Guide to How to Create and Use Foundational Documents

Version 1. June 17, 2022

Foundational documents are statements and/or policy documents that articulate and shape the purpose, identity, direction, and future plans of your program or department. They can include:

  • Mission Statement: describes the primary functions and activities of your department, whom it serves, and what it aims to accomplish. The statement should be aligned with your institution’s mission.
  • Vision Statement: aspirationally articulates the qualities your department needs to have in order to fulfill its mission and what the results of fulfilling that mission would be. The statement should be aspirational yet attainable, and aligned with your institution’s vision.
  • Values Statement: articulates your department’s core values. The statement should be aligned with your institution’s values.

This section provides guidance for creating departmental mission, vision, and values statements and related documents through an inclusive process that engages and supports buy-in from a broad range of stakeholders inside and outside of your department and ensures that your documents are aligned with institutional values and objectives. The section also provides guidances for ensuring that these documents are used to guide strategic decisions in your department. Not every department or institution needs to create and maintain all kinds of foundational documents, though some of them are required by certain accreditors. While this section focuses on creating mission, vision, and values statements, the guidance on process can be applied to other kinds of foundational documents. For details about other kinds of documents, see the sections on How to Create and Use a Strategic Plan; How to Be an Effective Chair (e.g., management plan); Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (e.g., action plan for equity); Departmental Culture and Climate (e.g., code of conduct); Ethics (e.g., departmental ethics guidelines); and Advising and Mentoring of Students (e.g., framework for mentors engaging students).


Creating and maintaining departmental foundational documents provides an opportunity for members of your program or department to reflect on, define, and state your department’s identity and values. Foundational documents form the groundwork for strategic planning (see the section on How to Create and Use a Strategic Plan) and program review (see the section on How to Undertake an Undergraduate Program Review), and contextualize

(see the section on How to Assess Student Learning at the Program Level). The process of constructing and revising foundational documents provides an opportunity to build consensus within your department on priorities and directions, and to ensure these are aligned with institutional goals, directions, and values. These documents can help focus efforts of faculty and staff, prioritize resource investments, distinguish among competing priorities when making difficult choices, and plan for the future. The documents help forge strong relationships with your institution’s leaders by aligning the core values and priorities of your department with those of your institution. Foundational documents can also help department leaders clearly articulate your department’s needs and advocate for support and resources. Students benefit from being in a department that uses such documents to guide and support improvement efforts. These documents can also be used to share your department’s mission, vision, and values when recruiting students and faculty, and when engaging in fundraising.

Effective Practices

  1. Design and articulate an inclusive process for creating and maintaining foundational documents

  2. Implement your process to create and maintain foundational documents

  3. Share and use foundational documents to guide departmental discussions and decisions

  4. Evaluate the impact of your foundational documents and review them periodically

The Cycle of Reflection and Action

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1738311, 1747563, and 1821372. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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