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Change Academy FAQs

Beginning to shape an in-house Change Academy process: some FAQs

See our case studies for how in-house Change Academy processes have been implemented in practice.

Download the FAQs as a PDF  Change Academy: Frequently Asked Questions

How and when is an in-house Change Academy process useful?

The Change Academy process encourages thinking about change initiatives differently, creatively and bringing different perspectives to bear. It brings together people who might not normally work together, from all parts of the organisation, to focus on ideas for change. Where projects are already well-formed and progressing, where routes to outputs and outcomes are already pre-determined and where the team is drawn from the same part of the organisation (ie members of a committee or management team), the majority of these benefits will be lost. The Change Academy process adds most value when change initiatives (or projects within them) are in their early stages of thinking, where ideas for change can be examined and ‘unpicked’ and where teams can be drawn from across the institution and stakeholder groups. One of the key benefits of a Change Academy process is in fostering cross-institutional working and understanding, rather than a focus on project outputs per se. If you are looking for traditional project management approaches, detailed project planning and ‘the usual suspects’, the Change Academy process is not for you.

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What is the process?

The Change Academy process is based on an explore-challenge-apply model where teams consider a range of ideas on change, institutional challenges and contexts, think creatively and unpick these and make use of those that suit their own situations and values (and discard or ‘park’ the rest). The process encompasses a residential retreat and, typically, other development activity with team leaders and in-house supporters before and after the residential. Over the course of the retreat, teams work with a divergent-to-convergent set of tools and techniques to get into the heart of their working relationships, different perspectives and their projects before moving into a more concrete action planning stage often focused on communication and influence. The actual inputs, tools and techniques will depend on local contexts and decisions on how much or how little the institution wants or needs external facilitation or delivery.

In our experience with national and in-house Change Academy processes, 3-4 day residentials offer maximum scope for creativity, rapid innovation, team building, reflection and more focused planning. However, tailored versions of the process have been successfully delivered with residentials running over 2-3 days.

A 24-hour non-residential facilitated change process is also possible, although scope for team-building and creative thinking will inevitably be compressed. In this case, participants have commented that neither the overall length of the event nor the time spent on some activities was long enough, and that they would also like some ‘social’ time with the other participants. This is a difficult balance for institutions to strike, but needs to be considered carefully against overall objectives.

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How many teams / individuals can be involved?

We have found through the national and in-house Change Academy processes that between 6 and 8 teams of 6-8 people each provide a good critical mass and allow for people to be drawn from across the institution. Some Change Academy processes have involved larger numbers of teams and this can be accommodated, but requires larger venues and additional facilitators, external or in-house. We do not recommend team sizes of more than 9 participants.

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I’ve heard that Change Academy processes can be disruptive; what does that mean?

This has been an issue for a number of institutions, where teams energised about this new way of working with change come back to local contexts where that is not shared. The Change Academy process can be disruptive. Institutions will need to think about how far they have scope for balancing devolved responsibility for change to the teams with an institutional desire for control and accountability; championing collaborative change within an individual/competitive culture; reconciling cross-institutional ways of working with new ideas, with existing project management approaches.

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What input would we have from the Leadership Foundation?

One or more Leadership Foundation staff or associates will work with you to co-design the process, drawing on our own experience and discussion with you to understand your objectives, internal resources, budget and timescales. We can also facilitate and deliver the whole process, but prefer to work in partnership with HEIs’ own staff to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the internal resource available. This allows for greater ownership of the process by the commissioning institution. We have often also played a role in evaluation, providing feedback and observations on the immediate process against agreed criteria.

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What kinds of expertise or experience would our own staff need to support the in-house Change Academy process?

For those in a supporting or ‘supporter’ role, people who can act as critical friends, give constructive feedback without being directive or taking over, who have a good knowledge of a range of resources (people, books, projects etc) to which they can refer teams for more information or examples of particular policies or practice.

You will also need an organising team who can put in place the necessary administrative detail /logistics, such as ensuring all participants have information about the process, venue, content, any travel, preparatory work etc., well in advance, that the venue is suitable, and catering bookings are made. Programme and supporting materials for creative techniques will need to be available and, as the programme dictates, one or more staff will need to be on hand during the residential to provide further event support.

Some universities that have run internal Change Academy processes have drawn on in-house teams from HR, staff development and/or organisational change units to act as 1-1 supporters or facilitators for teams throughout the process (ie before/after the residential), or as a ‘central’ resource at the residential, where they act as consultants who can be ‘booked’ by teams to work with them for a short time as a fresh pair of eyes on change enablers or blockers. HEIs have also invited senior staff (PVC, Registrar, Finance Director or similar) to provide brief presentations on institutional contexts for change and/or to act as champions or sponsors for change ideas, advising teams on appropriate approaches to institutional decision-making bodies as appropriate.

We also encourage institutions to draw on their own academic change experts to provide a short plenary on, for example, models or approaches to change, lean, systems thinking etc., engaging participants early in thinking about theory (but with interactive exercises) as well as practice.

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What guidelines would you recommend for student involvement?

We strongly encourage student participation in teams. Often HEIs talk about enhancing the student experience and working in partnership with students, but don’t necessarily have mechanisms for really engaging students in thinking through and developing changes. There are a number of ways to approach this and of course, some projects or initiatives will have engaged with student groups in some way or another anyway without necessarily considering them as part of ‘the team’. Focus groups and workshops with students (and other stakeholders as appropriate) could form part of the work of team leaders leading up to the residential; surveys could be run to help inform change ideas; these could ask if respondents are willing to participate further. One or more participants from surveys or workshops could be invited/encouraged to be ‘student advisers’, either attached to a particular team or as a resource to all teams at the residential (in which case this would need to be built into the programme). From our experience, both students and other participants benefit from their involvement.

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How should we prepare participants for the Change Academy process?

For some participants, the Change Academy process can be a significant departure from their usual way of working, and that (despite considerable communications) some people do not have clear expectations of the style, content or purpose. Some in-house Change Academy processes use events before and after the retreat to help shape expectations, for example a short welcome session run in a similar style, or using previous participants (where there are a number of cohorts) to help communicate the process. Careful thought needs to be given to all communications, including invitations to bring forward ideas, volunteer to be part of teams, as well as about the component parts, timescales and expectations. It can be useful to emphasise at all stages that the process is about teams effecting change, to reinforce the explore-challenge-apply model (no one size fits all) and that the retreat in particular combines both unstructured, self-organised team working and semi-structured and structured plenary activity, starting with divergent thinking and moving towards convergence as ideas crystallise.

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How do we identify the themes or change ideas for teams to focus on in an in-house Change Academy?

There are a number of ways of approaching this, depending on whether change initiatives are already running around a particular theme. The Change Academy process may not primarily be about change projects per se, but the fact of bringing people together to work on ideas for change. Some ideas may not come to fruition or be judged a ‘success’ by standard project management criteria, but the process will have been successful because participants have a greater understanding of different perspectives from across the institution, and can bring a different way of thinking about change to future initiatives.

One approach could be to invite proposals from all staff/student groups for ideas for change (completely open, or around a particular strategic initiative – it is important that the strategic context is given as a setting in either case). This might generate around 20-25 project ideas, with around 6-8 being selected for a first cohort to go forward as part of the Change Academy process. For some in-house Change Academy processes, HEIs have identified an over-arching change initiative within which change ideas are invited, or may already have been prioritized but not yet fully formed. The process gives most value when outcomes and shape of change initiatives are not pre-determined and anything could happen! Our case studies provide some examples.

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Do we need an ‘implementation fund’?

You may already have identified investment for a particular change initiative; how much of this is open to allocation to ideas for change emerging from the Change Academy process? Of course, ideas for change may or may not require additional resource for implementation but rather a reprioritisation of existing resource or doing things differently. You will need to think about and be clear in advance to participants what resource could be available and the processes for securing it, without too far predetermining the potential outcomes from the Change Academy process. Timing can also be important: if staff resource is to be reallocated, or budgets reworked, how does the timing of the Change Academy process fit with any workload allocation, in-year or future budgeting?

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What kinds of venue do we need?

For the retreat, preferably residential accommodation away from peoples’ normal places of work (ie hotel or conference centre) to reinforce the retreat aspect, and mitigating against a temptation to ‘go back to work’. This will need to be balanced against cost if not using a discounted University venue, and against participants’ travel time and costs.

The venue will need a plenary room that can accommodate all teams in cabaret style with some room for manoeuvre for some of the sessions on ideas generation. Each team also needs a ‘base room’, a place big enough for the team to work comfortably together, with walls that can be used for displaying flipcharts/post-it notes and other material generated during the retreat. It can also be helpful for teams to have access to laptops or similar, and a data projector, to work with during their team time, although it is not essential.

Any pre- or post- retreat events can be held in usual University meeting/training rooms, depending on the type of activity or meeting, and number of people involved.

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What about other materials and resources?

You will need to decide how much material and resources you want to make available on paper, how much on your intranet or similar. We can supply some background readings and material to support some of the plenary sessions or to go into a Change Academy process ‘handbook’ if needed. You will need to provide any material – or links to them - related to local practice, processes and contexts and we also ask you to supply resources to support the rich picture session (old magazines, glue, scissors and other material – although we have found that participants also ‘forage’ for resources, whether their ‘picture’ is on paper, a construction or performance).

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What evaluation tools and processes should we be considering?

Any that support what you want to achieve. Measuring impact is of course a complex process in a multi-purpose activity. Are you measuring impact on ‘me’ as team member, team leader, wider team member, student, manager, etc? Or are you measuring impact of the change ideas, impact on the institution, sector and so on? For most institutions, the answer will be about impact at individual, team and organisational levels. There is a simple tool to begin the process at any of these levels. The same questions can be asked at an individual, team and organisational level and provide a useful starting point for any/all evaluations. They are:

The Effective Evaluation Checklist

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • Why are you trying to achieve it?
  • How are you trying to achieve it?
  • Why are you doing it that way?
  • Is it the best way of doing it?
  • Is it effective?
  • How do you check its effectiveness?
  • What do you do as result of the check?

(Thackwray 1997, 2003, 2010) with thanks and acknowledgement to Dr Norman Jackson (HE Academy). Your institution may already have impact assessment tools or evaluation frameworks which could be used, and which link into existing University systems.

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How much will it cost?

We will charge for scoping, design, development and facilitation/delivery time at our consultancy day rates applicable at the time of commission (discounted rates apply for our member institutions and you may be able to make use of the free consultancy day offered to all members annually as a ‘discount’ against the overall consultancy cost). We will also charge reasonable expenses related to scoping and delivery.

You will also need to factor in the cost of venue(s), accommodation and catering and, depending on how you usually cost this kind of activity, your own staff time and any direct costs you intend to meet (eg travel expenses).

As a very loose guideline, for six teams of seven people and a residential retreat over three days, the cost per participant is likely to be between £500-£800 (plus costs for any additional development activity with team leaders, supporters, delivered by you or by us).

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How do we find out more?

Contact Dr Lesly Huxley, director of Membership and Organisational Development, Leadership Foundation
M: 07977 457949

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