by Bill Heinrich
I’ve recently returned from a small training project with faculty and staff at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). The team from MSU co-facilitated a series of design-driven conversations aimed at building the capacity of faculty and leaders in three areas at UNN. The redesigns focused on the UNN Information and Communications Technology portfolio (ICT), the UNN
agricultural training programs (Ag), and new designs focused on a proposed Center for Gender Studies (GC).
Our goals on the ground were to provide capacity training in the use of design thinking; to provide guidance on gender, agriculture, and technology portfolios; and to reestablish relationships that might lead to greater NGO or state investments. One key element of this work is that we’re focused on the concept of Human and Institutional Capacity Development (HICD). While many higher-education engagements between countries focus on training for a particular technical process, our approach intentionally surfaces both individuals’ and organizations’ ability to learn from experiences and adapt practices. This work is very similar to the work that the Hub does on campus (using different terms) while aiming for a reinvented learning organization.
My international higher education training, development, and assessment work since 2016 shows me the importance of showing up and engaging deeply in the relational nature of teaching and learning efforts. I’m also privileged to be working alongside project leaders who value teacher/learner relationships over time, and for the ability of relationships to help produce meaningful learning environments, moments, and measurable outcomes.
We had the unique privilege to be following in the footsteps—we were told repeatedly—of John Hannah, one of MSU’s expansionist presidents, who helped to found UNN (the UNN folks used the word “Midwife”). As Nigeria’s and Africa’s first land grant institution, the faculty and leaders hosting us showed us incredible hospitality. More importantly, they demonstrated their commitment to land-grant ideals such as creating community and national benefit for work in agriculture via teaching and training.
Mostly due to the UNN teams’ energy, engagement, and eagerness, the outcomes of the project were rich and successful. The design workshops were well received and we collected initial data on participants’ readiness to use design skills and techniques in the next iterations. The prototype plans for ICT, Ag, and GC were in a memo-worthy state by the end, allowing for teams to pursue their goals with their end users in mind. Finally, the goal to create new networks and relationships was also well grounded by the end of the week.
The team from MSU was made up of people who make careers out of connecting needs in one place to experts in another with funding from a third. The information gathered and experiences we shared give us a strong entry point for future projects. This work of human and systems learning is time consuming (typically two-year projects), logistically complex, and relies on sustained relationships. Given the nature of the work, at MSU, we have more projects than we have known, available facilitators, making for an interesting challenge in staffing and committing to available work. My next steps are to consider ways in which we might increase MSU’s capacity for training for both internal transformation and international partnerships.
The next photos include UNN teams using design thinking to guide their work on Agriculture Innovation, the UNN Information and Communications Technology portfolio, and a new Center for Gender Studies at UNN.