Since its founding in 1848, the University of Wisconsin–Madison has been a catalyst for the extraordinary. As a public land-grant university and major research institution, our students, staff, and faculty engage in world-class education while solving real-world problems. With public service — or as we call it, the Wisconsin Idea — as our guiding principle, we strive to create a better future for everyone.
Despite our lofty intentions, it is important to truly understand our impact. Under the insightful direction of then-Chancellor Rebecca Blank, UW–Madison began its APLU Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) designation pursuit in September 2020. Chancellor Emeritus Blank was very clear that our primary purpose was to leverage the IEP frameworks and cohort structure to understand where our strengths lie, to identify areas of opportunity, and to develop and implement an advancement plan that will continue to move UW-Madison forward in our intent, reach and impact.
Working with our APLU IEP cohort universities across North America, we leaned on past IEP designee institutions to help shape our approach, working monthly with the APLU IEP team and IEP cohort intuitions to troubleshoot and identify best practices as we embarked on our IEP journey. Our self-assessment process spanned more than six months and included active outreach, speaking with internal and external stakeholders to understand their perspectives. We made an intentional effort to connect with various external sources that currently partner with UW–Madison, as well as those that do not. We also conducted a review at the end of each month to ensure we were hearing from diverse communities and related external stakeholders. Although our individualized approach was time-consuming, we were able to gather extensive qualitative and quantitative data that helped guide our advancement plan.
In addition to holding over 150 lengthy conversations, we also implemented an active learning approach to take advantage of real-time opportunities that would test our perceived strengths and weaknesses. For example, during our self-assessment, we heard that simultaneous engagement with multiple university units had been a challenge to external partners. To test this, our IEP leads and sponsors directed a pursuit for a new cross-discipline federal funding opportunity. We were able to see firsthand where our limitations were, conducted an after-action review, and then used a data-driven approach to educate and determine where improvements were needed.
Throughout the self-assessment process, we worked closely with our institutional IEP core team, our IEP sponsors, and senior leadership. As a public land-grant university, we wanted to ensure our commitment was to those we serve, so we paid special attention to the voices of our external community and business stakeholders. Our IEP pursuit kicked off as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up, and although the pandemic did add some challenges, it was advantageous to gather data while the world was changing so rapidly. We were able to better understand the true pace of change, the complexity of our institution, and the risks involved if we avoided adapting and responding to real-world demands.
Our defined advancement plan emphasizes ways our institution can focus on specific research frontiers, improve our capabilities to support public-private economic development, increase our internal alignment with industry and societal needs, and minimize the time and effort it takes our institution to respond to those needs. We have also clearly identified the need to market our economic impact capability, something we hadn’t done as formally in the past as may be necessary in the future.
Given the senior leadership’s support, we have already begun to make progress. For example, in June 2022, our Board of Regents approved a change in our contact approvals process, with our chancellor and University of Wisconsin System president now having authority to advance and approve high-dollar contracts, saving significant time that previously slowed down or jeopardized joint research. We are also increasing the capabilities of our external facing teams, along with adding specialized talent as it relates to economic and regional, technology-based ecosystem development.
Given the breadth, depth, and quality of work, our IEP lead team decided we were prepared to complete and submit the APLU IEP designation application. We originally submitted our application in February 2022 ‘for comment’. After receiving thoughtful feedback from IEP reviewers, we made some final adjustments to our application, reviewed those with leadership, and submitted ‘for decision’ in May 2022. We are excited to have earned the designation as an official APLU IEP university, and we understand the work continues to expand our service, reach, and impact. As a public land-grant university, we are committed to collaborating with our internal and external stakeholders so we can imagine, innovate, and transform the state of Wisconsin and the world together.