Moving on…

After twelve years, I’ve decided to leave CETIS and I finish today. In my final blog post, I just thought I’d share with you with a couple of things that have really stood out for me during my time as an e-learning technologist. I had thought about reviewing the changes in e-learning technologies over the past twelve years – and there have been huge changes: tablets (and phablets), MOOCs, Moodle, and ebooks, to name but a few. But the technology isn’t important, that will always change. What is important is the people who try and make that technology work for the benefit of the student.

I have admired and been inspired by the sheer dedication, passion and hard work of staff, who are trying to make the tertiary education experience better for students, despite a myriad of challenges. This work is often unheralded and yet has a huge impact. It’s been a joy working with so many wonderful people.

I have also loved seeing people collaborate, both in the accessibility and relationship management arenas. It’s not always easy to share issues and experiences with potential competitors and yet when staff at different institutions do come together to do this, the student and the institution are left the richer. It been a pleasure to bring people together via the Accessibility SIG (Special Interest Group) and the JISC Relationship Management Programme and to see relationships grow and blossom.

I don’t have any plans as yet, which is somewhat scary and exciting at the same time and I feel a bit like Mr Benn, with a whole world of adventure before me. Of course, I will miss my CETIS colleagues, we’ve been through a lot together, and so rather than say goodbye, I’d just like to say remember the good times and celebrate!

Relationship Management: Be transparent and sincere

Following on from my previous post (Relationship Management: Communicate, communicate, communicate),  based on the Compendium of Good Practice in Relationship Management in Higher and Further Education, written by myself and Lou McGill, this post will focus on culture change. We’ve already stated the importance of communication, which is the glue that binds the various stakeholders together.  In this post, we’ll be taking a look at the institution’s and management’s role in relationship management with regard to culture change.

“The project, as a change management initiative, has contributed to the University [of Southampton's] understanding of its institutional context. Opening up our data silos is more political and cultural than technical, and these domains are starting to change. There is little concrete evidence of the fruits of the change yet, but the change process has begun… We have been able to make extensive preparation for change, and there is commitment within the University to continue with it.” (Moore, I. and Paull, A. (2012). JISC Relationship Management Programme – Impact Analysis: Strands 2 and 3. (Not publicly available)

Taking an institution-wide approach to relationship management presents opportunities to identify where existing cultural approaches and practices may be ineffective. Sometimes the introduction of a new software system can highlight areas where cultural change needs to occur. It can show where current procedures inhibit agility, or where collaboration and innovation initiatives are not working. Introducing new software often acts as a catalyst for change in policies, practice and culture, whilst improving access to data can encourage the organisational culture to be more innovative and transparent. Changing an organisation’s culture is not without its problems:

“For context we would note that the staff and student population of an average university is equivalent to that of a small town (and the largest universities to small cities). Planning for change on this scale is not easy.” (Moore, I. and Paull, A. (2012). JISC Relationship Management Programme – Impact Analysis: Strands 2 and 3. (Not publicly available)

Cultural change comes with a myriad of challenges and is probably one of the hardest aspects of relationship management to address. For example:

  • staff may view changes in processes and the introduction of new software systems as threatening to their working practices; eg at Loughborough University, some staff who considered their own processes to be fit for purpose were concerned about proposed changes
  • concerns around budget reductions
  • resulting staff turnover

Champions can help drive change. At the University of Nottingham, for example, senior management is encouraged to champion good practice for placements, with the placement co-ordinator acting as the central conduit for relationships and communication. Senior management buy-in or sponsorship can help to raise the importance of relationship management within the institution, but it must be sincere, otherwise an institution’s organisational structure will remain a barrier no matter what improvements are suggested:

“The process of change needs to be managed with care to ensure that all stakeholder are positively engaged, especially those who have the power to implement the change (primary stakeholders), and those who have influence over opinion within the organization. Hence it is essential to carry out a full stakeholder analysis. As with any change management, when it comes to implementing the change it is important to identify champions in each of the stakeholder groups, coupled with clear and regular communication.” (Davis, H., Howard, Y., and Prince, R. (2012). Ninjas and Dragons. University of Southampton)

Consultation with a wide range of departments and stakeholders can also help to identify new champions. For example, new enthusiasts at the University of Nottingham were instrumental in spreading the word about placements and sources of expertise. As a result, existing good practice (for example from the School of Veterinary Medicine) has now been incorporated into the placements process and at least five academic schools in the University have expressed interest in using ePortfolios to support placements or work-based activity.

The co-creation aspects of the service design approach can help to improve staff buy-in, because it empowers staff to take ownership of any process improvements with a good chance of long-term impact. Taking this approach and talking to people on their own terms may also win over ‘difficult’ institutional characters, thereby enabling ‘change by stealth’. Sometimes, it is necessary to establish new organisational structures to facilitate change and create new staff roles to reflect changing priorities. Communication is vital for promoting an understanding of what people are doing and why.

Change must be managed carefully to ensure that all stakeholders are engaged, especially those who have power or influence in the institution. For example, rather than imposing wholesale change across the whole institution, the University of Nottingham has taken a ‘hub and spoke’ approach in which new developments are conceived centrally and delivered locally. The primary focus is on the spokes, rather than the hub, which start to establish change across the institution. Similarly, encouraging staff to make bite-sized changes that do not take them away from day-to-day operations can reduce resentment to any new methods of working.

Changing the mindset of staff can have a huge impact, even if significant changes to processes are still to be made. For example, instead of just providing advice and guidance to students thinking of leaving, staff at the University of Derby now pro-actively reach out to students who wish to withdraw. This helps the student, who may not be able to articulate their reasons for withdrawal and who may just need additional support. It also provides the institution with useful feedback for making further improvements.

How to approach culture change

  • Establish champions to drive through changes
  • Senior management buy-in or sponsorship must be sincere
  • Talk to people on their own terms
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Use co-creation to encourage staff to take ownership of process improvements
  • Aim for small-scale rather than large-scale changes

Further information


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.

Are we crawlers, walkers or Runners when it comes to Business Intelligence in Higher Education?

I was pleased to attend with JISC colleagues the recent

UCISA Business Intelligence event in Bristol In the context of current CETIS work in the support and synthesis project for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Student Life-cycle support project.

There were a variety of speakers at the event and a great deal consistency of issues raised, issues relevant to our work in CRM/SLRM. There were however also some quite notable inconsistencies.
One of the speakers described business intelligence in Higher Education (HE) as being a “mature “ area whilst another revealed when conducting an ad hoc straw poll of those attending the event (largely UCISA members ,Management and Information Systems Managers/Directors in HE) asking the audience to categorise where they believed their institutions were with Business Intelligence as Crawlers (Very much at the early scoping stage) Walkers (Scoping and pre-planning stage) and Runners (Planning and implementation stage) Out of an audience there were no runners about six or seven confessed walkers with the rest of us admitting to being crawlers, which I think is probably a more accurate reflection as to where institutions are just now.

William Liew and Martine Carter talked about Business intelligence activities at the University of Bristol which were driven from a financial measurement perspective and their attempts to integrate systems across research, procurement and student data and in their words “eliminate” local systems in order striving for the very bold ambition of“true” data for financial purposes. In their work they recognised multi stakeholder perspectives and quite honestly detailed the barriers they encountered. I must confess to having a little difficulty when one approach or one model is presented as THE model. Models from my perspective are a useful tool “A way of presenting a particular view of the world or representation from a particular perspective “too often they presented as THE view of THE organisations, it is one of the inherent deficiencies of modelling of any persuasion.

I was also very interested in David Sowerby’s presentation regarding the University of Bedfordshire’s student retention system and recognised the potential significance of this approach, in particular given the current Border Agency requirements of institutions to monitor foreign student attendance. Metrics relating to student “engagement” were presented, metrics based on consistent parameters being applied across the institution and values set against these parameters to define levels of student “Engagement” in order to flag up potential retention issues… all interesting stuff.
Some of the key points in BI implementation highlighted were:
1. Stakeholder Engagement buy-in ownership was essential.
2. The need for (process) modelling.
3. Data Quality – Bad data in Bad data out.
4. The need for meaningful Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
I am mindful that I will be attending the IMS GLC Learning Impact conference in the US in May 2010 and contributing to the Analytics discussions at this event.

I suspect our US colleagues are, using the earlier analogy, runners and they will indeed be running with Business Intelligence, although whether this is in the right direction will be the big question.

Higher Ambitions The Future of Universities in the Knowledge Economy

I have just been digesting the content of “Higher Ambitions” the governments recently published ‘framework” for the future of Universities here in the UK.

The impact of this report will be significant in shaping future priorities and investment in the sector and as such will frame much of the activity that JISC and JISC CETIS will undertake over the coming years. If not framing future activity it will certainly frame the environment in which we operate. The document does outline useful observations, in particular, relating to work-based learning , business and community engagement and in anticipation of the changing student demographic. These are themes that have been explored by the JISC through it’s funding and development activities over the last few years and as such is a strong endorsement of the current JISC strategy.

Technology is highlighted as a key element of the sectors global competitiveness although those of us who remember the e-university project will proceed with some caution in pursuing these ambitious objectives. More concerning is, what I consider, an over emphasis on the STEM subjects seen as,to the detriment of arts and the humanities, the key to future economic growth and the implicit suggestion that the key metrics applied to determine the “quality” of education are employability or a “good” job (whatever that may be). The report fails to recognize the massive contribution the arts and humanities make to society, even using the preferred metrics of government , financial, the arts and humanities generate around 30% of research income for UK universities.

Somewhere the “joy” of learning as reward in itself is lost and there seems little recognition of the benefits, economic or otherwise, of subjects such as the classics. I’m mindful that many of our current crop of politicians ,received their political grounding in the classics and other theoretical subjects. Many of our celebrated entrepreneurs also received a “classical” education. The government recently appointed Martha Lane-Fox as head of digital inclusion, Martha is highly regarded as a vanguard for women in technology and her entrepreneurial skills and yes Martha studied “classical” History at Oxford; I’m sure that she would contest the value of her studies in helping shape her successful business career.

One hopes that we don’t loose sight of the bigger picture in education by sacrificing the arts, humanities and the classics in striving for the perceived and dubious short term economic benefits of business/employment related courses, do we even run the risk of “training” our students for jobs that may not exist?