The Context

Institutional & Team Background

Staffordshire University is a fairly typical post-92 university with a long standing reputation for achievement in widening participation and a lengthy history of using technology to support/enhance learning.  Members of the Learning Development and Innovation (LDI) team – a team that at the start of the project was part of the Information Services department, led the Enable project. Although it started as part of Information Services it is now a standalone team reporting directly into the Vice-Chancellor’s office, and as such has a perceived (and actual) neutrality with both faculties and services.   The LDI team has over 14 years’ experience of running projects funded by JISC and similar organisations.  The LDI team has an R&D and innovation role, coupled with a role to work with Faculties on the development of new course product and the introduction of new/good practice in learning, teaching and assessment.

Managing Initiatives

The University had been quite successful in innovating Curriculum Design and Development and, at the start of Enable, had a number of existing initiatives, both internally and externally funded, aimed at further improvement and innovation.  However these initiatives were running in isolation and the University had struggled to join such initiatives together to form a coherent basis for institutional innovation and change. These initiatives were considered ‘spokes’ within the Enable project (see the diagram below), the blue arrows shows the new initiatives that came about due to the impact of Enable and the red arrow demonstrates initiatives that were halted due to the input of Enable.

The Enable project took place during a time of considerable organisational instability.  At the start of the project a new Executive Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC) for Learning and Teaching had been appointed.  In addition, the then Vice Chancellor had indicated that she would soon be retiring but had yet fixed a date.  This was subsequently confirmed as January 2011.  As a consequence, the academic years 2008/9 and 9/10 were characterised by certain amount of “planning blight” and senior managers being (understandably) cautious in the face of impending change.    At the start of the project, the LDI team had recently been moved (following an external review) from the University’s Information Service to the Academic Development Institute (led by the Director of Academic Development).

Institutional Partnerships

The University has a significant number of FEIs as partners.  Some are members of SURF (Staffordshire University Regional Consortium) - established in May 2000 to deliver higher education courses through further education colleges – and other are partners under more traditional franchising arrangements. To find out more about why and how the project team engaged the partners with the project, including the approach and lessons learnt, please read the project blog that summarises this work:
Partners noted that issues weren’t with validation, but CDD overall, and often they felt that it was much like a project without a project manager, thus problems with timings, access to information and managing meetings. April, 2010 (

Executive & Senior Management Sponsorship

The diagram below has been put together to demonstrate the level of both organisational and project level disruption that Enable dealt with over the 4 years of the project.
Possibly as consequence of the organisational instabilities shown above, and detailed in the blog,, the Enable team found that “guerilla” approaches to engagement proved both necessary and effective as an adjunct to formal methods, and these are described later.  This came about due to another interesting feature of the project’s experience - which again was probably a consequence of the organizational context - in that throughout the project, the team struggled to get senior management to engage with “outcomes” as opposed to “outputs”.   Possibly due to the uncertainties and changes in their own roles, senior staff tended to want to see “things” (eg products and systems) rather than “cultural change” and “processes”.  The guerilla approach, therefore, became valuable in seeding “change messages” into decision making across the organization, proved to be quite effective.

The Technology context

The Learning Development and Innovation (LDI) team at the University has extensive experience of technical development in support of innovation in Technology Supported Learning (TSL). LDI is located centrally in the Vice-Chancellors office and is separate from the corporate IT function. This separation from core IT activity has traditionally presented challenges when trying to mainstream successful innovation pilots. In projects prior to Enable (JISC SUNIWE, JISC WBL-Way), we had developed portal-based applications to provide personalised information for learners and stakeholders but the benefits of these innovations were always limited by
These were symptoms of the University’s IT architecture acting as a barrier to innovation rather than an enabler of it. Other problems were identified repeatedly in the series of baseline interviews we conducted at the start of the project. These included:
  • lack of business agility. Every new development seemed to start from scratch
  • lack of support at an institutional level for generic activity like document management resulting in multiple local solutions often involving different business processes
  • inability to provide information for a wider range of stakeholders than traditional staff and student types (especially staff at academic and professional partners, e.g. employers)
  • lack of readily-available information for decision making.
The project team saw Enable as an opportunity to highlight these issues and to propose solutions to senior management. The team was aware of the potential of Enterprise Architecture (EA) to capture a joined-up big picture of how people, processes, information and IT work together to deliver business value. The intention at the start of the project was to get backing to pilot the use of an enterprise architecture approach on one of the projects.

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