3 SOAR Analysis

SOAR stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results. It is a strategic approach that focuses on strengths and seeks to understand an organization and its environment by including the voices of relevant stakeholders. This may include faculty, staff, students, and/or community partners (Cole & Stavros, 2019).

The purpose of the SOAR Analysis Activity during program review is to provide a way for faculty to engage in thinking about, and identifying the strengths and opportunities for program improvement using a structure that is adaptable, responsive, and delivers measurable results (Hoare et al., 2024).

Table 4.1
SOAR Description
Strengths What the program does well, along with its key assets, resources, capabilities, and accomplishments.
Opportunities Environmental and external forces that impact the program and possibilities for growth.
Aspirations An expression of what matters to the program. This presents an opportunity to discuss the vision for the future. This segment builds on current strengths and captures the stakeholders sense of momentum ( and what they desire) for the future.
Results Specific, measurable and tangible outcomes which will demonstrate that they have achieved the program’s goals and aspirations.

For anyone who wants to read more about SOAR and how it relates to the more common SWOT analysis, we think the article “SOARing Towards Positive Transformation and Change (Stavros & Cole, 2013) is helpful.

Instructions for Program Review Teams

Timeline: May 15 – October 31

Recommended Submission Date: October 31

  1. Read Module 3 in the Program Review Handbook.
  2. Contact the teaching and learning centre to schedule a pre-meeting and schedule the SOAR Analysis activity.
  3. Plan for roughly three to four hours of collaborative engagement. Ideally, all program faculty will participate in the SOAR Analysis activity. This can be done in person or online according to the preference of the program.
  4. The facilitator of the SOAR will write and provide the draft SOAR Summary Report to the program review team lead. Connect with the author if there are any discrepancies or errors of fact in the report.
  5. Save the SOAR Summary Report in a secure place and prepare it for inclusion in the Self-Study Appendices.

SOAR Pre-Meeting

The facilitator of the SOAR Analysis Activity will meet with the program review team prior to engaging in the SOAR. During this meeting, dates and times will be confirmed along with the list of participants, departmental goals and vision.

At this time the facilitator will also seek to gain an understanding of program dynamics and personalities, so it is helpful if departmental successes and conflicts, as well as the the departmental history, are discussed openly. Though this pre-meeting is short, the information conveyed can go a long way to preparing faculty to contribute effectively and will help the facilitator to anticipate any bumps in the road before they appear.

SOAR Analysis Activity Agenda

The SOAR conversations center on what the department is already doing well, what programs or services could be enhanced, and what the next steps will be in making suggestions for the program review. Using a systems approach and including everyone, we take into consideration many relationships and interactions among people, programs, functions, and the broader environment.

Table 4.2
Time Activity
10 minutes Welcome, territorial acknowledgement and opening remarks
10 minutes Overview of planning cycle and goals of the activity
30 minutes Strengths: What can we build on?
30 minutes Opportunities: What are our bests future opportunities?
10 minutes Break
30 minutes Aspirations: What do we care deeply about?
30 minutes Results: How will we know if we are successful?
20 – 30 minutes Wrap-up, finalize themes, and debrief

Note: In 2021, we offered in person, virtual, and hybrid options for the SOAR Analysis Activity. When working in a hybrid or virtual environment, we strongly suggest the use of co-facilitators, as well as collaborative documents (e.g., Google doc, Jamboard, shared document in Teams).

Resources for Quality Assurance Practitioners and Educational Developers

During the SOAR Analysis Activity, program review teams, additional faculty members, deans, and sometimes students respond to a series of questions related to strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results of the program.

We have found success using Think-Pair-Share (Lyman, 1981)  and one-two-four-all (Lipmanowicz & McCandless, 2014) to collaboratively generate ideas and to ensure the voices of quieter participants are heard.

When working in person we ask participants to capture their ideas on sticky notes, which we then sort into themes as a group. In virtual settings, depending on the size of the group and their familiarity with technology, shared documents and breakout rooms have proven very successful (e.g., Jamboard, Padlet, Google doc). A co-facilitator can aid this process immensely, especially with large departments.

After the SOAR Analysis Activity, the facilitator prepares a report summarizing the conversations.


Cockell, J & McArthur-Blair, J. (2012). Appreciative inquiry in higher education: A transformative force. Jossey-Bass.

Cole M.L., Stavros J.M. (2019) SOAR: A Framework to Build Positive Psychological Capacity in Strategic Thinking, Planning, and Leading. In: Van Zyl L., Rothmann Sr. S. (eds) Theoretical Approaches to Multi-Cultural Positive Psychological Interventions. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-20583-6_23

Hoare A., Dishke-Hondzel, C., Wagner, S., & Church, S. (2024). A course-based approach to conducting program review. Discover Education, 3, Article 5 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s44217-023-00085-4

Lipmanowicz, H. & McCandless, K. (2014). The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash A Culture of Innovation. Seattle: Liberating Structures Press.

Lyman, F. (1981). The responsive classroom discussion: The inclusion of all students. Mainstreaming Digest. University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

Mir, R. A., Mir, A., & Upadhyaya, P. (2003). Toward a postcolonial reading of organizational control. In A. Prasad (Ed.), Postcolonial theory and organizational analysis: A critical engagement (pp. 47-73). Palgrave Macmillan.

Srivastva, S., & Cooperrider, D. (1990). Appreciative management and leadership: The power of positive thought and action in organizations. Jossey-Bass.

Stavros, J.M., Cooperrider, D L, & Kelley, D.L. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: Inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.

Stavros, J.M. & Hinrichs, G.(2009). The thin book of SOAR: Building strengths- based strategy. Thin Book Publishing Co.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Program Review Handbook Copyright © by Alana Hoare; Catharine Dishke Hondzel; and Shannon Wagner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book