Building a Resilient University During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ideas Lab for Faculty & Staff

The Challenge: How do we design a safe return to campus in the midst of a global pandemic?

COVID-19 poses significant challenges for a university campus. With thousands of students, staff, and faculty working in close proximity to each other, how do we test, trace, and monitor the spread of the virus? How do we encourage individuals to engage in preventive behaviors like mask wearing and physical distancing that may benefit others more than themselves? How do we minimize social shaming? How do we support mental health and emotional well-being in the face of prolonged stress and disruption? How do we maximize educational and social engagement at UConn in online environments? Ultimately, how do we become leaders in COVID-19 prevention and management to protect our students, staff, faculty and surrounding communities?

What is an Ideas Lab?

An Ideas Lab is a process for developing creative, collaborative solutions to complex problems. InCHIP is partnering with UConn leadership to solicit ideas from faculty and staff through this Ideas Lab that can guide UConn’s response to the pandemic.

Ideas Labs – pioneered in the UK by Knowinnovation – are typically multi-day workshops designed to solve complex problems by harnessing the creative energy of newly forming interdisciplinary teams. UConn’s Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP) has successfully utilized intramural Ideas Labs to tackle wicked health problems (e.g., opioid-related deaths in CT), engaging individuals with expertise in behavioral, social, biomedical, and environmental sciences; engineering and mathematics; policy and law; business; education; and the arts and humanities.

Any topic relevant to the Grand Challenge is appropriate. We think some core areas of focus will likely be how to:

  • best to test, trace, isolate, and monitor COVID-19 cases on campus;
  • develop a harm reduction approach to creating a positive culture of health that informs and motivates healthy behavior;
  • minimize social shaming and the reliance on punitive measures to change health behaviors;
  • promote good mental health and emotional well-being;
  • create an engaging educational and social experience for students despite anticipated changes in class formats, residential life, etc.; and
  • use technology and/or advanced statistical methods to inform COVID-19 prevention and management plans.

The Ideas Lab provides a forum for considering these issues and others.

Who should participate?

You! If you are a UConn faculty member or staff, we’d love to have you join us. The Ideas Lab is open to all disciplines and campuses. If you have some ideas about how UConn can best respond to the pandemic and you like to work in a collaborative fashion with others interested in exploring similar topics, we encourage you to sign up.

Yes! You can participate to whatever extent your schedule allows. Most of the participation will be asynchronous although there will be some groups meetings if you decide to join a team. These meetings will be focused and action oriented.

Why should I participate?

You should participate if you’d like to part of the solution. This Ideas Lab provides an opportunity to offer your expertise, experience, and/or perspective to develop actionable ideas that can be implemented by UConn leadership. The top three proposals will be recognized with a small monetary award.

How does the Ideas Lab work?

Visualized version of Ideas Lab Process

In brief,

  1. you sign up,
  2. you meet others with similar questions, concerns, and ideas,
  3. you develop very brief proposals in small groups,
  4. your group receives feedback from other Ideas Lab participants,
  5. you revise your ideas, and
  6. your group submits a final proposal to share with UConn leadership.

All of this is done online, mostly in asynchronous fashion.

Here are the 6 steps of the Ideas Lab:

  1. Generating questions (beginning May 27): When you sign up for the Ideas Lab (below), you will be asked to generate your top three questions, concerns, and/or ideas about how to design a safe return to campus in the fall. These responses will be grouped by the Ideas Lab organizers into key themes.
  2. Joining groups (week of June 1): Themes will be shared with all Ideas Lab participants. You will be asked to select the theme you are most interested in working on. Theme-based teams will be formed.
  3. Virtual meetings (weeks of June 1 and June 8): InCHIP will hold virtual meetings for each theme area. We anticipate subgroups forming within each theme. Groups will be guided through an idea formation process that allows for an open sharing of perspectives to conceptualize potential solutions to the questions and problems at hand. Groups will asked to produce a short overview of their initial proposal by June 12..
  4. Opportunity for feedback and changing groups (week of June 15): Ideas Lab participants and other stakeholders (e.g., students, university leadership) will be invited to provide feedback on these initial proposals. Groups will be provided with a document that consolidates the feedback received. Participants will be invited to switch groups, invite new members, etc.
  5. Revise and refine proposals (weeks of June 15 and June 22): After receiving feedback, groups will be encouraged to revise and refine their proposals.
  6. Final proposal (by June 30): Groups will be asked to share their final proposals by June 30. These proposals will be shared with other Ideas Lab participants and university leadership. The proposal should be brief, written in such a way that non-topical experts can comprehend, and offer policy, programming, or research recommendations that could be implemented at UConn this summer and/or fall. Ideally, and dependent on group interest, a version of these deliverables would be presented to the public and accessible to the academic community at large via mediums such as The Chronicle of Higher Education. We hope that some will develop into grant proposals and other research products. Groups who write the top three proposals during the Ideas Lab will be recognized with a small monetary award.

Have Questions?

If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Amy Gorin, PhD ( or Grace Morris, MA (

Ideas Lab Sign-Up

Deadline to Sign Up: Tuesday June 2nd,2020 by the End of Day