Senior managers often and rightly take the lead role in formalising the text of documents as high-level, strategic and important as mission, vision and value statements. In some circumstances it may even be formally decreed who has the authority to define such things, as is the case in many FE colleges where the corporation is responsible for agreeing the mission statement.
But regardless of where the final responsibility lies there will be few institutions who do not consult with staff, students and other stakeholders during this process. Taking creative and active steps to engage with stakeholders through a variety of means not only increases the likely relevance and quality of the ‘end product’ but also starts the process of encouraging ownership and active engagement within the concepts the statements define.
"The various environmental scanning exercises and consultation activities are likely to generate a large amount of material, references, comments, and opinions. Skill is needed to précis and re-present these"
Andrew West, director of student services, The University of Sheffield
There is no one right way to undertake this process of consultation and engagement and, indeed, there are significant advantages to employing several parallel approaches, each designed to achieve a specific goal or to engage with a particular target audience. It will also depend on how far down the road of engagement and consultation you wish to travel.
Some institutions may wish to only seek wider opinion once a range of options have already been shortlisted, whilst others may see merit in proactively engaging stakeholders at a much earlier stage when ideas are still being formed.
Possible approaches to consultation
|Technique||Pros||Cons||Hints, tips and exemplars|
|Briefing documents (online or printed)|
No opportunity to engage in dialogue
|The example from the University of Leeds demonstrates an excellent use of online resources, including online fora and feedback mechanisms, and provides information at varying levels to accommodate the casual browser and those interested in the detail|
Feedback can be captured (and moderated) via blog comments
|Requires an ongoing commitment |
A careful line must be trod between informality and openness and necessary management discretion
|‘Road shows’ and drop in sessions (i.e. informal exhibitions and information points which can located at popular congregation points to distribute information and promotional literature and to answer questions|
Able to target particular areas where it is felt that awareness is low or resistance high
|Team/ faculty / department briefings|
Starts the process of local planning in response to agreed proposals
|Outputs (flip charts, whiteboards etc) difficult to capture|
Consider who should facilitate the briefing: a member of the senior management team or, perhaps, an external, independent facilitator with specific expertise in this area
Members of the focus groups can act as ‘champions’ within their local areas
How many groups/members are required for the group to be representative?
Getting people together may be difficult in split location institutions
|Electronic discussion areas (e.g. wikis, VLEs etc)|
Outputs easy to manipulate and analyse
A simple explanation of how wikis work and why they are useful is available from YouTube
|Voting / survey systems|
Ease of use encourages high levels of participation
|Running a participatory workshop||Participatory workshops are aimed at encouraging those present to share their feelings and ideas about the issues in question and to work collaboratively to identify and prioritise solutions. The emphasis is on creativity and collaboration and the results can be amazing.|
Innovative and creative use of a range of such techniques makes it possible to move towards engaging in a true ‘strategic conversation’ within the institution. By encouraging people to think about and debate what the institution’s mission, vision and core values really are the institution will have generated genuine momentum behind the process and encouraged real institutional ownership, rather than staff just viewing them as a set of meaningless words which suddenly appear on the website.
Analysis and feedback
Of course it is one thing to encourage and receive contributions from stakeholders via any or all of the approaches listed, but quite another to then manipulate, analyse and reflect upon the data obtained. The scale of this task should not be underestimated and may well take a range of staff and associated skills: technical, statistical, operational, managerial and presentational.
As well as aggregating and synthesising data for the consideration of those ultimately responsible for agreeing these strategic statements it is also worth considering the benefits of providing timely and ongoing feedback to those who have contributed to the process – and those that haven’t. Providing regular updates, summaries of feedback received to date and management responses to what has been said all helps to demonstrate that a two-way consultation process is genuinely underway and that people’s views are being listened to, if not always acted upon. Without such feedback loops people might start to doubt progress and question whether their continued participation and interest is justified.