ATD Introduces New Tool for Colleges to Assess their Adaptive Capacity

As she was preparing her opening remarks for Building Adaptive Capacity for Resiliency and Agility, ATD President and CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout was struck by the need to build adaptive capacity to help community colleges tackle two current pandemics, COVID-19 and the impacts of systemic racism.  

“Admittedly, the content for this webinar was developed with a COVID lens, but the framework we will speak to today can support action to address both pandemics,” Dr. Stout stressed. 

In introducing the webinar content, Dr. Stout referred to ATD’s Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool’s (ICAT) seven fundamentals, and the importance of having strength in each capacity area. “In times of rapid change like now, the ability to be flexible and to adapt is critical,” Dr. Stout shared as she introduced a new Adaptive Capacity model, also with seven key areas of strength.

Colleges that have worked on strengthening their ICAT fundamentals are prepared. Many of our colleges are moving from strategic planning to scenario planning…..and they’re preparing for multiple potential futures. These strengths are building adaptive capacities.”

ATD Chief Learning Officer Susan Mayer introduced Dr. Paul Secrist, President Emeritus at Oklahoma City Community College and ATD Leadership Coach, and asked about lessons that the college and his community learned after the April 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. Dr. Secrist shared that Oklahoma City quickly came to terms with the fact that a tragedy of this proportion can happen anywhere. This particular tragedy led to the Oklahoma Standard, a statewide initiative preserving and promoting a culture of caring citizens, and in 2013, the college used the Standard to guide their thinking and action when their campus was severely damaged by a tornado.

Dr. William Serrata, President of El Paso Community College (EPCC) reflected Dr. Secrist’s comments about initially not believing that tragedy could hit your own community. EPCC leaders have ensured that everyone is welcome on campus as the college serves a border community with a number of Dreamers among its students, and the safety and education of the students and community remain a priority. 

“These incidents have helped us to continue to move forward and to continue to learn, because it could happen again, unfortunately,” Dr. Serrata stated in referring to the 2019 shooting at a Wal-Mart and other tragedies in El Paso. Dr. Secrist reiterated these comments and the importance of planning. “You have to manage your way through a crisis, but the test of really good leadership is to begin thinking about the future almost immediately,” emphasized Dr. Secrist.

College can Align the New Tool with ATD’s ICAT

Adaptive capacity is an institution’s ability to mobilize and combine key institutional strengths to implement functional and structural change to anticipate and respond to economic, environmental and social stressors. The new Adaptive Capacity tool was created by Achieving the Dream (model above) through an extensive literature review, and it pulls key questions from ICAT 1.0 and ICAT 1.5 that help colleges assess their adaptive capacity, work that relies heavily upon collaboration within an institution and with community partners.

Shara Davis, ATD Strategic Data and Technology Coach, discussed how colleges can align the ICAT with the new tool to assess their resiliency for some of the extreme disruptions described by Dr. Secrist and Dr. Serrata. While leaders do not have to create a sense of urgency during times of extreme disruption, explained Davis in introducing the tool, “the literature clearly suggests that leaders who take risks, who are visionary, innovative, creative and entrepreneurial are much more adaptable to unpredictable times of change.”

In addressing how colleges can access and use the ATD Adaptive Capacity tool, Davis drew a comparison to the ICAT, referring to it being most effective as a conversation starter that invites critical discussions on campuses. Similarly, the Adaptive Capacity tool is best utilized as an opportunity to bring people together in a Capacity Café or guided discussion. Davis explained that ATD Network colleges that have completed the ICAT can request an Adaptive Capacity report from ATD based upon their ICAT. She did, however, recommend that colleges who have not completed the ICAT in the past few years administer the Adaptive Capacity tool rather than relying upon a report drawn from their ICAT.

In closing comments, Dr. Stout commended Dr. Serrata and Dr. Secrist on role modeling leadership required for adaptive organizations. She commented that the new tool will help colleges build agility beyond the pandemic, and reiterated the importance of incorporating evidence into organizational learning and growth. “We have to build, for our organizations, mental muscle for adaptability, agility, and resiliency.”

View the ATD Toolkit for Actionable Decision Making in Times of Disruption

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