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The Ecosystem Project
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JANUARY 2024 Update

A Big Thanks to Our Institutional Partners

Our creative community is composed of individuals, organizations, and institutions collaborating to make higher education a stronger industry. Together, we generate reciprocal outcomes through dialog and the generation of new ideas and ways to understand the often hidden fabric of our institutions. 

There are several nonprofit organizations offering support and guidance that I’d like to call out and thank:

  • The Society for College and University Planning

  • The Renaissance Center

  • The Association for Managers of Innovation

  • National Center for Science and Civic Engagement

  • Lincoln Institute of Land Policy


So far, our institutional partners include:

  • State University of New York at New Paltz

  • Claremont Lincoln University (part of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy)

  • Southern Oregon University

  • Humboldt CalPoly

  • Large, private, East Coast R1

  • Central US State University

Canvas Magic

Much of the work last fall focused on building our creative community, recruiting institutional partners, and developing the methodologies to produce ecosystem depictions. It all went remarkably well. At the heart of the process is a series of canvases that we employ over the course of three online sessions. These canvases contain the theory and details we use to build the ecosystem depictions and they are each essentially landing pads for a thousand virtual stickie notes. We are still refining the details and will make these available to our creative community and partners well ahead of the publishing of the book. Here is a quick preview of the nine canvases:

  • Session One Canvases

    • Ecosystem Landscape, Boundaries, and Inhabitants

    • Ecosystem Orchestrators and Activities

    • The Inhabitant Experience

  • Session Two Canvases

    • Ecosystem Review and Enhancement

    • Ecosystem Value Dynamics

    • Future States

  • Session Three Canvases

    • Future Horizons

    • Ecosystem Shifts and Interventions

    • Key Orchestrator Capacities

First Ecosystem Project Nearly Complete

We have partnered with the SUNY New Paltz School of Business to explore and model a fascinating ecosystem in the seven-county area in the lower and mid Hudson Valley. The work is nearly complete and we’re now writing the first full chapter of the book. It will be a few weeks before we have a sharpened draft, and we plan to share this preview with the entire creative community as it nears completion. We learned a lot during the

process and achieved impactful insights in a short amount of time. 

Upcoming Ecosystem Design Team Projects

Our target is somewhere between 12 and 20 ecosystem depictions and accompanying narratives by the time we publish the book in mid-2025. Each of these will be a chapter of about 10 pages or so. Most of these will be based on case studies in collaboration with institutional partners. Here is an incomplete list of emerging partner projects:

  • learner integration in social, academic, and professional dynamics

  • curricular and program innovation and program portfolio management

  • physical and emotional safety

  • learning to learn from the new student to self-directed to life-long learning

  • social, cohort, and peer-to-peer learning dynamics

There are a few, however, that will be amalgams, ecosystems designed by teams of experts who have knowledge and experience across many institutions over time. Here are some examples of amalgam projects currently underway:

  • Institutional Cognition and Consciousness

  • Knowledge Workforce Ecology

  • Experiential learning, Internships, Co-ops, and Clinical Education

If you see something that interests you or would like to partner with The Ecosystem Project, please reach out to me, and let’s talk!

August 2023 Update

What is this all about? The Ecosystem Project is an exciting set of activities to advance the study of the complex ecosystems at play in higher education and related industries. I have found that in my roles of university administrator, faculty member, and strategy and innovation consultant, our industry has lacked a deep understanding of the complex ways our institutions achieve their missions and provide value to learners and the many stakeholders who depend on what we do. We still complain of silos within our institutions and suffer misunderstood value propositions with our partners and the public. In the last few years, I have worked to depict and apply new models with my higher education clients and have found new ways to solve intractable problems. 

Why now? While I have found great success depicting ecosystems in my work and applying innovation and strategy approaches to help institutions one at a time, I have not yet taken the time to collect the learning to better share it with others. I have decided to reduce my client work and publish my methods and models to share these insights. My aim is to leverage the creativity in my communities to design and publish my next book focused on advanced practice of human centered design, strategy, and innovation in complex ecosystems. I expect to release the book in 2025 after two years of focused effort. 

What activities are occurring? I am currently engaging scholars, practitioners, and generally smart thinkers to help me refine my ideas. The first phases of work focused on discovery and research to build a robust framework for depicting ecosystems and exploring ecosystem dynamics. Now, we’re working to identify and model a variety of ecosystems, perhaps up to three dozen or so. As the models are being constructed, I expect to collaborate with partner institutions to develop local depictions so institutions can explore opportunities to improve what they do and innovate. I expect to generate accompanying case studies to share more broadly. Organizing, depicting, writing, and formatting will take place in the later phases of the work and I will then turn to presentation and piloting opportunities. 

How can I get involved? I am employing what I call a creative community model that is fun, engaging, and highly virtualized. If you are interested, there are several ways to join us. 1) Play Catbird – By catbird, I mean an experienced leader who has observed the dynamics at play in our industry. While catbirds may be experts, it’s the senior, generalist’s 50,000 foot view that is most helpful. The demand on catbirds would be singular or occasional at best. 2) Be an Expert on an Ecosystem Design Team – Once a dozen or so potential ecosystems are identified, I’ll build small micro-communities of experts to help better understand the dynamics, agents, forces, and leverage points and build depictions. 3) Organizational Partner – I am also seeking a handful of partner organizations to collaborate in this work. Partners can help by co-hosting collaborative sessions in Miro, participating in virtual sessions, hosting live invited sessions during meetings and events, sharing insights with their communities, or joining in other ways that create value. 4) Be a Lurker – it’s just fine if you’d like to read occasional communication and get some ideas and inspirations. Connect when and how you’d like.

Can you keep me updated on your progress? For sure! Please subscribe to The Ecosystem Project newsletter using the form below. I'll send updates to subscribers about every six weeks. I'll also include additional options to get involved as we move forward.

Thanks again for your interest!

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