The three C’s: co-production, collaboration and crowd-sourcing

We (University of Salford) hosted the University Alliance Summit late last week. The Summit is a really useful event which brings together all of the universities in this mission group for a ‘state of the nation’ annual pow-wow on what’s hot and what’s not in the world of HE. It was also held on election day, giving the event a certain up-to-the-minute sense of currency in each of its sessions. This accident of timing also ensured a prompt finish as everyone then raced home to vote… (the date clash with voting day was an accident – we started our preparations for the summit before government announced the snap election; it’s slightly worrying on a number of levels when planning for a UA summit is something which has a longer lead-in time than a general election…)

Predictably, most sessions broached the wider view of the HE landscape, within and out-with the sector itself. We looked at the economics of it all and the various political roads that we might be skipping down post election. (Sitting now in the somewhat dazed state of post-election ‘erm… so… right, yeah, so what does it mean… oh, right….with them. Them? What, really… really?’ its still not a whole lot clearer – quite a lot of what was in purdah before the shenanigans of the 8th has remained in purdah because of, well, because of the shenanigans of the 8th.

What is clear is that there is complexity, change, ambiguity and volatility like never before – I’ve previously noted some of the ingredients in passing here. Each of these characteristics taken individually might cause some upset and some ripples on the pond, however, arriving and cumulatively accelerating together, each factor further enthused by the waves of the others, and one sees tsunamis of varying natures lining up (oh that they were that orderly….)

So, much of the discussion, debate and creative thinking of the Summit (and a fair bit of late night debate over red or white) focused upon the best way to meet and thrive in such an environment…

The answer (or some of it) of course, lies in genuine collaborative activity. It’s a difficult, but not impossible line to tread; on one level, egged on by TEF, REF, the CMA and notion of the student as consumer (I’ve published a little thought piece on this particular consumerism in a special TEF edition of Compass) we are all competitors, working to ensure we position ourselves effectively to stand out in an increasingly fragmented, but paradoxically crowded higher education landscape in which differentiation is not just desirable, but essential.

However, we’re also a fantastically collegiate sector – a real strength – ready to share and adopt good practice, adapting it to our own particular context. Thus far collaboration seems to largely focus around joint/ shared bidding on research projects/ grants, or engagement together in sector wide fixed term projects on shared issues such as retention, or widening participation. But I think there’s further future potential to be tapped into through collaboration. Whilst the joint/ shared working on projects and bids will (and absolutely should) undoubtedly continue, I think our collaborative activity could/ should/ might step up another gear and take a steer from the success of a crowd-sourcing model for collaboration. This is the modus operandi of the hive mind, the viral social media-influenced accumulation of knowledge, ideas and direction, in which the social constructivism as seen in our active and collaborative learning models, becomes social connectivism played out across the sector.

One such example of this crowd-sourced innovation is the Teaching Excellence Alliance (TEA). This is a new, inter-institutional flexible programme of work developed by colleagues in University Alliance institutions and the UA itself. The TEA draws upon, and informs a particular brand and understanding of excellence as aligned to our real-world, outward-facing, industry-and-community connected pedagogy, practiced across the University Alliance. You can read a recent blog I’ve written for Wonkhe on the TEA. This exciting work is in its inaugural year – the first event of many is a September Sandpit – a pedagogical symposium with a difference – its going to be a live teaching and learning hack-athon focusing on one of the UN global challenges – participants from across teaching teams and courses drawn from UA institutions will draw on the collective expertise to collaboratively design a programme of study which seeks to contribute to work which addresses the global challenge at hand. Its crowd-sourced expertise from Alliance colleagues, invested in two intensive days of co-production and co-creation and all pointed at real world issues. Adventures aplenty wait in the wings. Watch this space…

See you next week.