Towards Institutional Embedding

If you are following the Building Capacity processes and methodology then you should reach a point whereby you have reviewed your institutional strategic aims, defined the issues for meeting them, and hopefully found an existing technological solution to help you meet, or go some way to meeting, that aim.

Institutional change is often slow, and can be variable across an institution, especially where working practices have remained unchanged for many years. However, the Building Capacity projects found that with appropriate consultation and support, institution wide change could be effected that was acceptable to the majority of academics and administrators. Strategies to open dialogue with the SMT is discussed in the Strategies for Engaging Senior Management supportive guide; here we consider various strategies to engage other stakeholders in your progress towards an institutional aim.

Local stakeholder analysis and involvement

Many of the Building Capacity projects reflected that they had not carried out as rigorous a stakeholder analysis as was necessary to ensure that project outcomes met a need that was recognised by a wide cross-section of local stakeholders. It is essential to communicate clarity and consensus of intention in relation to the strategic aim being addressed within the institution.

In common with most projects, the University of Cumbria reported that it is vital to consult people and build relationships that the development will later rely on for sustainability. Buy-in from staff and students is crucial to the long term embedding of a new process or technological innovation. Cumbria found that this was best engendered through the activities of early adopters, in their case demonstrating use of social media to support teaching, learning and assessment. By the end of the project funding, this engagement had generated significant interest which is hoped to result in increased participation.

Birkbeck reported that engaging students from the outset helped to ensure that the project, which in their case was focused on student engagement and retention, is relevant to students’ needs. The BCap project team felt that they could have started their consultation process earlier, with focus groups and a survey right at the beginning of the development. The prompt for this came out of learning from a previous JISC project (TAG at UCLAN), who were invited to present at the Birkbeck Student Services Forum. Following the presentation, the project plan was altered to incorporate more opportunity for students’ voices and further consultation during their website development.

Using mini-projects

The University of Keele found that supporting a small minority of academics willing to “have a go” paid dividends in increasing their influence with colleagues, and in demonstrating novel approaches to assessment to the rest of the university.

The project team promoted an institution-wide discussion on embedding existing technology into assessment and feedback processes. This led to a series of mini-projects, supporting specific cases of adoption in individual modules and programmes. The result of these mini-projects has been wide spread adoption of three different assessment and feedback processes, and the start of an institutional policy to standardise assessment processes.

The 20 innovative mini-projects used different methods of providing feedback to students; the Keele BCap team supported the enthusiast academics who volunteered to take part. The results of their trials are being used to influence colleagues, and some of the results will be published nationally to help inform the debate on assessment and feedback practice. The project has reported a positive cultural shift toward using technology for assessment, likely to give cost savings in printing and space in the short term, and staff time once the new processes become more routine and habitual.

Leeds was another university that employed a similar mini-project methodology. Following an exploration of previous JISC outputs for using technology to deliver effective feedback to students, an event called Effective Feedback Week was set up. Presentations from three carefully selected showcase projects and group discussion resulted in some key action points:

  • develop some easy to use guides for staff and students
  • pilot the use of digital video cameras for generic “fast feed-forward”
  • explore the University system for recording and storage
  • develop an appropriate infrastructure for support
  • recruit champions to adopt direct examples of audio/video feedback pilots and demonstrate good practice.

The main outcome from the event was that just adapting or replicating project outputs wasn’t likely to be the best approach; rather the outputs acted as a catalyst for open dialogue to look at a set of practices in order to work out what might be helpful to people working at Leeds. Ten effective feedback projects were seed funded in a diverse set of areas (Business, Earth and Environment; Engineering, Ethics; Modern Languages, Design, Art History, Cultural Studies, Visual Arts and Staff Development). Leeds is planning to pull together a toolkit arising from these case studies in the academic year 2011/12; the project leaders championing the changes in their departments will disseminate their findings at internal and external events.

Change in context

The successful embedding of change requires careful consideration of context within an institution, focusing on culture and people rather than an over-emphasis on process. The Building Capacity approach advocates the engagement of Senior Management, ensuring top-down commitment and support, plus consideration towards institutional embedding through local stakeholder analysis and involving them at an early stage of development. Additional time and effort is required, but, as expressed by the funded projects, ultimately worthwhile.

“It simply takes time to effect change – generally more than originally expected – as well as patience and persistence. A strong rationale for the project helped so we had to spend relatively little time convincing people that the idea was worthwhile.”
Birkbeck, University of London

“The complexity of change in a large organisation has again been recognised, with the crucial role of people in the implementation of effective change becoming even clearer. Approaches to engage key stakeholders have been developed which will help us deliver future change and enhancement in TEL.”
University Glamorgan

“When deciding on the system to implement we invited both senior managers and stakeholders to participate. This seemed to make a massive difference in terms of support – everyone was enthusiastic with a high level of support from the top down … It made the work much simpler because we didn’t have to repeat the business case and try to convince people again and again.”
University of Bradford