The Institute envisions a world where the knowledge needed for people and planet to prosper together is abundant, the leaders who will build that future are supported and connected to one another, and the stories that make sustainability solutions come alive drive impact at scale, for the benefit of all.
To achieve this future, IonE must attract, inspire, and enable innovative thinkers; develop and activate diverse leaders who can spark effective change; and serve as an engine of storytelling. Our community of affiliates, students, staff, and partners is the foundation of this work. During the next four years, we seek to:
Our strategic analysis and theory of change suggest that identifying shared, important issues and going after them as a coordinated community is a unifying strategy that can yield tangible outcomes and attract financial support. As an institute, we will build a new model of shared, goal-driven impact.
We define “Impact Goals” as globally significant sustainability challenges that have key aspects or bottlenecks limited by a lack of knowledge and capable leaders. Each goal the institute undertakes will be scoped with insights from stakeholder engagement and scientific assessment. Within the framework of a goal, IonE will facilitate the formation of teams focusing on subgoals.
Goals are different than topic areas or sustainability themes. They are stakes in the ground that orient collaborative work toward tangible outcomes. They allow us to focus both research and leadership programming, quantify our progress, and prioritize activities based on their significance in driving movement toward the goal. Not all work within IonE will be directly related to a goal, but our intention is that Impact Goals will aggregate and organize a substantial amount of institute activity and bring programs and people together.
Given the wealth of opportunities within Minnesota and the upper Great Lakes and north central region, our Impact Goal strategy will focus on collaborative activities that engage regional stakeholders and enliven regional outcomes in sustainability – staying true to our land-grant heritage.
Our first goals, launched in late 2018 during the development of this strategic plan, are: building a carbon-neutral Minnesota; ensuring safe drinking water for all Minnesotans; and envisioning land-use future(s) for a sustainable state.
Our University network and partners drive the IonE theory of change. Without strong relationships, IonE cannot form the diverse tactical teams needed to make progress on the most important ideas in environment and sustainability. Therefore, IonE will continue to invest in proven methods of building community support and engagement, along with new high-risk projects and activities that bring new combinations of people together. Key milestones and markers are:
1. All people who share the mission and vision of IonE are affiliated and partnered with us and their participation in the community is substantive and meaningful.
2. The variety and diversity of IonE participants must expand to include fields and ways of knowing such as the arts and humanities, which are vital components of sustainability discovery and practice.
3. IonE will integrate DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work into its core functions and creating criteria for funding support that requires DEI considerations, thereby incentivizing this work among staff and affiliates and allowing institute priorities to be set more justly.
4. An analysis of past successes suggests that the most successful leadership programs at IonE involve cohorts who regularly interact and share purpose and peer mentoring; we will expand this model to our wider community and build greater two-way engagement.
5. To advance IonE principles and activate affiliates across the state, IonE will facilitate the creation of community hubs on University of Minnesota campuses other than the Twin Cities (e.g., IonE@UMN-D, established in Duluth in 2018).
Under the umbrella of IonE, we have a range of programs in research and education that link the processes of issue identification (i.e., identifying the most urgent sustainability challenges) to our key “products” (novel insights and activated leaders). These programs have historically operated as silos; over the strategic term, we will evaluate activities and align priorities to focus our impact. Key milestones are:
1. All programs housed at IonE – including those externally funded – share the IonE mission and directly engage members of its community, as well as partners who will help activate change in the wider world. Programs should drive toward the production of novel insights and activated leaders as defined by the institute’s theory of change – and directly participate in one or more IonE Impact Goals, in whole or in part.
2. Leadership programming for students will focus on identifying students most committed to sustainability and the IonE mission, rather than broad capacity building. Enhancing the number of participants is a strategy for capturing a larger set of students who will deepen their commitment over time.
3. IonE will increase the number of affiliate and stakeholder-driven advisory boards, to build broader ownership of and input into IonE activities. These boards will cultivate future members of the Faculty Leadership Council and Associate Directors of IonE. By the end of this strategic term, a minimum of half of the programs of IonE will have advisory boards, including each of the Impact Goals.
Communicating plays an essential role in the IonE theory of change: It is how we expand the reach (and therefore scale the impact) of IonE’s outcomes (insights/knowledge and leaders); attract the necessary members to our community; and foster the essential collaborative ties among those people. Under this plan, IonE will prioritize activities that create connections among community members; expand the reach of IonE insights and outputs; and build shared understanding of our mission and goals, thereby reinforcing belonging.
1. During this plan cycle, IonE will launch a new positioning and communications strategy, including the development of several signature stories that enliven IonE’s new direction and that can serve as centerpieces in the pursuit of our goals.
2. IonE will conduct an audit of IonE community communications, developing an integrated plan to resolve bottlenecks, improve awareness, and build engagement.
3. A centerpiece of this strategic term will be a redesign of the IonE website to reflect the organization’s core capabilities, signature stories, and strategic priorities, and not only its programs, operational structure, and day-to-day activities.
4. During this strategic term, we will also launch a new “EM-Lab,” a place where innovative journalism, multimedia, science, art, and design come together to improve understanding of environmental issues and communicate solutions. With its flagship publication Ensia, EM-Lab will be a home for solutions-focused reporting that leverages emerging multimedia technologies, shares new voices and perspectives, and strategically fosters content partnerships to increase understanding of urgent challenges.
In order to sustain its community and deliver on its ambitions, IonE itself must be a healthy organization. Over the strategic term, the IonE management team will prioritize:
1. The creation of a two-year budget planning process, to facilitate transparency with staff, affiliates and funders, clarify strategic priorities, and allow for improved storytelling about where and why IonE makes investments and how those investments yield returns.
2. Building greater collaboration within and across the different workgroups of the institute. Our baseline will be asking work groups to convene at least monthly, with annual retreats. We will also create new opportunities to share work aims and achievements, building awareness, growing engagement, and seeding serendipitous collaborations.
3. Fully integrating “the IonE Way,” our touchstone list of core values, including taking risks, practicing leadership, and collaborating and communicating, into our day-to-day work, as well as the performance review and management process. We will also formalize annual recognition for staff member(s) who demonstrate excellence at the IonE Way and who have taken extraordinary steps to advance shared goals for the institute, enhancing and enabling “One IonE.”