The conference opened with a welcome from Michele Shoebridge, Director of Academic Services at the University of Exeter and in this welcome she talked about the Forum Project which is bringing together all the university support departments of which the library is one. Michele also mentioned the student experience as being at the heart of what we deliver, which relates to this converging of departments to improve the student experience. Another thing that struck a chord with me was the message that we want to communicate to our users and the importance of that.
Each of these points featured in a workshop session I went to which was a whistle stop tour of the experience of super-convergence at Liverpool John Moores university (LJMU) with our tour guide, Planning and Business Manager, Leo Appleton. I’d met Leo at a branding workshop at CILIP at some point during 2009 and remembered him talking about the super-convergence happening at LJMU and thought, oooh, that’s interesting. Before working in the Library I was an Information Officer in Student Services and during my 4 or so years working there I heard much talk of the ‘one stop shop’ approach to student support, advice and guidance. To me this super-convergence of departments is just that on a massive scale! LJMU are holding a conference on this very subject on Thursday 7th & Friday 8th October, 2010 http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/lea/102786.htm which sounds super-interesting :-)
First off, what is Super-convergence? I’ve borrowed this definition from LJMU as it is just right:
‘Super-convergence’ as it is now known involves bringing together either structural or physical services such as: Library; IT support; Student Administration; Careers; Welfare; Counselling; AV Support; Learning Development; Study Skills; Student Finance; Programme Administration and so on. http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/lea/102786.htm [Accessed 12/07/2010]
They go on to introduce how super-convergence is emerging in HEI’s across the UK which is worth a read.
Second, why did I pick this as a key theme for me from the conference? Well, I’ve mentioned the one stop shop concept that I heard so much about during my time working in Student Services, it also fits into the concept of shared services which I blogged as another key theme for me http://librariansontheloose.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/ucr-and-cofhe-joint-conference-shared-services/
In addition, it fits with the idea of improving the student experience by bringing together all the student support departments and processes in an attempt to streamline these and make them more efficient.
I appreciate it’s difficult to get a lot into a one hour session, but Leo certainly got across the main points; what it is, how they did it and his role in the process. The session then looked at how information services keeps its own individual brand within this new department. I was interested to hear this as it looked at the same principles of the library brand as our session; Your Library Brand and the Student Experience. Although it made me panic about our session slightly, ok a lot, it was good to see that we had hit on the same things, the main ones being; what is your message? What do you want to get across to your users about your services? What do your services mean to the people using them?
I mentioned the student experience just then too. I’m all for making processes easier for students and it’s beneficial to staff to understand which systems can are integrated, which are stand alone, which department deals with what etc so we get a better understanding of the processes the students have to go through. If super-convergence of services improves the student and staff experience then hurray! I think we need to see more evidence of how things have changed when this happens before we can really know if it works.
I can see loads of challenges related to managing this sort of massive change, but unfortunately didn’t get chance to talk to Leo in detail about this. LJMU managed this process of converging departments in around nine months! Imagine that! Leo mentioned that change in staff and organisational culture comes back to values and remembering what we’re about and I agree with that, but I also see that it’s sometimes difficult to keep that in mind if a change like this seems to have an effect on your own role and responsibilities.
I can also see loads of opportunities here for example, getting staff to work more closely and in partnership across departments and by doing so gaining a better understanding of working practices and how everything fits together. I’ve already mentioned the potentially improved student experience.
All of this fits under the umbrella of the difficult economic situation we find ourselves in; the idea that we have to do more with less. Does super-convergence of departments help us to do more with less? Does it make for more efficient services and an improved student experience?
Once again I leave you with more questions! Sorry about that.
Ok, next post looks at user experience…