Lisa Morris: Designing For Meaningful Alumni Experiences

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Lisa Morris, founder of XPLOR, reveals how recognizing the humanness of each individual and uncovering their motivation for joining an alumni network can help you create memorable experiences that alumni want and value.

In late 2019, a dedicated group of alumni network managers and thought leaders gathered in Montana for the second Conenza Alumni Program Summit (CAPS). Over the course of the 3-day event, participants had the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in a series of knowledge-sharing sessions, thoughtful discussions and actionable takeaways centered around corporate alumni networks. Stay tuned for more insights from CAPS in future posts.

The event included a presentation by Lisa Morris, founder of XPLOR, an experience design and innovation firm specializing in transforming experiences of work and of workplaces. She led an inspiring discussion on the importance of recognizing the humanness of each individual and their motivations for joining an alumni network in her CAPS presentation, “Designing for Meaningful Alumni Experiences.”

Lisa opened with an image of a roller-coaster to emphasize the difference between the physical roller-coaster and the experience of riding the roller-coaster. An individual will remember the experience of the roller-coaster ride, not its mechanics, and over time these memories will collectively shape their perception. Similarly, an alumni will remember their experience with an organization through smaller, personal interactions which together shape their perception. This is why focusing on the human experience first is vital.

A common first step when building an alumni network is to initially consider the needs of the organization, however the recommendation is to flip this and focus on the alumni instead. This human-centered design approach starts with the human and discovering the individuals’ goals of the community — and it focuses on creating quality interactions over the duration of the relationship.

Human-centered design principles to consider include:

  • Be human-centric – Design for humans’ needs and involve them in the process.
  • Be empathetic – Drop all assumptions about your alumni and walk in their shoes.
  • Embrace ambiguity – Good design starts with a blank canvas. Assume that you know nothing and work from there.
  • Create possibilities – Work with your team to generate as many meaningful ideas as possible to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Create real outcomes – Many organizations are tempted to focus only on engagement numbers, but it’s recommended to start with the creation of experiences that lead to engagement. Experiences create engagement, but engagement alone does not sustain engagement.
  • Continuously learn – What people want is always changing. Ask questions, listen and refine or adapt what you offer and how to retain its value for alumni.

By shifting the focus of your alumni program from the needs of the organization to one tailored to the needs of your alumni, organizations can create memorable experiences that alumni want and value.

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