Desired & Current States

This section of the Dashboard encourages you to visualize what will need to change in order for you to reach your project Goal. What do you want your institution to look like as a result of your change project? How will your project impact your institution, college, department/unit, and individual faculty and students? Filling out these parts of the Dashboard will help you solidify your goal as a concrete vision and identify the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Desired State

The Desired State represents specific changes in conditions rather than project goals or outcomes. It requires specific descriptions of things that will be different. For example, a goal might be that students in introductory STEM courses feel that they are part of a community. A Desired State would be the concrete things that
you will create with your project in this community, such as student cohorts in introductory STEM courses (institution level), welcoming study spaces within each STEM department (department level), and instructors of introductory STEM courses using collaborative group work (individual level).

Desired States can occur at different levels of the system. For the sake of simplicity, the Dashboard identifies five basic levels: External, Institution, College, Department/program, Individual. These basic levels are relevant to a wide variety of higher education institutions. There is nothing particularly special about these levels and they can be changed to match the levels that are relevant to your institution or change project. The important thing about explicitly showing a variety of levels is to understand the different elements of your particular system, and the important impacts of each level on your change project.

Many change initiatives fail because they focus on a single level and do not account for the barriers imposed by other levels nor build on the affordances provided by other levels.

Tip: Desired State

A Desired State should reflect a change in conditions rather than an outcome. Useful desired states help you decide what to do. Not useful desired states simply restate aspects of your goal.


  • Physical space available for undergraduate research participation
  • New faculty hire in target area
  • Dedicated advising program for the major with advisors informed about new curriculum

Not useful:

  • Student buy-in
  • Increased enrollment in target courses
  • Clear path to student success

These less useful statements represent goals more than conditions. What conditions will need to be in place to support increased enrollment? What will student buy-in actually look like?

Current State

Once you have identified the Desired State for your project, it is now time to identify the Current State. What is the actual condition of each area you listed in the Desired State? What do those things look like right now? Answering this question will help you identify the gap between your Current and Desired States.

Also, when thinking about the Current State, it is important to identify aspects of the system that you don't expect to change during your project (that is, the Current and Desired States will be the same), but that will likely support or impede reaching the desired state. For example, your Desired States might align with your institutional strategic plan. On the other hand, your institution could be in a difficult financial situation with budget deficits and, thus, have little appetite for new programs. You cannot expect to change these things, but they will certainly impact your project.

Failure to recognize the affordances offered by the current state can lead to missed opportunities. Failure to recognize the constraints imposed by the current state can lead to overoptimistic plans that do not reflect reality and are likely to fail.

The items to consider for the Current State are the same as those for the Desired State and are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1: Target areas for the Desired and Current States

Levels of the system
Consider desired conditions and current conditions at these levels
Possible target issues
What specific things exist (current) or do you want to exist (desired) at each level of the Dashboard? (adapted from Eckel & Kezar, 2003)
  • Curriculum (e.g., types of knowledge presented through the curriculum, organization of the curriculum)
  • Pedagogy (e.g., use of particular teaching methods or new technologies)
  • Student learning practices
  • Student assessment practices
  • Policies (key institutional policies such as those regarding scheduling)
  • Budgets
  • Non-financial resources (e.g., allocation of space or equipment towards particular projects)
  • Departmental structures (e.g., organizational hierarchy, relevant centers)
  • Institutional structures
  • Decision-making structures (e.g., formal governance processes, ad hoc structures such as task forces)
  • Language used at the institution (i.e., to talk about itself, etc.) and types of conversations (e.g., topics, priorities)
  • Stakeholder relationships
  • Norms of interaction between individuals and groups

Tip: Structures vs. Cultures

There are two basic types of Desired States that can occur at each system level: structures and cultures.

Structures are more concrete things that can be directly measured or observed.

  • For example, you can directly observe whether an undergraduate lounge exists in a department where students are able to hang out, study, and interact with one-another.

Cultures can be more difficult to define. The literature contains careful definitions of culture (e.g., Burke, 1992; Burnes, 1996). However, for the purposes of the Dashboard, the careful definitions of culture are not particularly important. We simply think of culture as the more subtle aspects of the Desired and Current States that tend to be harder to directly measure or observe.

  • For example, a department may have a culture where students in introductory courses do not feel welcome to enter the undergraduate lounge. This is different from a structural issue, such as a policy that restricts the lounge to upper-level students. Such a culture could even conflict with a formal policy that invites and encourages introductory students to use the lounge.

When structures and cultures conflict, it is usually the culture that dominates (Groysberg, Lee, Price, & Cheng, 2018). Table 1 identifies common aspects of structures and cultures in academic institutions based on the work of Eckel & Kezar (2003). This can be a useful place to start and trigger ideas relevant to your project.

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