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Community Strategic Crisis Planning: Benefits of a University–Business Collaborative?

Leadership and Management

Community Strategic Crisis Planning: Benefits of a University–Business Collaborative?

One challenge that manifested during the COVID-19 pandemic was the lack of strategic and crisis planning support for small businesses and community nonprofits. Resource gaps—such as in finances, supplies and materials, and suitable human capital—are magnified when crises strike. Though often overlooked as a community resource, higher education institutions can help businesses increase crisis preparedness and effectiveness. They can play a pivotal role in ameliorating burdensome issues during times like what the world has recently experienced during COVID-19. This pandemic brought to light a crisis-preparedness response gap (The Brain, 2019) involving all sectors of the business community. Small businesses comprise some 43 percent of the US economy and account for 66 percent of new jobs (Kobe & Schwinn, 2018). Because small businesses fuel activity in local, regional, and national communities, mutual benefits can be realized when small businesses and higher education institutions collaborate.

In this article, we provide preliminary suggestions for how higher education institutions can help businesses prepare for and respond to crises—particularly those faced by small businesses and nonprofits, which often lack the resources and time to engage in meaningful, in-depth plan preparation or response execution.

We explore the following two discussion questions:

  1. How can higher education help small businesses and nonprofit organizations plan and narrow the crisis readiness gap?
  2. What concrete actions can higher education take to mitigate against significant disruption from community crises?

This article proposes that there is an opportunity for higher education institutions to help businesses react more effectively when a crisis occurs.

Higher education department involvement

Legislators and the publish should view higher education institutions as instrumental community assets that can contribute to a crisis response.

Supportive crisis-related function (department resources)

Strategic planning (business)
Communication plans (business, communication, English)
Constructing policies and procedures (business, English, communication)
Application of process improvement techniques (business—operations analysis)
Predictive modeling (business—statistics; mathematics—statistics; economics; marketing)
Improvisation and public relations (communication, theatre)
Critical thinking/Socratic questioning (philosophy)
Technological Support (information technology)
Corporate social responsibility (business, theology)
Leadership (business)
Environmental safety/infection control (biology, chemistry, nursing)
On-site triage (nursing, student health)
Gaming (information technology, dual-credit programs)
Evolution of crises, disasters, emergencies (history, political science)
Community communication and relationship building (communication, foreign languages)

Examples of multidisciplinary collaboration among departments

One challenge associated with crises is that they often do not align with a prescriptive set of policies, procedures, or guidelines for standardized response and behavior. Higher-order thinking (critical thinking and problem-solving) is required. Rehearsing possible responses and solutions to manage that conflict may be useful in the actual response to the crisis as it is occurring. Engaging in improvised scenarios and “what ifs” with higher education institutions can help organizational teams come together more rapidly during a crisis; after all, having already engaged in brainstorming, improvising, and role-playing prior to the crisis, team members will already have some sense of how to proceed.

Like centers of entrepreneurship that exist on university campuses, institutions can have centers for community preparedness and implementation that allow members of the various departments to run workshops for local business leaders. In addition to helping the local business community, individual faculty members can benefit by counting these workshops as service as well as possibly using the development of these activities as part of their research initiatives.

Rehearsing in preparation for unforeseen events

  • Communication departments teach students to more effectively communicate in ways that are descriptive, persuasive, and expressive. Similarly, these departments can help organizational messaging to avoid inducement of panic and provide clear, decisive direction in response to the situation or anticipated situation at hand. Effective communication can also more clearly convey public relations messages that may be needed.
  • Philosophy departments possess the subject matter expertise to elicit critical thought processes in response to prompts for a host of situations and scenarios. Developing employees that can approach problems with a critical thought process creates effective leaders and followers who are critical, independent thinkers that are active in the organization. “They do not try to avoid risk or conflict. Rather, [they] have the courage to initiate change and put themselves at risk or in conflict with others, even their leaders, to serve the best interests of the organization” (Daft, 2017, p. 204). Developing these skills can help an organization react more effectively and efficiently as a crisis occurs.
  • Theatre departments thrive on improvisation as a fundamental element of acting and role-playing. By crafting and rehearsing reactions to various crisis scenarios with business professionals, theater departments can help them become more comfortable reacting to less predictable crises.

Standard written processes for anticipated crises

It is much easier to manage crises when they can be forecast or predicted. Standard, written, and prescriptive policies can be used if crises follow linear and prescriptive patterns.

  • Information technology and graphic arts departments are typically adept in graphic image construction. These departments could help convey the essence of the planning in visual format to offer a uniform template for processes to be considered that also include decision-diamond points and decision-making alternatives and variation.
  • Business departments can offer tools and a planning template for planned or anticipated situations. For example, they can provide an additional outside perspective on process improvement tools such as Ishikawa Fishbone analyses use of the “six Ms” of manufacturing, the “five whys” method, and value stream mapping to help with items such as root cause analysis (Mind Tools, 2021).


Higher education can play a role in ameliorating the widespread business disruption resulting from both predictable and unpredictable events. Cooperating so that everybody wins can help businesses effectively adapt, navigate, and create the planning infrastructure necessary to maintain continuity of operations during a crisis. Therefore, we propose that just as universities have centers for teaching and learning and centers for entrepreneurship, they should also have centers for community preparedness and implementation. These centers can work with businesses in noncrisis times to narrow the gap between crisis preparedness and an organization’s ability to respond to a crisis in real time.


The Brain. (2019, January 24). Tips for closing the crisis preparedness gap. The Noggin Blog. https://www.noggin.io/blog/tips-for-closing-the-crisis-preparedness-gap

Daft, R. L. (2017). The leadership experience (7th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Kobe, K. & Schwinn, R. (2018, December). Small business GDP 1998–2014.U.S. Small Business Association. https://cdn.advocacy.sba.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/21060437/Small-Business-GDP-1998-2014.pdf

Mind Tools. (2021). 5 whys: Getting to the root of a problem quickly. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm

John D. Rudnick Jr., EdD, is a professor in the Business Administration Department at Thomas More University. A US Navy military veteran, he is active with veteran support services, campus ministry, and a board initiative to advance the university’s mission.

Carrie L. Jaeger, PhD, is an associate professor in the Business Administration Department at Thomas More University. In addition to 14 years of experience in industry, she also participates in accreditation initiatives at the university.

Nicole M. Modafari, PhD, is an adjunct professor in the Business Administration Department. She is a scholar-practitioner who brings her process improvement and project management expertise into the university classroom.


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