I recently attended a digital futures event which had been organised in the style of an unconference. This meant the focus was on attendees discussing issues that concerned them. After the keynote staff were asked about issues they would like to discuss and a lot of their responses linked to the work of Enable.
- Perception of effort/ processes/ ‘tick boxing’
- Concern about ability to be agile
- Requirement for faster adoption to change
- Lack of clear messages across institution
- Concern about lose of subject specific adoption
- Too much control of systems and not enough control on information
- Perception of limited change management
All this could be considered a bit depressing, Enable started over two years ago and although it has achieved a number of small successes (Document Management, External Examiners, TransAPEL) this event is a clear message to all in the institution that there are still issues with the way the university is working. This message is something that Enable has passed up to senior management but has yet to hear back about what is being done. The Enable project recognises a number of developments that are occurring, however the communication with these developments has been either limited or through unofficial channels. This is due to the nature of the culture at the university and could also be linked to the perception of the project and the level of staff involved in the project. It has been recognised by most people in the university that it is now in a prime position to change as it takes its first steps towards a new future and new university strategy. However will we be strong enough to make the big steps needed? Will we have the courage to do what staff are expecting of us?
The event also demonstrated that staff are not always aware of opportunities to engage with the institution, and its projects. Even worse, that projects don’t always try to engage with their stakeholders, or recognise the right stakeholders for a project. For example a technology was introduced to staff with what appeared to be limited engagement, from the presentations given a number of questions were raised by staff during the lunch, during informal conversation. These questions focused on who had asked for the technology? What where their requirements? Was there any engagement with surveys such as the student mobile technologies/ faculty feedback? It was a shame these questions hadn’t been raised in the session itself. I wonder why, did I lead the discussions during lunch? Did staff feel more comfortable discussing issues with someone who wasn’t close to the projects? I’m not sure and I don’t think there is an easy way of capturing it. The survey I am doing for Enable (http://bit.ly/mgp1wy) will at least help identify how staff feel at different levels about engaging in projects within the institution, and whether they feel informed about these developments, not just at Staffordshire University but in other educational institutions.
In one session I attended focused on digital literacy it was a matter of debate as to whether there should be an embedding of technology into particular subjects. I found it a concern when two particular issues were raised – one was how do we know what technical skills an employer wants outside those that are subject specific (as the university has been discussing and raising the concept of Employer engagement I should have thought the answer fairly obvious), and some staff felt that their subjects should be exempt from digital literacy – although how that could be justified for one of the subjects discussed I’m not sure as I could certainly see a clear link between that subject (which shall remain nameless for fear of identifying the innocent!). Other discussions within that session where around whether we are forcing staff/students to use an internal tool when they would rather use an external one? Are we engaging in an exercise in futility which will soon require the university to hold equivalent software for all tools internally? Who should be guiding the decision on technologies here, and what is the message from senior management about the direction we should be going?
I found the informal discussions particularly useful, as they reinforced to me that our Enable message to senior management is the right one. There is a perception that we have been too busy making small changes to processes and systems and that the time hasn’t been taken to clearly assess where we are, where we want to be and what needs to be done in the future to make us prepared for our next step. There is a recognised need by staff that the institution needs to take a breath, and get a complete view of its business & its supporting information, systems and processes. Staff need to feel engaged in this work and a great start has been taken by the new Vice Chancellor in encouraging staff to contact his office with feedback on the strategy. Certainly, from his blog, it is noted that a number of staff took him up on this offer (as did I on behalf of the project team through my manager, and directly through the online form we were given). What will be interesting to see is the feedback we get from the process – will he contact us directly to address our concerns? Or will it become another perceived ‘black hole’ where actions are taken but no feedback given?