It Is All In How You Play The Game

Today faculty and staff on my campus met to discuss what to expect when the accreditation team visits our campus for a week in October. If you aren’t familiar with higher education accreditation, basically it is an evaluation of how everything an institution of higher education does contributes to student learning and success. It looks at everything from curriculum development, grading standards and financial aid practices to the budgeting process and grounds/building maintenance.

The accreditation visits happen every six years but basically you spend the intervening time improving your practices, collecting data to evaluate if you are improving and generating interim progress reports.

If that sound incredibly mind numbing to you, it really is. Just about everyone in the organization is involved in contributing to the report, but only a few people handle all the information. God bless them for it.

That was what the meeting today was pretty much all about–making the whole organization generally aware of the report’s content. After my post yesterday about communicating organizational values, I wanted to share a little bit about how they did it because I really appreciated how they took a 500+ page behemoth and made us all a little more knowledgeable about it.

A lot of what transpired today could be used for board meetings/retreats where vision and strategy is discussed. It could just as well be used for volunteer and employee training to make people aware of values, procedures or even the upcoming season of shows.

Basically we played games. You may groan and I don’t blame you. I have been to meetings where the game playing seemed forced and awkward. I think the problem is that those games were aimed at breaking the ice or team building while these games were focused more on increasing familiarity with issues and content. I thought they were well designed in that they moved quickly and weren’t interspersed with heavy fact laden lectures.

Before we played games, we were told what the purpose and value of accreditation was and what the possible outcomes might be (including sanctions) so we had a sense of why it was important to be familiar with this information.

First played a type of BINGO game where questions were asked and then you got to mark off the answer–if it was on your card. The questions were a mix of statistics, history and information about where resources could be found.

Next we played a MAD-LIBs type game where we had to fill in the blanks in the text of recommendations that had been made at the last accreditation visit and the strategic goals we had developed to answer them.

Now if you think that sounds really boring, you will know how effective the game playing was when I tell you we were up on our feet trying to beat the other teams and resorting to strategic research (cheating).

Later we did a speed dating style game where we had to ask each other likely questions the accreditation team might ask of us, then shift seats and ask the next person.

The goal of this wasn’t to achieve a perfect answer, but give people a greater awareness of the many factors being evaluated. The question I was assigned to ask was about the 95.1% of classes currently involved in an ongoing evaluation process and what could be done to improve the process and percentage. I ended up talking to the head of Human Resources, Campus Fiscal Officer and a member of the business faculty.

The first two really had no idea how to answer the question because the don’t directly deal with academic concerns, the faculty member did provide a more cogent answer. But now we are all a little more aware of the criteria upon which the campus is being judged and know that a self-evaluative procedure is in place for a large number of our courses.

What appealed to me most about my experience today was that this type of approach really plays to the strength of the performing and visual arts. We do similar things in rehearsals when we are developing performances and when we try to communicate information in education and outreach programs. Even if you aren’t doing these exact things, the potential is present in your associated artists and staff. With a little work, these techniques can be applied to administrative and governance purposes.

Now as I said from the outset, there was a lot of time consuming and mind numbing work that got us to this point. There is no avoiding that or making too much more enjoyable (though certainly, any fun is an improvement). In terms of getting investment from the group and communicating information and values, games are a good tool.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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