For those of us in the ATE community sustainability is a topic woven into our projects and centers from the start. Anyone who writes an ATE proposal has to include a section about how they hope to sustain at least some portion of their activities and resources. As work progresses, the PI and team considers how best to sustain project or center deliverables—a summer institute, industry tours, a faculty professional development series—beyond NSF funding. Particularly for those new to ATE, the concept of sustainability can be a bit confusing and feel like a daunting task. Thankfully there are ATE peers and outside experts who can help all of us think through strategies and lean on practices that have been successful for others.
Nancy Maron, founder of BlueSky to BluePrint, has been working with ATE Central and the ATE community for almost a decade, providing guidance and support in this critical area. Nancy always has great advice and thoughtful examples of sustainability from those in, and beyond, ATE. Recently Nancy was kind enough to answer a few questions about her own background and provide some thoughts on sustainability.
ATE Central: Can you tell us a bit about your own background and work and how you came to launch your business BlueSky to BluePrint?
Maron: The idea for my company evolved over time, as my professional interests drew me into fields that to an outsider might not seem related! I started off in trade publishing, as a marketing and salesperson back when the national chains were just taking hold, so I got to learn the nuts and bolts of how sales and distribution channels work. I continued studying “cultural diffusion” in graduate school, by exploring the early years of mass media culture in France. When I returned to publishing, I wanted to be somewhere where I could see and understand the big picture of the digital transformations taking hold, and the not-for-profit think-tank Ithaka S+R (parent organization of JSTOR) was the perfect place to pursue those interests. While there, I led several research projects focused specifically on understanding how innovative digital initiatives in the academic and cultural sectors have found creative ways develop and grow beyond their initial grant funding.
My company, BlueSky to BluePrint, grew out of all those experiences. Today, we help project leaders and their teams develop strategies to transition from academic projects into longer-term sustainable businesses or organizations. Getting to make use of my interests and experiences to support impactful projects and their creative leaders—across all fields—has been a real pleasure.
ATE Central: Can you share your definition of sustainability?
Maron: I am glad you asked! Some people shorthand “sustainability” as being just about finding funding for your project. But there is no easy way to just flip a switch and go from funded project to business. For me, sustainability is a logic that describes a cycle of investment and ongoing growth, to permit the project to keep delivering value to users over time. Coming up with a diverse portfolio of funding sources is part of it, but not all. To be “sustainable” in the quickly evolving world we live in means evolving. Sustainable initiatives are actually quite dynamic, focus on the value users gain from it, and are always on the lookout for new ways to respond to change.
ATE Central: What is a value proposition and how does it relate to sustainability and sustainability planning?
Maron: Value proposition is actually a terrific concept for any project leader to dig into, even at the earliest stages of developing a project proposal. Business jargon aside, a “value proposition” articulates your understanding of how what you are doing is intended to provide something very valuable to a specific audience.
ATE Central: What are a couple of key strategies that can really support those in the ATE community as they plan for sustainability
Maron: The seeds of sustainability are planted very early! Encourage all project leads to have at least a working hypothesis about how their project or center could deliver something invaluable to its key audience or stakeholders. Have them imagine, “in a best-case scenario, how would we want people to describe the impact our work has created for them?” And to work from there. Keeping the needs of our audience, users, stakeholders front and center is always going to be a winning strategy.
Want to learn more about sustainability and hear more from Nancy? Check out ATE Central's Sustainability section to review past webinars, dig into research and resource materials, and watch a series of videos focused on sustainability created by the American Association of Community Colleges that features ATE PIs, NSF's Celeste Carter, and of course, Nancy Maron.