As a foundational component of most curriculum review processes, faculty and instructors involved in the teaching and delivery of courses within a major or degree program frequently engage in a Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Challenges (SWOC) analysis. The SWOC analysis framework is also often used as an effective framework for conducting focus groups to gather input and feedback from students, alumni and employers.
The SOAR process (Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelley, 2003; Stavros & Hinrichs, 2011) provides an alternative to the SWOC process. Based on an appreciative inquiry (AI) approach to strategic planning, the SOAR framework provides an effective guide for conversations related to identifying and leveraging the key strengths and opportunities of academic programs. The strength-based focus of SOAR provides an important opportunity for participants to have meaningful, positive and solution-focused conversations related to the program’s potential, and provides clear direction upon which to create a desired future. The questions listed below can be used to guide a SOAR analysis discussion (adapted from Stavros et al., 2003; Stavros and Hinrichs, 2011).

Strengths: What can we build on?

  1. What are we doing well?
  • What key achievements are we most proud of?
  • What positive aspects of the program have students/faculty/employers or others commented on?
  1. What are we known for?
  • What makes us unique?
  • Why do students choose our program?
  1. What key resources and areas of expertise give us an advantage?

Opportunities: What are our best possible future opportunities?

  1. What changes in demand do we expect to see over the next years?
  • What external forces or trends may positively impact the program?
  1. What future external opportunities exist for the program?
  • What are key areas of untapped potential?
  • What are students, employers and/or other community members asking for?
  1. How can we highlight our program strengths and distinguish ourselves from competing programs?
  2. How can we reframe perceived challenges to be seen as opportunities?

Aspirations: What do We Care Deeply About?

  1. What are we deeply passionate about?
  2. As a program, what difference do we hope to make (e.g. to learners, the institution, employers, the community)?
  3. What does our preferred future look like?
  4. What projects, programs or processes would support our aspirations?

Results: How will we know we are succeeding?

  1. Considering our strengths, opportunities, and aspirations, what meaningful measures will indicate that we are on track in achieving our goals?
  2. What measurable results do we want to see? What measurable results will we be known for?
  3. What resources are needed to implement our most vital projects and initiatives?
  4. What are the 3-5 key goals would you like to accomplish in order to achieve these results?

Stavros, Jacqueline M, Cooperrider, D L, & Kelley, D Lynn. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.
Stavros, Jacqueline M, & Hinrichs, Gina. (2011). The Thin Book Of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing.