Start Center - Strategic Analysis, Research & Training Center
START Center



START held its 8th annual retreat on September 22-23. Due to the continued public health threat of COVID-19, this year’s retreat took place fully online for the first time in START’s history. This two-day retreat combined interactive Zoom sessions with self-led activities, with the goals to set START’s culture, incorporating what each member brings to START, spend purposeful virtual time together with directed team-building activities, provide an overview and training about the START approach, and kick-off a successful START Year 10 with positive energy.

We kicked off our retreat with two sessions to set the tone and reinforce our values as a Center: a culture session, followed by an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) session. We broadly defined culture and presented START’s four defining cultural pillars. We also talked about how working together during the COVID-19 pandemic has already adjusted our culture, and what we should expect from each other as we continue to work together during these unique circumstances. We then broke into small groups to discuss a pre read and inequity case study and came back together to share what we had discussed. These discussions set the stage for our first all team meeting this fall, which will set EDI action items and goals for the center. This was led by two START Student Representatives, second year research assistants elected by their peers to represent the RAs to leadership.

In an effort to avoid Zoom fatigue and maintain engagement with our members, our afternoon sessions were pre-recorded videos in three areas of focus:

  • The overall structure of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), to provide context and help set expectations for our RAs when they do project work with the foundation
  • Walkthrough of a typical Project Life Cycle at START
  • A Project Example from previous START work

These sessions all served to prepare our new RAs for working at START, as well as to remind our current RAs and faculty of the project process.

The second day began by separating our Center into special interest groups. The RAs took this time to focus on tips for successful project management, specifically as that applies to START’s project model. The faculty and leadership discussed mentorship within the context of supporting RAs on START projects during this time of remote work.

Our next two sessions this day were pre-recorded, and everyone was able to watch them on their own. These sessions covered:

  • The Scoping Meeting, the launching meeting every START project has with the project client to specify the client’s ask, clarify final deliverables, and set up the project timeline
  • Review of Center Operations from the Operations Team, covering day-to-day procedures and expectations, how we track the work we do, and key resources available to START members.

The trainings provided at the 8th annual retreat were created to allow research assistants, faculty, and staff working at START to share a common understanding of expectations and methods used to deliver high-quality research. The opportunity for the START Center to come together virtually for two days set a positive tone for the coming 2020 – 2021 academic year.