Visualize This: Strategic Planning – Part 2

You’re not just collecting data. Thoughtexchange allows you to dig into the process to find meaningful information that is specific, descriptive, and recommends a course of action. It is the process of turning data into information that schools don’t have the capacity to do.

– Quintin Shepherd, Superintendent, Linn-Marr Community School District

In Part 1 of Visualize This: Strategic Planning we discussed how Thoughtexchange’s data visualizations can identify and clarify the successful aspects of a strategic plan. This week, we’ll look at how data visualization can help identify areas that need improvement.

The Individual thoughts collected in a Thoughtexchange provide specific and descriptive insight into the issues that are most important to the community. They also represent the true, unedited voice of the community because each participant is able to share his or her thoughts in his or her own words. Once the community assigns value to the thoughts that resonate most, and the thoughts are organized into themes, a road map of community priorities and viable courses of action emerge.

Data visualization, in turn, reveals additional patterns, trends and correlations. For example, visualizations can provide insight into how a plan is performing, where gaps between community and leadership priorities exist, and what key areas of a strategic plan need updating.

The three questions below help highlight areas of misalignment. Here’s how data visualizations can help identify solutions:

What areas need improvement?

Visualizing the community’s concerns can reveal critical pieces that must be addressed in the upcoming version of your strategic plan. Looking at the “Summary of Themes”, we see that a lot of thoughts were submitted on the topic of  “Learning Environment”.

Looking at this topic specifically, and in particular the “Class Size” and “Differentiated Instruction” bars, we see that dramatically more stars were assigned to thoughts that talked about concerns than to thoughts that were appreciative.


This means that “Class Size” and “Differentiated Instruction” are perceived as relatively problematic areas that should be investigated sooner rather than later.

What could drive positive change?

In many cases, there is at least some level of appreciation around even the most concerning areas that emerge.


Looking at the individual thoughts reveals possible solutions. For example, while “Differentiated Instruction” was an area of concern, innovative opportunities in recess and playtime were appreciated within this theme, as was providing more opportunities for enrichment. Focusing on these two initiatives and expanding on them district wide could potentially help improve this issue.

Are there gaps in communication?

Communication gaps or misaligned priorities can manifest in two ways. Either the community generates very little or no discussion around certain key areas within a district’s strategic plan, or new priorities of extreme importance to the community emerge that were never previously addressed.

In the former case we will see areas of the strategic plan show minimal levels of conversation:


For instance in the case above we can see the community is not expressing a lot of thoughts around Goals 1-3, 8 or 10 of the strategic plan. Assuming these are important areas to the school leadership or direction of the district in general, it might be worth investigating whether further communication or clarification of these areas would assist in greater understanding or discussion.

In the latter case, additional, unexpected pillars can point to new and important areas of consideration. For instance, in the example above, “School Environment and Stakeholder Engagement” emerged as a new and important issue for the community that had not been addressed in previous versions of the district’s strategic plan.

How have you bridged communications gap in the past? What strategies have you used to correct areas of misalignments?


Read Part 1 of Visualize This: Strategic Planning to learn how Thoughtexchange’s data visualizations can identify and clarify the successful aspects of a strategic plan.

About the Author

Natalie Michelson

Natalie is our Director of Research & Analysis and has a background in analytics and process design and a degree in economics from Pomona College in California. She has a passion for innovation, people and new technology and spends most of her time finding new ways to simplify and share stakeholder insights from educational communities across North America. A happy Vancouverite, Natalie plays recreational volleyball, ultimate frisbee and softball and loves any activity involving the ocean or mountains.

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