Our Strategic Planning Retreat in November 2017: Vanderbilt University's Department of Biostatistics

Our highly successful Strategic Planning Retreat engaged over 100 faculty, staff and students from the Department of Biostatistics to develop ideas about how to best achieve ‘better health through data. The entire department went through several months of planning, including creating a comprehensive compendium of current skills and expertise and developing guiding vision and mission statements.

During the retreat, the group worked through a series of brainstorming activities in small and large groups. Consensus themes emerged related to leading internationally recognized research, offering a world-class biostatistical collaboration infrastructure, and training the next generation of biostatisticians and clinical researchers. Department members also highlighted the importance of leadership locally and nationally, and of investing in the professional success of our faculty and staff.

Teams passionately expressed the importance of creativity, and the imperative to embrace an environment that fosters the development and dissemination of new ideas. They balanced the need to develop new biostatistical methods with new ideas for enhancing health-related research through strong biostatistical collaborations.

The practical application of biostatistical excellence and leadership through data coordinating centers was robustly explored and emphasized. Plenty of discussion focused on our graduate programs, highlighting their importance for ensuring health research of the future is led and supported by well-trained biostatisticians. Beyond training for methods excellence, clinical researchers need to be sufficiently savvy in quantitative methods to choose wisely and collaborate efficiently, and teams highlighted the opportunity for the department to lead in this endeavor locally and nationally.

A major thrust of the dialogue at the retreat surrounded appropriate positioning for sustainable success. The participants wanted to move beyond being great creators, collaborators and educators. The notion of national leadership and of leading within the institution was raised as being optimal for integrating methodological research and education into every facet of research.

Importantly, attendees felt this was a major approach to maximizing the impact of research in general. To achieve the research, education, collaboration and leadership goals, department members emphasized the importance of intentional career development and nurturing. The focus on people first rounded out deliberations and concluded a successful exploration of the goals and strategies that will help the department of biostatistics achieve its overarching goal of improving health through the use of data.

After the retreat, a draft strategic plan has been widely circulated for iterative feedback from every stakeholder. The plan has been refined and is now being vetted by external stakeholders. The next phase will be strategic implementation with continued engagement of every faculty member, staff and student to drive forward on our mission.