Sustaining Relationship Management – Beyond the Programme work

Thursday last week, 12 July, saw us run the final programme meeting for the JISC Relationship Management programme, which CETIS has provided Support and Synthesis since it began in 2009 .

Representatives from all the current 16 projects, spread across all of the UK met in sunny (honestly!) Manchester to celebrate the work that has been undertaken and to also discuss plans to take the work forward. It was really heartening to see so much good work and genuine enthusiasm for the activities which people have been involved in, and their desire to continue evangelising the benefits even after funding has ended. Project teams have been plugging the benefits to senior management to achieve buy in whilst also maintaining the backing and interest of the ‘coal face’ staff who would perhaps interact with new initiatives and ideas on a more frequent basis.

As always at such events, it was a packed agenda which could have easily spread over 2 or 3 days, after all it is difficult to summarise an 18 month project in five minutes. But the projects managed it.

It went something like this…

For those staying overnight on the Wednesday, we had Dinner in the restaurant followed by a quiz, which was good fun and covered programme questions but also general knowledge and other fun information. It was a good ice breaker for people who hadn’t seen each other for a long time.

The following day started with JISC Programme Managers Myles Danson and Simon Whittemore introducing the event and our aims, and then Myles gave a overview of the journey so far in terms of Relationship Management work, which goes back to fact finding studies funded by JISC back in 2007, many of the findings and recommendations are still pertinent, indeed even more so given the change in climate in the education sector.

We then broke out into two groups, ‘Strand 2: Sharing RM and the student experience’ and ‘Strand 3: Sharing engaging alumni using RM’ in which projects in the two different strands of the programme did a ‘show and tell’ of the work in their project and main findings, obstacles, issues and unexpected outcomes.

We then all gathered back together for an overview of the work of ‘Strand 1: the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Handbook’ and discussion about this and it’s potential.

After lunch, Simon Whittemore led an ‘Evaluation and Impact Panel’ with input from the Critical Friends in the programme. Each Critical Friend gave an excellent summary of the issues raised in their cluster of projects and suggestions for next steps.

Sharon Perry from CETIS then gave a whistle stop tour of the ‘Resources for the future’, providing an overview of all the outputs from the programme plus further details of the synthesis work which will continue over the next few months. These will include the
Just Enough RM resource and a Compendium of good practice, due end of 2012.

You may think it would not be possible to cram even more activity into the day, but we did, and Myles and Simon discussed ideas for JISC to continue work in this area, which is seen as crucial and increasingly important to the HE sector. Delegates were given the tricky challenge of mapping out what pointers/resources they may need on the roadmap to successful Relationship Management. It was no mean feat, but I think many good ideas came out of the activity, and ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’ was the ethos; but that was exactly the point (in my opinion). The essence of the activity, indeed the nub of the issues coming out of the programme are the questions;

If you had your time again on this:
• what would you find useful?, and at what point?;
• what pitfalls can be avoided?, how can you speed up the blockages?…
• what advice would you give to others embarking on this journey?”

As any JISC programme as it finishes needs to make sure lessons are learned for future projects. Surely that is what it is all about.

Service Design is the future!

It is true to say that we are lucky enough at times to be able to work on something that really is interesting, and that for me is true of the world of ‘service design’. I encountered this area as part of my work supporting the JISC Relationship Management programme, and can honestly say that it has genuinely piqued my interest. I only wish I had more time to learn more about it and ‘do’ service design in earnest.

It is a relatively new area, especially for education. Service design can help institutions to examine their processes from a student-centred point of view, and then by making improvements where required, it may be possible to:

• Improve student retention;
• Improve administrative processes;
• Provide a competitive edge;
• Reduce risks;
• Identify student needs, expectations and feelings.

Some people working on the projects in the programme have been so bitten by the bug that they report to have found their calling after many years, and are following the route to becoming specialists in it where possible.

I may sound evangelical about it all, but I do believe that to be successful, institutions would do well to at least nod to the basic concepts of the approach. Empathy is the key. For want of a better comparison, it is about customer service (and I know, many in education, particularly Higher Education, hate the concept of viewing students as customers.) But if we take the basic nuggets, then it boils down to putting yourself in the shoes of those that you are catering for, and it would be useful to adopt an ‘undercover boss’ approach and actually be in the thick of it and see it from the real perspective. We think we know what our students want but often we are wrong, or at best slightly off the mark. So many companies get customer service wrong, and we always remember those that get it right. And vote with our feet. It is the same for education.

I was pleased to discover that there are even jobs for ‘Service Designers’ but of course these are in large corporations, not the education sector. But maybe one day?

More about Service Design:
The CETIS Service Design briefing paper is averaging about 3500 downloads per year and is a useful starting point.

The CETIS wiki has a section on Service Design Resources. The latest addition to this is a Service Design toolkit website offering a toolkit as an introduction to the methodology of service design, in particular for the design of public services. Includes some useful (free) downloads to use when adopting the service design approach.

There is also a section on service design in the ‘Just Enough’ resource that we are developing which includes findings from the current projects and the synthesis from the last programme.

The wikipedia service design entry is also of use.

Overview of the work in the JISC Relationship Management Programme

We thought it would be useful to provide a brief overview and update of the work taking place in the current Phase of the JISC Relationship Management Programme, as the projects are nearing completion so naturally have many interesting findings. The Programme runs from March 2011 to August 2012 and consists of three strands:

Strand 1: Good practice in CRM handbook
– a comprehensive online handbook of good practice in CRM processes in HE and FE, which will integrate, refine, and enhance the SAF (Self Analysis Framework, which was developed as part of Phase 1 of the Relationship Management Programme).
Strand 2: Student retention, progression and non-completion
– the student focussed projects in Phase 1 focussed on the earlier stages of the student lifecycle. This strand (8 projects) takes in the pastoral stages and uses a ‘service design’ approach to help inform the development of projects to help students at risk of non-completion.
Strand 3: Alumni engagement
– Again using service design, these seven projects focus on the final stage of the student lifecycle and are exploring innovative ways of engaging alumni.

The projects are detailed further below with brief summaries. The usual final reporting information will be produced but what will also be helpful is the availability of short videos to be hosted on YouTube; these will summarise the main work of each project and the main issues and developments which occurred. They will be available later in the year (likely to be September 2012). They will be available on the JISC BCE (Business and Community Engagement) YouTube channel. We already have a mini-presence there from the last RM Programme.

Good practice in CRM handbook
This Handbook is being developed by one joint project between Huddersfield University and the University of Teesside as part of the Programme. The draft version of the Online Handbook in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Good Practice is now available; you can take a look at the draft version.

The project team are also on the look-out for more case studies, so if you feel you are an exemplar of good practice in BCE (Business and Community Engagement) CRM or if you have any comments, please get in touch with the team at
You can also follow their project blog

Student Progression, Retention and Non-completion
These eight projects have been using service design techniques to try and improve the student experience at the mid-points of the student lifecycle (Teaching and Learning, Pastoral Care, and Employability). They have been focussing on several areas:
• Using data analytics (“traffic lighting”) to identify students who may be at risk of failing (Loughborough University, Roehampton University, University of Derby, University of Southampton)
• Improving resources for support, such as mental health resources and streamlining placement processes (North Glasgow College, University of Nottingham, University of Sheffield)
• Using smartcards to deliver bursaries (University of East London).

Alumni Engagement
These seven projects have been using service design techniques to try and improve the student experience at the alumni stage of the student lifecycle. They have been focussing on several areas:
• Using social media to encourage alumni to engage with each other (University of Hertfordshire, University of Surrey)
• Establishing mentoring schemes where alumni mentor undergraduates (Aston University, Brunel University, University of Glasgow)
• Supporting the transition to work and encouraging lifelong professional development (Cardiff Metropolitan University, University of Kent).

These projects were all funded as part of Phase 2 of the JISC Relationship Management Programme , which ran from March 2011 to July 2012. Further information is available from the JISC CETIS RM Programme support website
JISC CETIS are running the Support and Synthesis project for the Programme and much more information will be coming out later in the year, including web resources and guidance materials.

Managing Relationships across the pond

It may sound like something for Kermit the frog, but no, I am talking about ‘Relationship Management’ and how the work here in the UK has been picked up in the USA.

I recently starting working on the JISC Relationship Management programme, which is genuinely a really interesting look at how institutions deal with the people they interact with. Relationship management is becoming increasingly important in the tertiary education sector as institutions try to meet the challenges of funding cuts and increased student and community expectations. Employers and other external customers may have the potential to help the sector navigate through these difficult times, however good customer relationship management is necessary to maintain and develop such relationships.

Sharon Perry, my colleague also working on CETIS support of the JISC programme, was in touch with Elliot Felix of BrightSpot in New York about service design in HE. His focus is more on using service design to design/improve educational spaces, however he has written a briefing paper on 7 things You Should Know About Service Design and mentions Derby’s work which they did as part of the programme.

They got together through Twitter, which is how he picked up the Service Design in HE Briefing Paper that the University of Derby produced for CETIS as well as their project work. He’s just in the process of writing a paper for the Journal of Learning Spaces and also mentions Derby’s work there.

He was interested in the design of learning spaces (he’s aware of JISC projects in this area) and also the Relationship Management Programme as a whole, and Sharon gave him further info, for example the link to the SLRM case studies on the JISC website. It is really promising to hear that the work here is of relevance and interest in other countries and it will be interesting to explore such links further and see what we can learn from across the pond also.