Date of Submission


Document Type



Doctor of Education




adaptation, adaptive space, complexity theory, model of complexity leadership, higher education, student advising


This Organizational Improvement Plan (OIP) addresses a problem of practice concerning the fragmented state of student advising at a large, urban higher education institution (HEI). Aligned with the sample university’s overarching organizational goal to advance a more student-centred approach, the OIP aims to foster intersections across a specialized model of student advising service provision to better meet the needs of a diverse, 21st century student population. In addition, the OIP responds to environmental realities in which increasing accountabilities, compounded by the rapid pace and growing pervasiveness of reactive change, require building internal capacity for ongoing, continuous adaptation (Lichtenstein et al., 2006). The OIP’s overarching leadership lens is informed by complexity theory (CT), and the complexity leadership (CL) model (Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017, 2018) is used as the framework to lead the change and to shift perspectives on leadership to more distributed forms.

Acknowledging that there is no single correct way to structure student advising in HEIs, the OIP proposes that a traditional service-provider model of student advising may be enhanced by forging interconnections through a combination of technology and adaptive space within which social capital among agents may be fostered across the system of service provision. Specifically, the OIP describes how a planned change to deploy a software solution to support student referrals across the system may be leveraged as a starting point to enable conditions for continuous adaptation. The planned change is used as an opportunity to create adaptive space (Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017; Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2009) for agents working across the system to connect and work through the change together, thereby shifting traditional, top-down perspectives on leadership and change toward a more bottom-up approach. In this way, the OIP balances leading change for performance with creating conditions for ongoing system adaptation (Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017). While this OIP presents a context-specific approach to change, the concepts it employs from CL—including creating and maintaining adaptive space, adaptive leadership, and practices—may inform approaches to change in similar contexts at other HEIs.

Keywords: adaptation, adaptive space, complexity theory, model of complexity leadership, higher education institutions, student advising