Problematic Wading and Creative Running

Our new Strategy at the University of Salford signals a really, really different way of working. Central to this is the idea (enabler/ catalyst) of co-creation. The phrase was made popular in the early 2000s by  C. K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy in The Future of Competition. Writing from a business perspective, Prahalad and Ramaswamy have defined co-creation as;

“The joint creation of value by the company and the customer; allowing the customer to co-construct the service experience to suit their context” (Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2004, p. 8).

At Salford, we’re using this term as a means to define a mode of doing whereby the doing is not done in a silo and then presented to all stakeholders for input, rather the doing is done by a interdisciplinary, or cross institutional team from a range of internal and where necessary external stakeholder groups who start by co-defining the issue or problem and then co-create the solution together. The outcome, or eventual output carries with it a sense of co-ownership which creates a sense of pride and achievement – ‘We made this!’, rather than ‘You made this and then gave it to me – its not entirely what I wanted…’

To undertake this process, as has been alluded to in previous posts on this blog, is to live in messy space, as ideas and thoughts are contributed from all sides and the working group tries to find its way, develop a shared language and get going – just those stages can take some time.

And therein lies the issue – If we are equipping our staff to be able to co-create, we need to build this process of understanding with them and do it co-creatively – in essence, use the values and attributes of co-creation to create an understanding and institutional working practice of co-creation – something of a catch 22.

It’s going to take a considerable amount of time, effort and different thinking to make this happen, not least because the alluring, siren-like pull of habit is oh so very comforting. However, we have compelling, well founded reasons behind needing to make this shift, not least the recognition that interdisciplinary collaborative working for our staff and students allows us to develop innovative, creative solutions, skill sets and attitudes which are valued by a global industry marketplace. It also offers the opportunity for exciting research, learning and teaching to evolve in symbiosis.

In true co-creative spirit, I’ve been working on this problem with a cross-institutional group of staff from PS and academic areas to begin to try and crack it. The group was originally about 25 and now has become a core collective of about 12-15 of us. It’s taken a while for us to arrive at a meaningful problem definition and the experience has, as the title of this post suggests, been a little like wading (uphill through treacle in winter time). Very much fun, but there’s been an underlying sense of nailing mist to the wall at times… But this is a necessary part of the process. However, two things have just happened, and have been achieved by this group which, yesterday, for the first time, gave us the sense that we might be able to start running.

The first is that we’ve started Loomio. It’s a great online tool for collaborative decision making – we’ve started using it to shape decision and interactions between our monthly face to face sessions. What’s really helpful is that Loomio focuses on a decision process, rather than a comment-thread process (although that is there.)

Secondly, in yesterday’s gathering, on the back of significant pre-meeting loomio discussion, we somehow broke through the wading and by means of iterative suggestions and comments, each of which built on or expanded those preceding it, managed to create something, the sum of which is greater than the parts. Still ideas at this point, but now we are able to start doing with a clarity of purpose – the commonality of thinking and direction between this group and other groups in the University also pointed to coalescence for the first time (something of a relief). Interestingly, I don’t think we’d be able to run as we’re about to without a significant amount of wading having taken place. Again, I’m reminded of the creative journeys described in Keith Sawyer’s Group Genius.

See you next week.


Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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