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Solving the Wicked Problem in Higher Ed: Collaboratory for Innovation

Instead of trying new ways to refinance education, the industry needs to become more agile and less bloated.

Photo of Katerina Bohle Carbonell

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

Administrators, university presidents, professors, student council members, head of accreditation institutes, policy makers

It's 9 in the morning and the room is full of voices. It's the first day of a weekend retreat of administrators, university presidents, professors, student council members, head of accreditation institutes, and policy makers. They met up to make plans of how to re-structure universities and the higher education market. The rising tuition costs are only one sign that the industry has huge problems. Rising university debt, drop-out rates, unqualified graduates are all signs that universities need to rethink their business model.

The aim is to address the wicked problem in higher education. Rob Han (contributor in this challenge) describes this wicked problem perfectly as

"It's not like fixing one cog inside a big machine. Education, in my opinion, is just a huge interconnected network where many things may need to be altered concurrently in order for some positive change to happen."

The idea we propose relates to how education is tacking care of in the US. It goes beyond the high tuition costs. The business model of universities hasn't changed much for the past 200 years. No other industry is so bloated and still surviving (see book from Kevin Carey from the New America Foundation). The higher education industry is confronted with a wicked problem that can only be solved when stakeholders collaborate with each other. 

In the past, one elite university has adopted a new structure (e.g. Harvard) and other's have followed suite, in the belief that top universities will implement best practices. We propose to create a Collaboratory for Innovation, a platform through which stakeholders can discuss to create not only the university of the future, but also processes to accredit and evaluate innovative teaching methods. 

This Collaboratory will be blended, as great collaboration begins face-to-face. Over a weekend stakeholders will meet to discuss the problems. During this meeting, no solution are allowed to be offered. Experts spent a considerable amount of time analyzing the problem. Teams should do the same. After this face-to-face meeting, diverse subgroups dig deeper into one problem area, always trying to stay away from developing solutions. After 6 months, another face-to-face meeting will be planned, bringing together all the gathered information. From then on we plan for a solution.

This is a long-term solution, not something that will help students next year. But we can't keep on offering short-term solution created through single-loop learning.  This goal of this idea is to rethink what education is and how it should be offered. Your kids will profit from it.  

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

The team's current research has shown that some people start to think about education differently. New type of educational institutes have emerged in the US and world wide. We have not yet reached the tipping point, but this idea could bring us closer to a radical change in the industry.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Guidance in facilitating discussion between different stakeholders. A secure and easy to use platform to share ideas, collect resources, brainstorm, doodle, do video conferences. The success of the idea depends on keeping the momentum going, keeping the discussion alive. We would also make use of the resources offered by group as a way to train individuals to collaborate with different stakeholders.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • Yes


Join the conversation:

Photo of Andrew Ciszczon

Great systems thinking approach! Any idea that focuses on the finances alone will fall short of a much larger opportunity. My idea is similar in spirit with the biggest question being, especially with your idea, how do you get the parties who have the most to gain from maintaining the status quo to buy in and challenge it? 

Photo of Katerina Bohle Carbonell

Very interesting question Andrew Ciszczon I think that for every stakeholder group, some people will like change and others not. The key is to identify the change-maker in each group and collaborate with them. Of course this does not guarantee success. I would expect that these kinds of ideas are slow moving, with pockets of change happening. I will also expect that some of the big and established people and universities will not want to participate. Who I would select from the faculty side? Someone who kickstarted edX 
I will expect some big and established universities to not participate. 

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