As the 2018–2019 academic year — Tsai CITY’s second year —wrapped up in May, our team started working on a familiar project: creating our annual report. Annual reports serve many purposes, of course — they’re a key format for communicating an organization’s goals, work, and impact to a broad array of stakeholders. They also offer an opportunity for internal reflection, via the processes of examining data and survey responses, compiling descriptive text, and identifying patterns as the annual report comes together.
This year, we wondered how we could open-source more of this reflection —how else could we share what we were seeing? How could we best approach an annual report not as a standalone product, but as part of an ongoing process of learning and growth? What resulted was a series of projects, all created over summer and early fall 2019, that collectively offer different ways of looking at Tsai CITY’s second year.
Our year in learning
As we teach our students about iteration and responding to user feedback, we strive to practice what we preach, particularly as we use our early years to pilot offerings. Internally, we talk a lot about the feedback we get from students, the trends we see, and the adaptations we make. Near the end of each semester, for example, our team gathers to reflect on how the semester’s programs went and how we could improve. We share the week’s successes and failures at each staff meeting, and we distribute feedback surveys for pretty much every program we run.
Despite all this attention to feedback, some of it is likely invisible to students: many students probably don’t realize just how seriously we take their feedback, or how committed we are to continuing to learn from our community. With this in mind, we decided that our approach to sharing the results of our year should include highlighting not just what we’d done over the course of the year, but also what we’d learned. I combed through our meeting notes, whiteboard photos, and year-end data to find key lessons, ultimately coming up with eight high-impact examples of things we’d learned — and the actions we’d taken as a result. I turned these insights into a Medium story, which gathered all eight lessons in one place, as well as a series of posters that we posted around Tsai CITY’s office and nearby locations.
Personalizing the data
As we combed through a year’s worth of data, we also saw another use for this data: helping students picture themselves at Tsai CITY. We serve students from across Yale College and all 13 of Yale’s graduate and professional schools, from the School of Medicine to the School of Art. This means finding ways to connect with students who are working in an incredibly wide range of spaces, and highlighting how Tsai CITY can help them innovate in whatever field they’re interested in. Creating an environment of meaningful belonging, and actively inviting people to take part in this environment, is essential. We often hear from students that they’re far more likely to go to an event or register for a program if they know someone else who’s going, or if the program has been recommended by a peer.
Inspired by this, we used our data to create a series of posters that highlighted how students from each school had engaged with Tsai CITY in the past year, hoping to lower barriers to entry. Examining aggregate student data as well as participation records for specific programs, I looked for both quantitative stories — one in four students at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies engaged with Tsai CITY last year, for example — and more qualitative narratives that highlighted a diversity of entry points. Once these stories had been turned into posters, our team got to work on sharing them: over the fall 2019 semester, our leadership team has brought these posters to meetings with school deans, our student ambassadors have posted them around campus buildings, and I’ve begun to integrate them into social media campaigns.
The official document
Finally, we produced a traditional annual report, a comprehensive look at our programs and impact. Tsai CITY offers a diverse array of programs, from workshops and talks to cohort-based Intensives, semester-long Accelerators, and tailored collaborations with campus partners. The annual report provides a way to look at these programs in one place, seeing connections across formats and considering how our programs are collectively serving Yale’s student body. The document combines quantitative data like participation numbers and student demographics, narrative descriptions of programs and student projects, and quotes from students themselves.
As we’ve assembled each piece of this “annual report ecosystem,” viewing the same pool of data through different lenses, we’ve gained new insights into Tsai CITY’s progress. For me, these projects have prompted me to think about how an annual report can not just document impact, but potentially create some impact too. Perhaps an undergraduate might feel a new sense of agency after reading about how we respond to feedback from students like them. Maybe a student in divinity or drama might walk by a poster and find that examples from fellow students encourage them to attend their first Tsai CITY event. As we turn to our annual report next year, we just might find ourselves telling the stories of what those students have created— and what we’ve learned from them in the process.
Laura Mitchell Tully is Communications & Creative Director at Tsai CITY. Learn more about Tsai CITY’s mission and offerings here.
These projects were the products of collaborative work at Tsai CITY, particularly with Karinne Smith (Graphic Design Associate) and Emma Funk (former Social Innovation Fellow).