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New ASU design aspiration emphasizes values in innovation

Principled Innovation advances ASU's commitment to human flourishing


Two people storyboarding ideas on a whiteboard in a meeting room.

Photo by Chloe Merriweather/Arizona State University

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February 17, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2023 year in review.

Innovation is thriving at Arizona State University, not only in research labs but in course design, student support, sustainability and community partnerships.

All of that ground-breaking work is guided by the ASU Charter, with a mission to be inclusive and accountable, and also by eight design aspirations, which are institutional goals to help the university achieve excellence.

Now, ASU is adding a ninth design aspiration called Principled Innovation, which is the ability to create change guided by values and ethical understanding. It’s a way to integrate intentionality into all decisions to be as inclusive as possible. It means always considering, “Who will benefit?” and “Who needs to be included?”

This new design aspiration states: “ASU places character and values at the center of decisions and actions.”

ASU President Michael Crow said that Principled Innovation is important because innovation moves very fast at the university.

“The notion is, how do we be more intentional in our decision-making processes? How do we think about the impact we’re having as an institution?” he said in a video address to the university community.

“Because the things we are doing are creating waves of innovation, waves of change across society.

“We need to make sure that all of our practices, and all that we do, can help us to develop practical wisdom and practical outcomes. … The outcome here is to be more intentional, more equitable in our decisions and in the systems that are designed for societal flourishing.”

Crow said that the concept of Principled Innovation is not new at ASU.

“We’re already doing this, but we have not had the opportunity to lay this down as a formal design aspiration,” he said.

The original eight design aspirations are:

  1. Leverage Our Place: ASU embraces its cultural, socioeconomic and physical setting.
  2. Transform Society: ASU catalyzes social change by being connected to social needs.
  3. Value Entrepreneurship: ASU uses its knowledge and encourages innovation.
  4. Conduct Use-Inspired Research: ASU research has purpose and impact.
  5. Enable Student Success: ASU is committed to the success of each unique student.
  6. Fuse Intellectual Disciplines: ASU creates knowledge by transcending academic disciplines.
  7. Be Socially Embedded: ASU connects with communities through mutually beneficial partnerships.
  8. Engage Globally: ASU engages with people and issues locally, nationally and internationally.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU News

So why add the ninth design aspiration now?

Crow explained:

“We live in a very complex moment in time and space. We live in a moment where our democracy and all things about it have been put into dynamic stress in the last few years. We live in a moment where the rate of change is accelerating.

“We believe that all that we do can make certain that our democracy prevails, that the core aspects of our democracy prevail, that the core aspects of our charter are attained and that this design aspiration — practice principled innovation — is one way to do this.”

Principled Innovation will be rolled out across the ASU community this year and will likely look different in every unit. The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has spent the past six years doing the hard work of creating a practical roadmap for the entire college to embrace the mindset.

Principled Innovation has become a core value of the college, according to Carole Basile, dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“There are thousands of decisions made every day in school and many of them are made expeditiously,” she said.

“We wanted a way that educators as individuals could think differently about the decisions they make, with kids in particular. And that had to start with our faculty and the decisions we make with our students.”

One tangible change in the college was in student services, which previously operated as a group of advisors who each had a caseload of students. A more intentional consideration revealed that students needed a different kind of support system. Now, teams of advisors work with groups of students, along with staff who specialize in areas such as financial literacy, career services, mental health and academic support. An emergency fund was created for students who needed a few hundred dollars to keep them on track.

Cristy Guleserian, director of Principled Innovation for the Mary Lou Teachers College, said that paying attention to the entire student, not just academic progress, is vital for learning.

“If we don’t focus on meeting people where they’re at as humans and really making sure we understand their needs and perspective, the capacity to learn is blocked. They’ll be distracted.

“So (Principled Innovation) isn’t just a thing but who we are and how we approach our work.”

“This is about humanity and flourishing,” Basile said.

“How do we help build people up? All of that doesn’t happen without making judicious decisions to enable it.”

Building on the work of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Principled Innovation practices will start expanding across the university, starting with teams in the ASU Preparatory Academies, the Office of the Provost, Educational Outreach and Student Services, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Dreamscape Learn, W. P. Carey School of Business and the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“All across campus, every unit is trying to impact some part of society. They’re trying to make some major difference,” Basile said.

“These principles and practices apply no matter what you’re trying to do and no matter who you’re trying to serve, but this is where we really start to think about, ‘We can but should we?’”

Ted Cross, executive director in the Office of University Affairs who will work to advance the new design aspiration across the university, added that “more than ever, it is important to highlight ASU’s culture of Principled Innovation. Doing so will advance our work in purposeful and thoughtful ways.”

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