The Collective View from the Summit Inspires Vision

Finding shared vision can be very challenging when hundreds of institutions and thousands of professionals have to voluntarily agree to act with common purpose to adopt common processes. Choosing large-scale change when no outside force is making you is an act in collaborative leadership.

The American Council of Academic Physical Therapy (ACAPT) chose to call a summit of the nation’s 212 academic programs to get agreement on best practices for clinical education in entry-level physical therapist education and work toward stronger relationships between academic and clinical faculty.  The summit occurred October 12-13 and the full report and recommendations is now available.

How did ACAPT keep a change initiative that could easily have derailed into controversy on track and constructive?  This is not yet a story of sweeping change, but it is a good case study in using a summit to create shared understanding and vision.

First ACAPT chose respected volunteer leaders to serve on a summit steering committee. While I know little about how they were selected, I can attest they worked hard as volunteers for their profession and they did not have any evident personal agendas. These leadership qualities made it easier for them to be accepted as the trusted facilitators they had to become.  

ACAPT also organized teams of authors to write a series of journal articles to explain the current situation and analyze areas of opportunity for change. These were collaborative efforts with authors from multiple institutions and professional roles. These authors put sound and innovative ideas on the table for discussion and further development.

To start the dialogue in advance of the summit, ACAPT organized a series of webinars over the summer.  Each webinar included survey questions to probe interest in different options.  And the live comments and chat stream lit up with healthy questions and analysis.

Everyone who attended the summit was expected to read the journal articles and participate in the webinars.  ACAPT made compliance easy by having the journal articles, webinar recordings and even the chat transcripts accessible on the summit website.

ACAPT understood that voluntary change needs a big buy-in and many champions, so more than 400 people were invited and did attend the summit. And for those who could not make the trip to Kansas City, the plenary sessions and key decision report outs were livestreamed. The summit was energetic and chaotic at times with so many table teams working simultaneously. It also was remarkably transparent and inclusive.

The first day of the summit moved from meaningful questions, an exercise in divergent thinking and challenging assumptions, to expressing a shared vision through desired outcomes and guiding principles, an exercise in convergent thinking. On the second day, guided by this emerging sense of shared vision, teams drafted 15 recommendations and proposed implementation steps. Eleven recommendations address areas for harmonization—common purpose and practices—and four recommendations propose innovations to prepare for the next evolution in best practices.

For every major change, a critical mass of people willing to invest their time and energy are needed. At the summit’s conclusion, representatives expressed their willingness to make the proposed changes: 54 institutions said they are enthusiastic advocates and ready to act; 84 institutions said they are ready, willing and just need approval to proceed; and 42 institutions said there are enough implications to require them to move cautiously into implementation. No institutions said the changes were too hard to attempt.

The summit evoked a sense of common purpose and gave everyone a better understanding of what must be in place to support common processes. ACAPT now faces an ambitious program of work to enact this shared vision. No doubt some decisions and details will prove devilishly difficult. In those moments, ACAPT will be able to draw on the summit’s spirit of harmony and a deep pool of volunteers who left Kansas City inspired to help ACAPT make the vision happen.