Education Technology Uncategorized

It’s Complicated: Leveraging Complexity Science to Support Large-Scale Initiatives


  • Gerard Au, Deputy CIO and CISO, CSU San Bernardino
  • Stefan Fletcher, Director of Administrative Policies and Special Projects, University of Wisconsin System Administration
  • Raghu Chagarlamudi, Senior Director, Higher Education, Student Lifecycle Solutions, Huron Consulting Group
  • Felix Zuniga, Campus Engagement Partner, CSU Office of the Chancellor

Resources and Downloads (via EDUCAUSE website)

Started with a poll, asking attendees how complex their institutions are. Most responses (77%) said very complex. Second poll asked “in one word, makes it complex?” Responses generated a word cloud. There’s an article in EDUCAUSE about complexity: networks, emergence, self organization/social coordination, feedback sensitivity and agility to improve people, process and tools.

Felix and Gerard talked about scale of the CSU, and Stefan talked a bit about UW, including the return on investment (23 dollars to every dollar invested). Raghu talked about Huron’s scope (2,900 consultants, so yeah that’s kind of big).

Applying the Principles

UW SIS restructuring project: address enrollment and financial challenges, expand access, maintain affordability, create new opportunities, join 2 year and 4 year comprehensive universities.

Principle 1: networking

  • Reduce siloing
  • Broaden communications network

Principle 2: emergence

  • Ensure autonomy
  • Ensure operational stability of receiving institutions

Principle 3: Self-Organization & Social Coordination

  • Roadmapping sessions (vent frustrations, no formal agenda)
  • Faculty networking (discipline-level discussions re: curriculum/programming)

Principle 4: Feedback Sensitivity

  • Decision making needs to have a feedback loop that allows for guidance clarification (tuition increase was used as a scenario).

Principle 5: Agility

  • Full project a response to unintended consequences (i.e. declining enrollment)
  • Redesign of academic structure (current & transfer students, receiving institutions, data conversion, etc.)

Felix talked a bit about the CSU’s “Graduation Initiative 2025,” which includes as goals large improvements of graduation rates, transformation and innovation, shared services and achieving economies of scale, organizational communication and effectiveness. Some current major initiatives include: Common Human Resource System, data lake project, ERP API integration Layer, and systemwide procurement. Historic successes include common network initiative, data center migration (Utah to Bay Area), and PeopleSoft finance centralization. Money saved from these intiatiives were freed up for use at a campus level.

Gerard talked about CSUSB’s approach and priorities to meet the goals mentioned by Felix. Campus Strategic Plan, WASC reaccreditation, GI 2025, etc. CSUSB is also moving from quarter to semester conversion, which encompassed advising, budget, communication, curriculum development, faculty affairs and student support services. How do we manage these things? Via the alphabet soup of systemwide committees! The also happens via campus and IT governance. CSU also puts on an annual tech conference that helps get everyone together. We also have a Slack team that piloted in 2016, which has 1,500 members and 110+ public channels. The Slack team was a great tool for communication among folk across the system. Having a platform for organization like this is crucial to solving problems quickly.

Gerard talked a bit about a tool CSUSB uses called “officevibe” to improve communication and career pathways for staff to provide feedback on how to be successful in their environment. The feedback was incredibly helpful. Felix amplified the importance of having good communications to support change management, especially for the larger, multi-year projects like the CHRS (Common Human Resources System).

Key Takeaways

  • Strong project coordination
  • Clear vision
  • Complexity principles can be applied at any scale
  • Complexity can drive change and innovation!

By Paul Schantz

CSUN Director of Web & Technology Services, Student Affairs. husband, father, gamer, part time aviator, fitness enthusiast, Apple fan, and iguana wrangler.

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