University Resilience Project
About the Resilience Project Team (RPT)
The University of Toronto Resilience Project was initiated by the Vice-President & Provost, Professor Cheryl Regehr, in the spring of 2022 as a way for the members of the University community to reflect on their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to consolidate and retain the knowledge gained during that period. The primary focus of the project was to gather lessons learned during an extraordinary period of uncertainty and change, and to develop strategies for a more resilient university for the U of T community.
The seven-person Resilience Project Team (RPT), led by the Provostial Advisor on University Resilience, Professor Nick Rule, sought to identify what processes, procedures, and practices worked during the pandemic (and which did not), with the goal of updating and improving the University’s operations, particularly as it anticipates and prepares for future large-scale challenges (e.g., new pandemics, issues related to climate change, social or political unrest). The RPT considered the following questions:
- How can the University community better prepare for the next time?
- What can the University create now to make it easier for everyone?
- Where can the University adjust existing practices to make everyday operations work better?
- What initiatives were implemented, and should they be maintained or expanded?
The Team also assisted the University community in making the transition from crisis to recovery, and to return to a more active campus experience in the 2022-2023 academic year. In that role, the RPT was supported by an operations group with members from across divisions and the three campuses. This group made recommendations to senior leaders in response to changing public health conditions. Professor Rule also represented the University at sector discussions regarding pandemic response in higher education more broadly.
The work of the RPT built upon an existing foundation of practices and policies established prior to the pandemic. These measures served the University well during a period of sustained interruption of regular operations, and enabled U of T to continue its core mission of teaching and research throughout a global pandemic. This foundation included:
- Microsoft Teams and SharePoint software that enabled remote collaboration
- The Quercus learning management system
- The Policy on Crisis and Routine Emergency Preparedness and Response
- Business Continuity Plans
- Lab safety protocols
- Established relationships with public health and government, including U of T leadership and participation in public-sector tables
- An existing Academic Continuity Working Group
- Technology to enable the remote or virtual delivery of student services (e.g., Health & Wellness, online Absence Declaration form, recreation programs)
- Digital platforms and social media channels to communicate with the community and alumni
- The Digital Workforce Transformation project (including The HR Service Centre, updating HR systems and processes and enabling greater online functions for employees and managers)
Resilience Project Team Activities
From April to September of 2022, RPT members conducted extensive consultations with the U of T community. Based on the early results of these consultations, senior leaders at the University took several actions in the spring and summer of 2022 to support the community as it recovered and prepared for the new academic year.
Improving Your Experience
Members of the RPT worked in partnership with campuses and divisions to implement nine initiatives in response to the feedback received in their consultations. The work of sustaining these initiatives has continued in the hands of the RPT’s collaborative partners since its end in June 2023. These initiatives fall into three categories: (1) Navigation, (2) Engagement, and (3) Future Proofing.
The events of the pandemic underlined the need for the University to consolidate and share knowledge regarding operations, and to continue to update and improve its processes. It was a time that brought into sharp focus U of T’s core mission of teaching and research. It also demonstrated the value of cross-functional teams working across campuses toward common goals, and the role of these teams in enabling an agile response to changing circumstances. Through its consultations and work, the RPT offered the following takeaways as it transitioned the continuation of this work to campuses and divisions.
The role of recovery
The RPT’s early work illuminated the community’s need to discuss and acknowledge the significance of the pandemic. This was an episode that upended everyone’s lives and threatened the health of the community. Acknowledging the losses experienced, and the effort required to keep U of T’s campuses operating safely was a necessary part of moving forward.
Intention is necessary to incorporate learning
As the University returned to regular operations, individuals were inclined to follow past practices. Without conscious effort, gains or improvements will fade.
The importance of connections
Executing plans requires familiarity and trust among co-workers, and an understanding of the roles played by different parts of the University. The close working relationships developed while responding to the pandemic across campuses and divisions were vital. Maintaining these connections will enhance the University’s operations and its ability to respond to future interruptions in an agile manner.
U of T’s complexity
The need to provide navigation tools and roadmaps for students, faculty, and staff was underscored when many members of the University community returned to campus after an extended absence or came to campus for the first time. Providing physical and organizational navigation tools reduces stress and confusion, and is an important part of making students, faculty, and staff feel supported and welcome.