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When Drama Met Data

Balancing the Emotional and Intellectual to Tell Great Stories

When Drama Met Data

It’s a tale old as time.

One day, Drama met Data, and it was dislike at first sight. Drama found Data cold and uninteresting, while Data thought Drama was flashy and lacked substance. But through a series of comic misunderstandings, it became clear that Data and Drama were actually great together, with Data bringing strength and reliability to Drama’s warmth and memorability. Drama and Data fell in love, and they went on to tell great stories together.

It turns out that balancing drama and data, the emotional and the intellectual, really is a great way to craft stories that are at once compelling and grounded.

Take one of our recent engagements, a prominent day school whose planning process had seen changes in leadership and committee organization, and whose planning had been heavily weighted toward drama. The result was filled with one-off ideas that on the surface sounded interesting. However, it wasn’t a good match for the school’s strategic plan, which pointed to a goal of creating a more integrated learning environment. The school was understandably reluctant to pursue the suggested implementation. Blanchard Group was engaged to restructure and bring balance to the process and used both drama and data to make broad distinctions about where to focus the school’s considerable energy and resources.

With data providing the context for drama, the planning was able to leverage the community’s reason and ingenuity around long held values of leadership in academic excellence

On the drama side of the ledger, the planning process developed a narrative with emotional resonance, highlighting the school’s long renown for academic excellence and national leadership in developing advanced curricula. The planning revealed that a challenge to achieving contemporary goals for excellence — integrated learning environments across its curriculum — was that its campus setting was burdened by facilities that were aging and inflexible, separated by distance, and silo’d by discipline. One had a sense of an isolated campus setting.

Data too played a key role. A few examples: A close reading of demographic data pointed to concentrating on the needs of the Upper School rather than the Lower, as previous planning had suggested. Data on deferred maintenance revealed the mounting costs of maintaining aging facilities, particularly those serving the Upper School. Ethnographic data that mapped patterns of student use confirmed the anecdotal sense of a campus setting in which student paths seldom crossed, and it formed the basis for measuring various options for development.

With data providing the context for drama, the planning was able to leverage the community’s reason and ingenuity around long held values of leadership in academic excellence and a vision where the campus setting contributes to the school’s strategic goal for a more integrated campus setting — broadly, a form and organization that replaces aging Upper School facilities with a dense, village-like environment built around a strong heart. Program proximities across the curriculum are carefully considered to foster scheduled and unscheduled interactions, support collaboration, increase student crossings, and facilitate ‘knowledge spill’ among students and faculty alike.

The love affair between Data and Drama really is a balance. By combining deeply held values with facts, the planning was able to give clear answers to important questions, laying groundwork for the essential messaging in the school’s next steps. No comic misunderstandings required!

About the Author(s)

Blanchard Group is a nationally recognized architectural firm. The singular focus of our practice is campus planning for independent educational institutions — helping our clients create rich, vital, and enduring places.

Blanchard Group maintains a policy of client anonymity in open forums. This policy safeguards our clients’ interests and preserves our independence.

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