Principal Research, School of Strategy, Marketing and Communication,
Leeds Business School, Leeds Beckett University
Professor of Corporate Communication,
University of Huddersfield
Stimulus Paper, August 2016
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Our latest stimulus paper – Making the Road while Walking was commissioned to inform leadership decision-making on how student engagement in higher education can be enhanced through curriculum co-creation. While drawing on relevant policy and theoretical perspectives, the discussion is underpinned by practical insights generated by our experiences of developing co-created Masters programmes for professional students on behalf of the Cabinet Office and the NHS. This experience enabled authors, Paul Willis of Leeds Business School, Leeds Beckett University and Anne Gregory of the University of Huddersfield to consider the organisational implications of co-creation and to highlight a range of leadership issues relevant to both undergraduate and postgraduate curricula. Based on the insights from other sectors, this paper sets out a list of questions for leaders to consider their institution’s capacity for co-creation of programmes and curriculum development.
This stimulus paper was commissioned to inform leadership decision-making on how student engagement in higher education can be enhanced through curriculum co-creation. While drawing on relevant policy and theoretical perspectives, the discussion is underpinned by practical insights generated by our experiences of developing co-created Masters programmes for professional students on behalf of the Cabinet Office and the NHS. This experience enables us to consider the organisational implications of co-creation and to highlight a range of leadership issues relevant to both undergraduate and postgraduate curricula.
A commitment to co-creation is firstly positioned as strategically important to university leaders, given the emphasis in the higher education green paper1 on teaching excellence and the student experience. It is argued that this context requires higher education institutions (HEIs) to consider transformational rather than incremental pedagogical strategies. The paper not only frames co-creation as a transformational strategy, but highlights its importance as a practical intervention that higher education leaders can initiate, encourage and influence. Although recognising that co-creation will not be appropriate for all programmes, it is suggested that the question leaders should start with is ‘why not co-creation?’ rather than ‘why?’.
While the paper makes the case for co-creation, the challenges surrounding its application are also confronted and discussed. Encouraging an organisational environment in which co-creation can flourish is presented as a complex challenge for university leaders. At the heart of the challenge is the requirement to change the mindset, practices and behaviour of staff, students and other key stakeholders. This observation leads to the conclusion that sustaining co-creation is most usefully framed as a wicked problem for university leaders. Co-creation’s ‘wickedness’ lies less in its technical difficulties and more in the social complexity associated with its delivery. Such challenges may explain why co-creation is often spoken about as a pedagogical strategy at the same time as there is little evidence of implementation.
To help inform an assessment of their institution’s existing capacity for co-creation, the paper sets out a list of questions for leaders to consider. To provide further practical guidance, the paper then outlines the process of co-creation we have developed which has the potential to be applied in a range of different contexts. The discussion then shifts to a focus on the most important issues and risks associated with co-creation. These are framed as leadership challenges rather than ‘managerial concerns’, given that they relate to the fundamental purpose of what universities should offer in their provision and the strategies needed to achieve this.
The first substantive issue curriculum co-creation raises for higher education leaders is the speed and extent to which it should become embedded in the working culture of universities. It is suggested that a phased implementation strategy provides an opportunity for the organisation to learn about co-creation through pilot studies, small-scale experimentation and improvisation. At the heart of such learning is the need to confront a cultural and operational clash which generates important implications for university leaders. This is concerned with the need to balance the requirement for programmes that can be developed quickly and have in-built flexibility, with a legitimate internal agenda that is concerned with processes and monitoring for regulatory purposes. The leadership and governance challenge is how to speed up and de-bureaucratise processes while keeping the rigour. The key question this raises for leaders is whether the institution’s programme development is genuinely shaped by purpose or driven by process.
Other issues highlighted in the paper include the importance of stakeholder engagement, employee development and the need for new competencies, the potential vulnerability of staff, new types of roles and process, contract issues and pricing. These and other key discussion points are then brought together at the end of the paper in a ‘mental map’ for leaders. This is designed to summarise the key characteristics of curriculum co-creation as well as the factors that underpin its successful practice.
1. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2015)
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