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Strategic planning at McGill

In a complex and changing environment, a university strategic plan traditionally serves as a general framework to guide decisions about where to invest resources (i.e., time, effort, and money). Rarely are such plans so detailed as to prevent creative interpretation or expression at the Faculty or unit level.1 Over the course of our history, and especially during recent decades, strategic academic planning has been an on-going process at McGill.2 However, Strengths and Aspirations, presented to Senate six years ago, was the first systematic attempt to link academic planning to a new multi-year budget framework and to suggest the importance of empirical measures by which to assess progress against our own stated and agreed upon objectives (baseline) and to compare explicitly McGill with our peers (benchmark). That earlier planning process actually began in 2003 when the Principal charged the Office of the Provost with task of leading the academic community in a systematic review of McGill’s aspirations and opportunities. Joining in this process, Deans brought forward Faculty-based plans that were grounded in existing strengths and suggested future directions.

Based on these inputs, the Office of the Provost, with additional contributions from the Principal, Vice-Principal (Research), and Deans, identified areas of academic excellence and possible expansion that would strengthen McGill’s comparative advantage. These academic priorities and objectives found their expression in multi-year budget and resource models coordinated via compacts, the binding agreements between the Office of the Provost and the Deans of the Faculties, supported in budget and other resource allocation decisions. In advance of launching the current planning process, the Office of the Provost examined strategic academic priorities from 2006 to determine what had been accomplished. It was clear that rather than an entirely new plan, an iteration on Strengths and Aspirations would best serve the University – a tune up, rather than a full engine job. We have of course realigned existing objectives and integrated new priorities in light of rapidly changing internal and external circumstances.  Among these realignments are three strategic objectives identified in earlier planning documents  that are in need of further exploration and development.  For examples of successes based on the 2006 white paper call to action, click here.3


1 This definition was proposed in the Strategic Plan Discussion Document prepared by the Office of the Provost, 6 August 2002.
2 There have been a number of quasi strategic academic plans developed in the last 20 years. See for example, Report of the Academic Policy and Planning Committee, “Academic Directions and Budget Strategies for the Next Five Years” approved by Senate in Fall 1996. Office of the Principal and Vice-Principal (Academic) Consolidated Strategic Plan for Academic Renewal (Spring 2001); for an earlier period see: Henry Mintzberg and Jan Rose, Strategic management upside down: Tracking strategies at McGill University from 1820 to 1980”, Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 20(4), 270-290.
3 Members of the McGill community can access this document using their McGill ID and password.