Why does no one care about my digital strategy?

lens

So have you ever been tasked with writing a digital strategy? Do you know where to start? Do you know what is going to ensure it will work and be successful.

So if you are tasked with writing a digital strategy, you could write it in isolation, but prepare for it to be a low priority for people higher up. Also expect people in other directorates or departments to ignore it as they focus on their own strategies.

Jisc have recently published a leadership briefing written by myself and Lawrie Phipps. A key aspect is aimed at those tasked with writing strategies, where we argue that in order to get stronger “buy-in” there is a need to apply digital lens to all strategies.

Jisc Senior leaders’ briefing paper

The paper proposes the concept of using a digital lens when approaching strategy, practice and process. The lens is made up of different aspects that need to be considered when applying digital to existing and intended structures.

digital lens

It is necessary to identify which element will be looked at in digital contexts – for example, a particular teaching practice. Different digital options should then be explored to gain a thorough understanding of the range of possibilities. The benefits and risks of each possibility should be carefully weighed before deciding to deploy. As with all change, it is important to reflect and evaluate the nature and impact of the changes caused by the incorporation of digital.

There is a history of people talking about applying a lens to stuff, to look at things differently. To give a different perspective on what has been written or talked about. These are sometimes called strategic lenses and can cover different area such as design, customer focus, resources, cultural amongst others.

lens

In this blog post I want to reflect on my own experiences in designing, developing and writing my own digital strategies. My initial frustrating experiences with a strategy that took a lot of my time which was then ignored, well certainly felt like it was ignored. It was almost a tick box exercise and the end result was the strategy was put into a lever arch file, put on a shelf until the following year when it would be reviewed, revised and published again.

As a TEL Manager in a college I was asked and I delivered a digital learning strategy, well back then it was called the Information and Learning Technology or ILT strategy. Historically it had come about because of funding from Becta to colleges was given on the basis of colleges writing an ILT strategy. This was often distinct from the IT strategy. The IT strategy was usually focused on the technical infrastructure to support the college business, whereas the ILT strategy was focused on the embedding of technology into teaching and learning. What often happened though was that both strategies weren’t linked together and weren’t always linked to the corporate strategy, of if they were those linkages weren’t always clear.

The end result was that sometimes these strategies were at odds with each other.You had an ILT strategy was advocating a student BYOD policy and the IT strategy was clear that non-organisation devices could not be connected to the wireless network.

Clicker

It wasn’t just the IT strategy, I am aware of heated discussions between managers, where the ILT strategy was advocating a student BYOD policy and the Estates strategy was clear that non-organisation devices could not be plugged into the power sockets.

On top of all this was the core corporate strategy that was focused on something completely different.

I remember my ILT strategy talking about the use of the VLE by students and that all courses would have a presence on the VLE. Sounds fine, but academic staff didn’t see that as a priority, because the corporate strategy was talking about, widening participation, improving teaching and learning, and better student outcomes. Staff saw the improvement of teaching and learning as a priority, they saw using the VLE as something extra, more work so a) didn’t use it b) would often say they didn’t have the time (which we know now means they didn’t consider it a priority). So a lot of my time was taken up “selling” the use of edtech. What I didn’t realise at the time was that what I often was doing was applying a digital lens to the existing strategy in order to “sell” the VLE or other edtech to academics. I would talk about how the VLE would enable them to “improve” teaching and learning, could be used to “widen participation”. I started to realise that having a strategy focused on tools was never going to be successful, one which focused on outcomes would be easily understood by managers and staff, and more easily achieved.

In a later role I had to write a combined IT, Libraries and Learning Technology strategy. We were being supported by an external consultant and I do remember one of the key things she said was that anything in our departmental strategies had to stem from the core corporate strategy.

A typical IT strategy will often say something like this:

Enable a secure, robust and stable network.

What this does is focus the minds of the IT and network teams to ensure that the network has high resilience, low downtime and is secure. As a result when academics and learning technologists want to try something new, they are “refused” because it could impact on the security and reliability of the network. Over the years I remember many times being told we couldn’t use this tool, access this service, because of the “importance” of enabling a secure, robust and stable network.

The problem was that the corporate strategy said

We will develop and deliver high quality teaching and learning, across a wide range of subjects and qualifications.

This meant developing new ways of teaching and improving learning. Academics wanted to try new and innovative practices, but the IT strategy was acting as a barrier.

If the IT strategy was linked to the corporate strategy and said:

Enable a secure, robust and stable network to allow high quality teaching and learning through the use of technology.

What this does is focus the minds of the IT and network teams to ensure that the primary focus and use of the network is on allowing innovative use of technology for teaching and learning. Yes they still need to ensure that the network is secure, resilient and stable, but their primary focus will be on ensuring that teaching and learning can make effective use of technology.

Any departmental or methodology strategy should always link back to the organisational strategy and how the objectives and actions will support the organisational strategic aims.

So how do you do that then?

Well that’s where the lens comes in.

So if you are tasked with writing a digital strategy, you could write it in isolation, but prepare for it to be a low priority for people.

If you apply a digital lens to the corporate strategy, you can demonstrate how digital technologies can enable that strategy. So rather than talk about how you are going to increase the use of digital technologies, the strategy talks about how the use of digital technologies will enable the strategic aims.

The leadership briefing we published provides a mechanism on how to do just that. The next stage will be to distill the strategy into an operational plan, again applying a digital lens will demonstrate and show how digital technologies can be an enabler and not a barrier.

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