-driven conclusions and minimizes assumptions. It also helps to prevent limited thinking or worse yet continuing to do things the same old way because it is comfortable to do so. A needs analysis will drive the decisions for the goals and vision of the technology plan. You can't write an effective technology plan without thoroughly knowing the needs for your school district or institution.
The Technology Planning CommitteeEdit
The committee should not consist solely of members who know technology. In fact, it would be more useful to have a wide range of representation both from the academic and administration areas, as well as even one or two student representatives. Remember, one of the goals is to minimize false assumptions or rush too quickly to judgement on what should be done, or what can we realistically afford. Try to keep the committee membership to a reasonable number that will work well, rather than a large mob. Also, be sure to select predictable meeting times - same day, same time each month for example - that most can attend. An easy method might be the second Tuesday of every month at 2:00 PM (2,2,2). That consistency makes it easier for all members to chart it and show up. Make the overall process an open one for other members of the school who may not be on the Planning Committee. Publish timely minutes to all members and consider creating an archive on your main website that lists the committee members including their contact information and title. Publish the minutes at this location as well. Stress to members that it is important for them to attend every meeting and if you discover at any point that another individual should have been included, try to add that key person. As Chair of the Planning Committee you will need to keep everyone on task and should prepare in advance for each meeting to ensure effectiveness of the time invested by everyone. Work with the actual facts, do not permit politics or personal grudges to surface during discussions, and traffic-cop any that do quickly. Keep focus within the committee and also write a brief charge that explains what the role and scope of the group will be. Finally, as discussions emerge be sure to drive toward consensus rather than one individual speaking more loudly or passionately than anyone else.
It will be important to interview the actual users of technology, and determine their most pressing shortfalls in existing operations. Have the users describe the problem, the needs, not the specific solution that they think is required. Remember you are in information gathering mode only at this point, not testing solutions. The description of the needs may involve multiple solutions later that need to be examined for feasibility. A user who read about a powerful open source solution that they really, really want in their classroom may not be considering what kind of extra programming support behind the scenes would be required. Those issues come later. Be sure to cover all the relevant participants who can provide input, not just the department head for example who may overlook a unique application that is underway down the hall or in another building. Don't promise any quick fixes or instant vendor purchases but clarify that this is an exploratory effort only and that the committee will review all the data. Be precise with questions and ask one final open-ended question such as "If you could solve one or two technology problems that are holding you back, what would that be?" The needs analysis data should be made available to every member of the committee. Also, let the users who are providing input to this step know that they can speak honestly and that their name will not be attached to a specific comment. You may uncover some critical info that will matter in the final Technology Plan.
Remember, technology is neither good nor bad. It is our "use" of technology tools - within our contexts and toward specifc ends - that can make a difference (Katz, 2008). A thorough Needs Analysis will serve as the bridge to the next step in the planning process, and become the base for key decisions that follow. Make certain that you provide a solid base as the outcome.
Katz, R. (2008). The Tower and the Cloud - Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing. EDUCAUSE. Boulder, CO.