Facilitating a dialogue between the Edinburgh Futures Institute and potential partners about a series of new programmes.
Edinburgh Futures Institute, University of Edinburgh
Engagement Design, Insights and Recommendations.
The Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) had a series of postgraduate programmes in development, approximately two years away from admitting their first student cohorts. These programmes were being built according to a progressive vision of the future of higher education, and one of their key ambitions was that they would be highly collaborative, involving external partner organisations.
We were approached to help the EFI initiate a conversation and relationship with over 40 potential partner organisations. In which they would help shape these programmes by sharing their perspectives on the skills that would be needed by future graduates, and considering new, interesting models for collaborating with the EFI.
The Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) is part of the University of Edinburgh and is developing progressive and non-traditional approaches to higher education. This includes giving students more autonomy over their learning, more choice over whether to study online or on-campus, promoting interdisciplinarity, and working collaboratively with a large range of partners.
The project was split into two distinct phases, with separate objectives and engagement formats.
Across the first phase, we worked closely with five of the postgraduate programmes currently in development, facilitating a workshop for each programme. These workshops invited representatives from relevant external organisations to share their thoughts about the skills and capabilities that graduates of the future are likely to need in their respective sectors. Invitees then used this as a springboard to give constructive feedback on the vision for each programme.
The second phase focussed on developing relationships with these external organisations, while also exploring the possible formats for student/partner projects, and generating novel ideas around how the EFI could collaborate with partners.
This phase was conducted in the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdown, and we were keen to move away from an online workshop format, instead developing an engagement that was sensitive to the time pressure and work schedule disruptions many were facing. Through developing a bespoke website, we hosted an online asynchronous engagement, where people could contribute as little or as much of their time as they had available.
To conclude, we ran a handover workshop with EFI staff working on the postgraduate programmes, in which they had to use project insights and recommendations to identify and take ownership over specific action points.
The second phase of this project fell across May and June 2020, in the midst of a national lockdown, during a time where many were dealing with a high level of personal and professional pressure, Zoom fatigue, and general burnout. With an intended audience of (busy) senior stakeholders, we were keen to design an engagement that did not require a high time commitment and could accommodate for disrupted work schedules.
While a series of simple interviews or a short survey may have served these purposes, it felt important to retain the social and collaborative nature that is normally present in a workshop.
We built a bespoke website to facilitate this engagement. The website invited visitors to answer one of three questions, each of which aligned with our research objectives. The questions linked to Google Docs or Sheets where viewers were invited to respond to a prompt, where they could see others’ responses, and could build and comment on them.
A COLLABORATIVE PARTNERSHIP
Around 57 partner organisations were engaged in this project, and as a result, they will continue to play a role in shaping the future of EFI postgraduate programmes.
VISIBILITY ON SECTOR NEEDS
The project uncovered valuable insight into relevant sectors’ needs, helping identify current skills gaps, and using this to shape recommendations for programmes at an early stage.
Andthen were super to work with, creating a well-thought through range of activities that helped us to better engage with and understand our audience. Our partners also commented on how impressed they were, saying they were some of the best facilitated workshops they had attended!
Project Coordinator, Education Projects, Edinburgh Futures Institute