Thursday, 17 May 2012

Supporting Partnerships

Why use partners?
The Enable project has worked at supporting changes within the institution, not just for the benefit of the University but also for its partners, including other HEI, FEI's and commercial partners. The project team specifically worked with 5 partner colleges, however due to issues with engagement with one college this dropped to 4 colleges. Although the project team had direct contact with these colleges it had indirect access to other colleges and their perceptions through the spoke initiatives and the stakeholder interviews completed as part of the general Enable approach.  The project aimed to use the partners to measure how successful changes within the institution would be when designing awards in partnership. It was decided that also engaging employers in the project would be problematical, due to managing their expectations and often their engagement with the institution is a one off to develop a course. They were engaged indirectly via the spoke initiatives and through discussions with internal stakeholders who engaged with commercial partners through the process of course design.
The approach
The project used a number of approaches to supporting partners in capturing expectations for the project and perceptions of course development with the University. The Project Manager started the project partners engagement with a face to face meeting of the project co-ordinators for the colleges, ( Enable: Partners Join in ) followed up by the Project Manager attending Higher Education forums at each of the colleges ( Enable: Partners). This face to face approach was important in building a relationship up with the different colleges, this was something that needed to continue through the project, but unfortunately failed whilst the Project Manager was on maternity leave. Although the Project Manager did manage some visits on returning to work it was difficult to rebuild an enthusiastic engagement with the project.
 On top of the face to face engagement the project team implemented two further communication tools, the first was simply reporting on a scheduled basis to the Project Manager and the other was the development of an online community, initially in Ning. The reporting to the Project Manager included a tracking document that would document new courses being designed, where they were in the process and noting any issues encountered with the process, on receipt of the report the agreed funding would then be released to the relevant partner. The Ning community caused the project some problems, as it changed it's funding model half way through the project, which meant previously private forums would become open to the wider community. It was felt due to the nature of some of the conversations occuring that it was important to keep the forums private, and the team subsequently moved the Ning content to a new site that offered the same functionality. However the  technology chosen to replace it subsequently also changed its funding model to that similar to Ning, causing some technical difficulties for partners accessing the site, and a lose of engagement by project partners.

Lessons Learnt

  • Have a robust partnership agreement signed at the start of the partnership, this helps with any issues around engagement and managing expectations. It helps partners understand the level of commitment needed for the project to succeed.
  • Understand that your project expectations have to match the level of engagement a partner already has with the University, if they have only got one award at the institution or a small cohort of students don't expect the same level of engagement with an institution with a large cohort or number of awards being delivered at the institution.
  • Make sure any funding to partners is given after an expected delivery or output.
  • Partners appreciate the effort of face to face meetings, and they often help with keeping up enthusiastic engagement with the project, using online tools/email is no substitute.
  • Be prepared for online tools to change their funding models, this happened twice with the project team and caused disengagement with online communication for the project teams. 
  • You need to be sympathetic to changes in structure at a partner college, although this should not change how you handle payments to them it may require further meetings to support new staff.

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