Universities, Human-Centered Design, and Strategy: Fast moving worlds and fast moving Universities

In a fast moving world, how can we build fast moving and agile universities? How can we better align universities with the contemporary needs of students and other stakeholders? How can we build a holistic, human-centered strategic innovation model for universities?

Strategic Human-Centered Design Innovation at the Universidad Católica del Uruguay

IntoActions worked with the Universidad Católica del Uruguay (UCU) in South America to help the university align its strategic goals with Human-Centered Design (HCD) and build organizational innovation capacity. The initiative’s outcome was a framework that became the foundation of UCU’s new five-year strategic plan.

IntoActions’ group processes allowed the mapping and alignment of over 4,000 ideas and comments in a strategic framework during the workshops. Photo Credit © 2017 UCU

IntoActions’ highly participatory and collaborative program guided participants through the three stages of its strategic innovation capacity-building process:

  1. Strategic Innovation Planning. Mapping a strategic framework that aligned UCU’s processes, technology, people, and structure with its vision and strategic goals.
  2. Design Thinking Deep Dive. Crafting and implementing a Design Thinking Deep Dive, a human-centered design activity that allowed for a more in-depth discovery of essential insights based on the university’s vision and strategic goals.
  3. Implementation. Turning unique insights into actions by creating and implementing innovative prototype solutions—then leveraging this practice to build ongoing innovation capacity.

Integrating strategic innovation planning with human-centered design helped participants to learn, discover, and experiment with intention. It encouraged them to keep goals and critical questions in view while applying a deep exploratory and creative process.

What do universities want to achieve for their students and stakeholders in a socially and technologically fast moving world?

IntoActions conducted a series of participative workshops that included senior academics, students, members of the executive team, senior management, and administrative staff. There were numerous advantages to using our participative approach.

We had 80 “end-to-end” representatives from across the university in the same room. Cross-functional participation with students meant that we could create a strategic transformational framework in less than four weeks.

Students working alongside with senior academics, members of the executive team, senior management, and administrative staff during the strategic human-centered design innovation workshop. Photo Credit © 2017 UCU

IntoActions’ group processes allowed the mapping and alignment of over 4,500 ideas and comments in a strategic framework during the workshops. Our holistic strategy model can also be used, in more detail, for aligning organizational structure, technology architecture, asset, and cost distribution.

The outputs for the workshops included:

  • Introducing a holistic HCD strategy model and training all participants in how to use the model
  • Aligning HCD and strategy with people, process, and technology
  • Clarifying and agreeing on key areas for strategic transformation
  • Conducting a two-week human-centered deep dive into the top eight strategic issues and then building prototype solutions
  • Introducing a basic framework for HCD project implementation

IntoActions’ participative HCD approach allowed UCU to map information, create a strategic framework and strategic agreement, and develop strategic prototype solutions that traditionally take elapsed time of three to six months.

Reinhold Steinbeck and Ian Hunt, IntoActions’ project leads for UCU’s strategic human-centered design initiative, with Fr. Dr. Julio Fernández Techera, SI, UCU’s Rector, and participating students. Photo Credit © 2017 UCU

“The experience was extraordinary in many ways—for its novel approach that energized the organization internally; for the inclusion of all key stakeholders, including 20 students, throughout the entire process; for its hands-on and practical approach; and for its results. Three out of the four selected prototype projects have already been implemented and are working well.

The workshops were very successful and good for UCU’s heart and soul and already left a lasting rhythm of innovation. A litmus test was the pandemic, and we passed it gracefully. I can affirm that we were the university in Uruguay that best knew how to respond to the pandemic, in the shortest time possible and with the best quality.”

– P. Dr. Julio Fernández Techera, S.I., Rector, Universidad Católica del Uruguay


Ian A. Hunt
Senior Director, Strategic Innovation & Organization Design, IntoActions

Reinhold Steinbeck
Managing Director, IntoActions