Planning for Change - Leadership
“We wouldn’t have come far if we didn’t have people at the top supporting it and championing engagement. However, it’s much more complicated than just expecting the VC to make it happen. We’ve thought about community representation at the highest level – with 3 community leaders on our governing body, for instance, and a community leadership programme. We support champions at every level across the partnership. And none of that would have been enough if we hadn’t also tackled things like workload management and recognition. Embedding means that engagement becomes woven into the fabric of the institution – and as leaders, that’s what we want to use our influence to bring about”. Discussion at the Manchester Beacon Leadership Group
Why does leadership matter?
Articulating your institution’s official commitment to public engagement in strategic and operational plans is important, as we have explored in the mission section. Yet, it is equally important to foster a network of leaders who can act as formal and informal advocates for engagement, to help encourage and bring that strategic commitment to life.
These champions need to be at every level, from inside and outside of the institution, and across the different functions, not just academic staff but support staff too.
To build a critical mass of such leaders and champions we need to encourage the values, attitudes and behaviours which create a supportive culture for public engagement; ensuring that it becomes a natural and visible part of everyday work, conversations and decision-making across the institution.
The experiences of the beacons and others suggest that the following four areas deserve careful attention:
Commitment ‘from the top’ sends a powerful message to the whole institution that engagement matters. Having the VC/ principal leading as a champion brings obvious benefits, and having a senior manager with formal responsibility for monitoring progress against your strategy helps too. Equally important is encouraging all senior managers to have a clear view of how engagement contributes to their wider responsibilities and aspirations, so that they build consideration of engagement into their day-to-day work and decision-making and can justify supporting it.
Staff and students are as influenced by their colleagues as they are by the institution’s senior leaders, so it is important to support engagement champions at every level of the institution. For example, offering secondments or small bursaries and awards can help individuals develop their confidence and expertise. Actively supporting and encouraging networking across and beyond the institution is also important, to build ‘grass roots’ support and distributed leadership. Simple resources e.g. social media can be used to support networking in addition to face to face meetings.
|Departmental / faculty leadership
A key learning from the Beacon initiative is that heads of departments and faculties face a particularly difficult set of challenges when it comes to supporting engagement. There will often be both ‘high level’ and ‘grass roots’ support for engagement in an institution – but department heads can feel ‘caught in the middle’, left with the very difficult job of balancing a host of competing demands relating to staff workloads, performance and income. As a consequence, support for engagement can begin to breakdown at a departmental level. Supporting departmental leaders by appointing associate heads or associate deans for engagement can turn a challenge into an opportunity to provide support at School or Faculty level.
It is possible to become so focused on internal leadership challenges that you risk neglecting the critical role of the public and wider community, and the value of external expertise. There are a number of practical ways in which you can actively involve people from outside the institution to help catalyse innovation, to shape, guide and evaluate your public engagement, and to act as critical friends, leaders and champions for your work. At the Manchester Beacon, public stakeholders were involved in setting objectives for the programme, commissioning, co-designing and co-delivering pilot projects.
We have other resources to help you work through this area.
Self-assess your leadership
We have developed a mini self-assessment tool to help you assess your institution's leadership of public engagement, and to plan how you might develop this area.
Download Leadership EDGE tool.
Story of Change: Leadership
To make it easier for people to access the content relevant to them, we have pulled together all our online resources into an easily downloadable PDF. The Leadership Resource Pack includes: Introduction to Leadership; Manchester Story of Change; Mission EDGE tool and links to other resources.