3 Planning Strategically: Program Structuring and Restructuring (New for 2018)

Amy Cox

Building or restructuring a program, undergraduate or graduate, in the field of International Peace and Conflict Resolution is a daunting task. Resources, faculty, strategic planning, marketing and promotion, enrollment and admissions, curriculum design and professional development are some of the key issues that arise in program development. University administrators are more focused than ever on bottom lines and prospective students want to know how their degrees are going to ensure them better career prospects. Programs also need to be cognizant of the implications for students in pursuing an expensive education in a field where most will ultimately work in the non-profit sector. Thus, creating a successful program requires extensive thought, research and planning. The next few pages describe steps that may help guide aspiring faculty through a process of program structuring. The steps and the lessons learned section at the end arise out of our experience restructuring a fifteen-year old program. Included here are both general information and suggestions, as well as examples from our experience.


Arcadia University International Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) Master’s degree program was established in 1999 and after fifteen years underwent a major program restructuring to address a wide array of changes and challenges the program faced including changes in the field, a proliferation of new IPCR programs, alumni feedback, and internal changes, which included department consolidation that subsumed us into a larger department.

Historically, the program’s goals were focused on giving graduate students opportunities to participate in study abroad experiences and field related international internships, which was a natural extension of the incredible and extensive network of opportunities offered to undergraduates by Arcadia’s College of Global Studies. The challenge in 2015 was that Arcadia was no longer unique in this regard and that it needed to be more explicit about identity: what is the program educating and training students to do, or be? Who should attend the program? How does this program fit into the field? Reflecting on tools like the Peacebuilding Wheel (2008) designed by John Paul Lederach and Katie Mansfield at KROC, it is apparent that programs have to make difficult decisions about what to focus on.

Thus, the program restructuring had some very big goals: articulation of a new mission, situation among other programs and in the field as a whole, identification of specific program goals, analysis of current resources, strengths and weaknesses, and then building, or changing, the curriculum to match new goals. The program already existed with courses, resources, faculty teaching in the program, and students so we had a history of experiences to draw upon, but these also confined us and created a boundaried space.

Ultimately our restructuring became a two-part process that occurred over two years: part one was led by a small group of core faculty that focused on adjusting credits, tuition, and program layout. The second part of restructuring incorporated a much larger set of stakeholders, and focused on content, learning goals, requirements and program planning. Our process was more challenging than the linear process detailed below, as we were defining and re-defining who we were throughout the process, rather than at the onset, and we had to cycle through some stages repeatedly before moving on to the next. As is true for the peacebuilding process is also true for our restructuring process: we cycle through stages until we learn what we need to learn in order to move on.

Step 1: Stakeholders: Define “who” is going to be involved

Determining stakeholders is the first step: who should be involved? There may be internal or external stakeholders depending on the goals.  In our experience we focused on internal stakeholders, those directly associated with the university, such as faculty, administrators, staff, students and alumni can all play important roles in the process of structuring or restructuring a program. Knowing when to engage which stakeholders can be political and complicated. The goals should be transparency, effective communication and accountability, as well as finding willing and enthusiastic partners. Change can be difficult and often unwelcome, so finding a few passionate and determined people to work with can be essential to overcoming obstacles. It also might be a good idea to find an outside facilitator if there are contentious politics or issues involved.

Some possible ways to find people:

  • local mediation center
  • local chapter of ACR or Mediators Beyond Borders
  • local peace center
  • faculty from another school or program
  • a consultant or facilitator

At Arcadia, we do not have program specific full-time faculty, but rather shared faculty and adjuncts who either teach primarily at the undergraduate level, teach only one or two courses, or teach part-time at the university and are not paid for any administrative work. We also had alumni, students, a department chair, a dean and staff that were involved and included in various stages of our planning, however, not all stakeholders were involved at every stage. We hired a general organizational behavior facilitator[1] who did not have a specific background in the field of conflict resolution, but had extensive experience facilitating groups through conflict. It could be useful to find one familiar with the field— depending on the objectives. Sometimes people with a lot of field knowledge can sway outcomes, so it’s not — by definition — necessary to have someone from the field. Having an outside facilitator was important for us for a few reasons, particularly because as Director, I could not both facilitate and advocate for what I thought was important.

Step 2: Information Gathering

Once the stakeholders have been identified, gathering and sharing information is key. This can occur in many ways: attending conferences about the field, about international peace and conflict resolution (IPCR) programs and education; asking experts and reading key field journals; collecting data from students and alumni; collecting data about faculty, resources, needs of the school/program, and data about the market. In our case, attending conferences about peace and conflict resolution education made it apparent that our program needed to restructure. Subsequently, we sought expert insight about program related specifics through guest speakers, and by attending a specific summer ‘school’ on program development at the KROC Annual Summer Institute for faculty at the University of Notre Dame.

There are a few excellent conferences specifically on peace studies and/or conflict resolution higher education that can be exceptionally useful in thinking about identity, curriculum and content, as well as conferences where one can gain understanding of the field in general.

This is a sampling of relevant conferences that occur regularly:

  • Alliance for Peacebuilding Annual Conference, as well as workshops, lectures and events
  • International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education
  • Peace and Justice Studies Association Conference
  • Association for Conflict Resolution Annual Conference
  • Annual Graduate Education Symposium in Peace and Conflict Resolution
  • United States Institute for Peacebuilding conferences and workshops

We also collected information about our current program by surveying alumni[2]. We already had general exit surveys[3] from many past years of graduates. In addition, we surveyed fifteen specific alumni to answer key restructuring questions and participate in the restructuring process. Lastly, our facilitator conducted structured interviews with faculty, staff and administrators directly involved in the program[4].

We had the capacity and resources to use multiple tools to collect data in a variety of ways.

Some useful tools for programs with few resources:

  • Survey monkey (Basic services are free)
  • Google survey form (free with account)
  • Social media tools such as Linkedin and FaceBook groups (Free)

Another strategy in information gathering is to invite field experts to speak to faculty and students. We invited George Lopez from University of Notre Dame, in part because he was involved in our program’s development in 1999, and in part because he is an expert not just in the field, but about the field. We wanted him to share his insight, help us build some consensus around future directions, and engage us in a discussion about professional development. He gave his talk prior to dinner and table discussions took place during the meal. We did have funding for the dinner, but brown bag lunches or pot lucks are also great ways to create a space for engagement, brainstorming and consensus building without burdening faculty with dozens of meetings. Following are some scholars and administrators[5] that could give insightful talks:

  • John Paul Lederach, Notre Dame
  • Melanie Greenberg, Alliance for Peacebuilding
  • Lisa Schirch, Alliance for Peacebuilding
  • Craig Zelizer, Peace and Collaborative Development Network
  • Susan M. St Ville, Notre Dame
  • Theresa Ricke-Kiely, Notre Dame
  • Randall Amster, Georgetown and PJSA
  • Agnieszka Paczynska, George Mason
  • Juliette Shield, George Mason
  • David J Smith, Forage Center for Peacebuilding
  • Jennifer Batton, Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict

After data has been collected compile, analyze, and share it[6]. It’s generally good practice to focus on trends and patterns. In our case, we identified patterns such as a desire for more professional skills and development, lower tuition, increase job placement help, maintain/develop more global study options and field work experiences. We omitted anything specific to one person.

Step 3: Visioning and Mission Statements

Now that the team has relevant and useful information about the field, and feedback about the current program or need for a program, it’s time to articulate a vision. What kind of program do the stakeholders want? What should it aspire to do or be? These kind of ‘big picture’ questions require processing. Essentially this is a consensus building exercise as much as a visioning exercise. A meeting agenda for visioning should have guidelines, bounded questions and a clear format. It may be a good idea to start collecting data about the vision before bringing everyone together. Then, ideas can be consolidated to a few options for the meeting so the discussion can be focused, efficient and productive.

We gathered faculty ideas during the interviews we conducted in our information gathering stage. This began informal one-on-one discussions, which enabled us to do some consensus building before going into the workshop. For instance, by the time we conducted our first of two Saturday workshops, we knew that the program was going to move more intentionally towards a professional and applied program. Then, we used the workshop to focus specifically on which concentrations and skills our program should ideally offer to fulfill the vision. For our two workshops, we also enlarged our stakeholder set and invited all teaching faculty who participate in the program as well as the fifteen selected alumni, staff and the department chair. Our facilitator used some unique exercises including “Collapsing Consensus” and “Las Vegas Voting”[7] to help us achieve consensus around concentrations and skills. Many exercises can be found free online that facilitators can use to frame the conversation:

Big Hairy Audicious Goals (BHAG)- business model for visioning big goals

By the end of our first workshop[8], we were clear that our focus should be on strengthening and developing:

  • students’ acquisition of practical, transferable and professional skills
  • project based and experiential learning
  • global opportunities for field work/courses
  • required internships
  • partnerships with global organizations for internships, employment and projects

We also identified two key concentrations we thought would address some of the more specific needs of professional and practical skill development: Social Justice: Advocacy and Activism, and NGO Management and Social Entrepreneurship.

This step should also enable a mission statement to be drafted, and circulated for approval among the group. This is a very important way to define the program’s primary purpose and should be succinct and address: who is the audience or market, what is being offered, and what makes the program unique? Over time, our mission statement developed to become:

Step 4: SWOT Analysis/Needs Assessment

Once a mission or vision is identified, the group can do an assessment or SWOT, to ascertain what is already in place to support it, and determine what is missing or required to make it work. Resources are always finite; program planning requires understanding what ‘Strengths’ exist and can be built upon, what limitations (Weaknesses) the program or department has, where there are ‘Opportunities’ for growth and development, and what ‘Threats’ exist to the program’s development, progress or growth. In this step, it’s particularly important to involve as many stakeholders as are involved in the process because then everyone can observe the assessment and how future decisions were guided by it. A SWOT analysis or needs assessment should shape the direction of the rest of the process. It should narrow the focus and show where the opportunities are for development. There are many good templates online to assist in this process.

In our second Saturday morning facilitated workshop[9] we did a kind of SWOT analysis; taking inventory of our assets and capacities, and needs based on the vision we articulated in workshop #1. Faculty identified what they were already doing in their courses and what they were willing to incorporate. This enabled us to see the areas where we lacked expertise or capacity to fulfill our vision. Our particular needs were focused largely on skill areas that faculty didn’t “do”, and where we would need to bring in outside expertise either through courses, workshops, or seminars/speakers. It may be that after this step, it becomes apparent that the vision must be re-worked because of lack of resources or expertise.

Step 5:  Curriculum design/redesign

Using the SWOT analysis or needs assessment, either the director or a small group of people drafts and circulates a curriculum map that integrates courses, opportunities, and field experiences to realize the vision.  This should be building on the assessment rather than something that is being created tabula rasa. Driving questions should be: What are the specific program learning goals and how will they be delivered?

For instance, in our case we needed to determine sequencing of courses and which courses would qualify for a particular concentration. We needed to work backwards from capstone to make sure students were learning and practicing what we wanted them to be able to do independently. Much of this happened in informal one-on-one or small group meetings as not everyone needed to be part of every conversation. In general, we all understood that old courses would need to be reworked to meet new learning objectives.

Step 6: Seeking Approval

At some stage, and it may not be here, its assumed that programs, departments or faculty, will have to get formal approval for changes to the program. In our case we sought approval at two stages: the first stage was after we reduced our credit load and, subsequently, tuition by 28%. Once that was approved, we moved forward with our workshops and consensus building around a vision, a SWOT analysis and curriculum design. Upon completion, these were also submitted for approval. This will vary according to individual program, department and university requirements, but it would be imprudent not to mention this step at all.

Step 7: Consolidation and implementation

This final stage is on-going. Upon approval implementation begins. As with the implementation of a peace agreement, one cannot anticipate all the challenges and obstacles that may arise, but if a program has established a small core group of supportive stakeholders that can meet periodically, then this will be manageable.

This stage is also where there will likely be a shift into marketing and promoting the new program. Particularly in smaller universities, programs may be expected to take on some of the responsibility of attracting new students, retaining old ones, and growing the program. In our case, we are creating a few new courses, bringing in weekend workshops, shaping our international experience options for students and refining our admissions process.

Lessons Learned


Ensure stakeholders are clearly identified at the beginning of the process. Assess early who needs to be involved in various stages. Not everyone may be able or willing to participate in everything, but identifying who needs to be involved is crucial to keeping the process moving forward and avoiding unnecessary politics.


Establish from the outset the administration’s requirements for the program and create a timeline for the group to help everyone understand the process, the goals and the way in which the pieces fit together. We did not always do this effectively. University timelines to submit new program materials are often well in advance of the next academic cycle, and we found ourselves scrambling to meet deadlines at times, or missing deadlines and approval processes taking longer than expected. This  could have been avoided had we obtained all the relevant university deadlines from the start and built a timeline that incorporated them at the outset of the process.

Future needs:

Consider current and future needs.. Programs have to anticipate: faculty sabbaticals or departures, frozen budgets, the possibility of low enrollments for a few years before admission goals are met, and the need for on-going leadership. None of these can be contingent on one person or scenario; programs have to plan ahead and make decisions on the principles that matter most to your program and not on individual people or their personalities.

Market data:

Most programs do little to contact people outside the university system, in the public, private or non-profit sectors to determine what their needs are and how programs might better prepare students to meet them. Programs can survey, form small focus groups, or conduct phone interviews with local partners, NGOs, government offices, and places where students intern or seek employment, to ascertain skills, content areas or experiences that make students more employable. Programs are often faced with challenges of employment and placement, and helping students is essential to both student and program success.  An example of an internal and external market survey conducted by Cuyahoga Community College for their Peace and Conflict Studies Certificate can be found in the appendix of this on-line manual.

At Arcadia, we are now forming an advisory group of some of our local peacebuilding connections to help us think strategically about future program choices, projects and experiential learning opportunities so that we can continue to grow in this area.

 Addendum A: Exit Survey Questions

General Information

1. Name (optional)

2. What is your student status during the majority of your time in the program?

3. Did you graduate on time with the rest of your cohort?

4. If you did not graduate, please indicate the factors that played a role in your decision to withdraw or delay graduation:

  •  financial constraints or challenges
  • changes in your family situation
  • health issues, personal issues
  • disatisfaction with the program
  • other

5. Year of Graduation

6. Capstone Project Advisor


1. Please rate your overall experience in the following areas: academic advising, internship, study abroad, capstone, curriculum (Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor, No Contact)

2. Please rate your academic advising (not capstone advisor) experience: (Very Effective, Effective, Moderately Effective, Somewhat Ineffective, Ineffective)

  • overall effectiveness
  • guidance regarding course selection and academics
  • guidance on internship opportunities
  • guidance on professional development
  • guidance on career plans, availability

3. What were the best aspects of your advising experience, those that you found most helpful/useful, that should be available for future students?

4.  What areas of the advising experience could be improved? How can this become a stronger aspect of our graduate program?

5.   Please rate the level of preparation you received in each of the following areas (N/A, Poor, Marginal, Adequate, Good, Excellent):

  • Integrating and applying concepts to real-world problems
  • Analyzing complex conflicts
  • Evaluating and applying data to solve problems
  • Developing and defending sound arguments
  • Formulating a thesis statement
  • Coherently developing a topic
  • Evaluating sources of information
  • Organizing ideas to support a position
  • Organizing an oral argument in a logical way
  • Using visual aids effectively
  • Public Speaking
  • Ability to use information resources and technology
  • Ability to conduct database searches
  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Adherence to professional, ethical and legal standards
  • Problem solving

6.  Please rate your experience with the program in the following areas (N/A, Poor, Marginal, Adequate, Good, Excellent):

  • Range of exposure to different theoretical points of view throughout the program
  • Level of integration between theory, practice, and research
  • Quality of training in the concentration specific courses
  • Level of support offered by the program as a whole
  • Level of mutual respect between students and faculty
  • Quality of communication between faculty and students regarding students’ needs, concerns, and expectations about course requirements
  • Opportunity to provide honest feedback in end of semester course evaluations
  • Level of accessibility and helpfulness of faculty and staff
  • Range and amount of opportunities to socialize with fellow students
  • Range and amount of opportunities to ask questions about the program, its policies and procedures
  • Level of encouragement to participate in professional activities throughout the program
  • Amount of formal and informal feedback about your academic performance and professional development throughout the program

7.  Please rate the IPCR study abroad components and then provide any specific comments you have for each (Very Effective, Effective, Moderately Effective, Somewhat Ineffective, Ineffective):

  • Overall
  • Support (pre)
  • Support (during)
  • Support (post)
  • Travel Purse
  • Opportunity to supplement core Arcadia coursework
  • Opportunity to expand professional network
  • Opportunity to increase cultural sensitivity
  • Opportunity to specialize in a topic or skill-set

8.  Please rate your internship experience and then provide any specific comments you have for each (Very Effective, Effective, Moderately Effective, Somewhat Ineffective, Ineffective):

  • Overall
  • Program support for placement
  • Networking opportunities at the internship
  • Development or enhancement of IPCR related skills
  • Professional development (researching opportunities, cover letter writing, resumes, networking to find an internship)

9.  Please rate the IPCR capstone components and then provide any specific comments you have for each (Very Effective, Effective, Moderately Effective, Somewhat Ineffective, Ineffective):

  • Overall
  • Project development/templates
  • Opportunity to integrate theory, practical and specialization
  • Capstone advising and support
  • Presentation (poster or verbal)
  • Capstone course/class time

10.  Overall, what are the strongest aspects of the IPCR Program, which you regard as most successful, or of the greatest benefit to you?

11.  Please list those areas of the IPCR Program that you would recommend revising or removing, and please explain why you would alter those areas of the program.

Arcadia Experience

1.      The following support services provided adequate guidance and support throughout the program (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, Strongly Agree, Not Used):

  • Admissions
  • Registrar’s Office
  • Library services
  • Learning support services (ie. writing center, etc)
  • Technology services
  • Billing department
  • Facilities and Housing department
  • Financial aid department
  • Career services
  • Student Health Services
  • Sports facilities
  • Office of International Affairs

2.      How satisfied were you with how the following technology supported your learning? (Very satisfied, Satisfied, Somewhat satisfied, Not satisfied):

  • IPCR Website
  • Arcadia Website
  • Blackboard
  • Help Desk/IT
  • Library
  • Student Self-Service
  • Wireless Access

Post Graduation

1.   Overall, how effective has the IPCR program been in preparing you for your professional career? (Very Effective, Effective, Moderately Effective, Somewhat ineffective, Ineffective)

2.   Have you enrolled in or do you plan to apply to a PhD program or other post-graduate study? If yes, please include the name of school and area of study. (I plan to apply, I have enrolled, No I do not plan to apply)

3.   Please describe your employment status post-graduation. (I have a position related to my Master of Arts degree in IPCR, I have the same job as I had prior to entering the program, I have the same job as I had prior to entering the program, but have been promoted, I have a job unrelated to the field of IPCR, I am currently unemployed, Other)

4.   Where are you currently employed? Please list the organization and your job title.

5.   Please rate each job search resource individually. (Most Helpful, Somewhat Helpful, Not Helpful): IPCR Peers, IPCR Professors, Internship Contacts, Study Abroad Contacts, Individual Research, Internet

6.   What are some ways that IPCR could improve or further develop career services for students?

7.    I would recommend the IPCR program to others. (Strongly disagree, Disagree, Neither agree nor disagree, Agree, Strongly agree)

Additional Comments

1.      Finally, please take a moment to recognize someone (faculty, staff), or some aspect of the program that was a positive influence or experience for you.


Addendum B: Structured interview questions

Our outside facilitator conducted structured interviews with each faculty member individually and we also created a survey and asked alumni to respond.

  1. What are the 3 best things about the IPCR Program as you have experienced it?
  2. What are 3 things you would change?
  3. Please provide at least 2 suggestions for how we can better prepare them for their careers.
  4. Is there anything else you’d like to share or add?


Addendum C:Workshop #1 Vision Outcomes

This is the result of our first workshop “Visioning the program” that included all teaching faculty and alumni. The goal was to identify and articulate what we wanted the program to be and to offer.

CORE Themes:

Peacebuilding from the Ground Up

Global-Local Connections

Social, Historical, Political and Economic Contexts


SKILLS Core Concentration 1 Concentration 2
Introduce Communication and social media,

resume and cover letter writing, networking

Budgeting, fundraising Budgets, fundraising, marketing, grant writing, business management
Practice (repetitive and graded) Research, writing, teamwork, public speaking, presentations, conflict assessment, mediation*, facilitation , listening, cultural competence, negotiation and problem-solving, analysis, leadership, Self-reflective practice Community organizing, strategic planning, campaign design, program design, media management, non-violent strategies for peace Program planning and design, program management, needs assessment, monitoring and evaluation, data collection


Addendum D: Workshop #2 SWOT Outcomes

In our second faculty and alumni workshop we focused on evaluating the program’s assets and strengths and identifying what we needed to fulfill our new vision.



Have Need
Core Skills -Conflict Assessment




-Research and writing

-Cultural sensitivity

-Self-reflective practice

-Presentations and public speaking

-Networking, resume writing, and cover letters

Concentration 1 skills: NGO Management/Social Entrepreneurship -Needs Assessments

-Monitoring and Evaluation

-Program planning and development

-Strategic planning (some)

– Budgets

– Fundraising

–   Grant-writing

–   Entrepreneurship

–   Business management

Concentration 2 skills: Social Justice: Advocacy and Activism –   Advocacy

–   Campaign development and planning

–   Non-violence strategies

–   Organizing

-Social Media management

[1] Amma Napier Associates — http://anapier.net/who-we-are/amma-napier/

[2] We didn’t use current students because in most cases they didn’t have enough reference to evaluate the program in light of the field, jobs and employment.

[3] Find our exit survey questions and possible responses in Addendum A

[4] We interviewed faculty and surveyed fifteen select alumni using the same set of 4 questions found in Addendum B

[5] I did not ask these individuals about their availability or willingness to give a talk; I selected purely based on their expertise, knowledge and reputations.

[6] It may be good to share this data selectively depending on your stakeholders. We shared it with faculty and the fifteen select alumni.

[7] Due to copyright I can’t reprint the exercises here, but they can be found in Napier, Rod. 1997. High Impact Tools and Activities for Strategic Planning: Creative Techniques for Facilitating your Organizations Planning Process. Rodney Napier (1672) Publishers.

[8] For the specific skills we identified see Addendum C. SWOT analysis, in general, should be as specific as possible. Educate and train students to be global peace advocates, activists, and social entrepreneurs.9

[9] Outcomes can be found in Addendum D

About the Author: Amy Cox, PhD, Director of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program at Arcadia University