As I meet with universities and higher education systems that are making bold commitments to sustainable development, I am both excited and concerned. On one hand, the potential is palpable- the opportunity to mobilize valuable resources: talent, expertise, research and innovation, to address our most pressing needs and challenges. But investments alone are not enough. Along with commitments and funding, we need scalable models that can connect engagement with goals and targets, supporting dynamic assessment and continued progress and capacity building. Without such models, success and sustainability cannot be guaranteed.
If you or your institution are currently supporting the SDGs, or considering future investment, please reflect on the following diagnostic questions. They can be modified or adapted to fit any specific context, and can be used as a foundation for design or redesign work.
Is your model sufficiently inclusive, inviting diverse engagement and participation, or is it overly narrow and constrained, limiting who can contribute and how? Consider students, faculty and researchers, programs and departments, staff, alumni, and partners. How might each group contribute and what resources might they offer?
Is your model sensitive to the needs and limitations of your stakeholders? Do you make it easy and enticing to get involved, or is your model overly rigid and demanding? Consider a continuum of engagement options that all align with key goals and targets while broadening participation and building capacity, interest, and support.
Is your model responsive and flexible? Can it create new opportunities, allowing for customization, focused engagement or generative impacts, or is it overly static and one-dimensional? Imagine a system that can generate and harvest engagement based on dynamic needs and priorities, a system that can flex and pivot as the environment continues to change.
Can your model track engagement outputs, monitoring progress towards goals and targets? Can it share output data and generate new engagement opportunities, or does it rely on traditional assessment methodologies? Formulate research questions and hypotheses to guide your assessment and consider using digital badges to facilitate and incentivize while building value around engagement.
Thoughtful responses to these diagnostic questions will reveal your capacity to drive meaningful change, while also guiding any necessary modifications or enhancements. Using existing programmatic frameworks as foundations, you can design dynamic systems around your current offerings, transforming investments into catalysts for growth and innovation.
Since this work is new and unfamiliar, it will be helpful to gather examples and case studies that reveal both points of vulnerability and strength. As we come to recognize the benefits of dynamic engagement systems, the insufficiency of our traditional approaches will be revealed along with our inability to protect investments and grow returns.