Social Sciences Change Academy – what’s next?

By Cindy Vallance

In his most recent blog, Simon Black posted a wordle that highlighted topics from his recent blogs as part of the Change Academy initiative. Change, people, values and behaviours all feature heavily. I thought this was a great idea so decided I would do the same. Here is my own completely unedited blog wordle:


Not surprisingly, given my recent blogs, trust features predominantly. Also included is an emphasis on  creating a thinking environment. The big question in my mind is what we can now accomplish if we have so far managed to build a foundation of trust based on thinking with others.

Our group is meeting this week to discuss our activities since first coming together last autumn and to consider where to focus our energies in the coming year. To date, it has been very much about embedding an ethos of collaboration – consciously working to increase partnerships between students, academic staff and professional services staff in everything we are already doing. After we meet, I will report back to share some further detail about what we have done and what we are hoping to do.

One thing we have discussed is how we should try and get the word out about this way of working that takes into account a wide diversity of perspectives and provides equal opportunities for all to express their views.

If you have enjoyed reading these blogs over the past few months and following our twitter link @cdvallance, then spread the word and share these links with your colleagues – both staff and students. Perhaps also think about commenting within the blogs since we do want these to be a forum for discussion as well as self reflection.

 And check back to hear our plans; we want to hear from you on these as well.

Are we really different beasts?

By Cindy Vallance

In my recent blog about student blogs, I mentioned that one of the key reasons for the existence of the Social Sciences Change Academy is to recognise and do our utmost, as individuals and as a collective group, to demonstrate the power of bringing together the complementary viewpoints, experiences and capabilities of students, professional services staff and academic staff.

By focusing on activities that demonstrate our commonly shared values, we demonstrate our commitment to a vision of an inclusive yet diverse educational community – one in which everyone is treated with dignity, respect and fairness; an environment in which collaboration and innovation can thrive.

This healthy environment will only develop if we get beyond stereotypes of what it means to be a ‘student’ an ‘academic’ or an ‘administrator.’ One practical way to do this is by listening to others; for instance by tuning in through social media to what students are saying. Another way is to consider the words of John Gill, THE editor, from an article in the Association of University Administrators (AUA) magazine. He states:

“The view that administrators and academics are different beasts who will never get on may still be deeply entrenched in some people’s minds, but it cannot be right in the 21st century. Yes, they are different, and yes, academics will never appreciate intrusive or overbearing management, but when it is supporting the institution, supporting research programmes, and – perhaps most important of all from the point of view of professional services staff – supporting students, then I really don’t see how anyone can object…”

I must, of course, add to this quote that professional services staff will also never appreciate conspicuously uninterested or arrogant academic practice, and that similarly, students appreciate none of these negative qualities; qualities which we see demonstrated on a day-to-day basis more than we might like to admit.

It is up to each of us as individuals to question the received wisdom that has led to these divisions separating ‘us’ and ‘them,’ to constantly challenge these unhelpful behaviours and to work to exemplify their opposites.

If we do not, then all we are left with is empty rhetoric about equality and diversity and a weakened belief in the  power of education to change lives in a positive way. And isn’t our belief in the power of education a large part of why we have chosen to be members of a University community in the first place?

Reference: Profile Article: John Gill, THE Editor, AUA Newslink, Issue Number 73.

Change the words – keep the message

It is 7 months since the Change Academy team started these blogs, in which time we have have covered a lot of ground. There is a tendency in change initiatives to get trapped in a web of  jargon – using a lot of buzz-words without understanding the message.

So, to informally test this out lets have a look at a wordle created from my blogs of the past few months:

 John Macdonald (1998) talks of a mischievous attempt by engineers at Honeywell bust the jargon culture. Their ‘buzzword generator’ included three columns of words, where a choice of one from each column generated plausible (but nonsensical) buzzwords, such as’ parallel synchronised timephase’ or ‘compatible policy projection’ to throw into discussions with colleagues.

To put a positive slant on his idea, lets play a similar sort of same game in reverse, using phrases suggested by this Wordle, and instead look to get some value from the message:

‘People need change’ – we are adaptive creatures and getting stuck in a rut appears to lead us to boredom (at least in work). Boredom reduces creativity and improvement; the rut deepens. On the other hand change (though perhaps stressful) energises people; new ways of working get noticed and new behaviours rub off.

‘Theory changes behaviour’ – theory is often presented as the opposite to ‘being practical’, but actually this is not the case. Theory shapes thinking and your thinking shapes your behaviour, so useful theory should change behaviour in useful ways.

‘Things values see (better)’ – if we define our values (rather than relying on what we assume to be values), we open up new conversations that begin to challenge what happens round us.  We start to see dis-functional working relationships and inappropriate practice and this allows us to raise questions and make challenges on things that previously never hit the radar. Our organisation becomes more alert and ‘alive’ to new things.

‘Work suggests approach’ – people who do the work know the work, warts and all. Their knowledge should be used to identify and implement improvements. Often change initiatives involve implementing great new ideas or benchmarks from other organisations which fail to work in the context of our own organisation. Don’t impose outside solutions until you know what is actually happening to the work on the ground and why it occurs. Only then are you going to get on the correct route to improvement.

Although this is just a bit of fun, change can be a serious business – always remember to keep your mind open and your feet on the ground.


Read more here:

MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK

Some preview material is available on:




Is Re-building Trust Worth the Effort?

By Cindy Vallance

My last blog covered many of the reasons behind the erosion and destruction of trust. Not a very positive topic, I know.

The good news, however, is that once trust has been damaged all may not be lost.

If you have broken someone’s trust in you, the very first step is to assume ownership of your own actions. RECOGNISE where trust may have been broken, ACKNOWLEDGE your actions, ADMIT your lapse, and APOLOGISE to the individual whose trust in you has been shaken.

To re-establish the relationship, it will be important to reaffirm your commitment to the values and goals you share with the other person. It is important to be willing to incur some personal loss as you start by rebuilding basic trust. Sound difficult? Make no mistake, it is. Too hard? That is up to you to decide. Sometimes a third party can assist with this.

Whether you work directly with the other individual or through a third party, when it comes to managing distrust and working to re-establish trust, it is important to agree explicitly on expectations, deadlines and agreed remedies. Agree how these will be monitored or verified and work to increase awareness of each others’ actions.

It will be important to openly acknowledge areas of difference and incompatibility – agreement cannot be achieved on everything but it should be possible to minimise the interference of incompatible areas in daily activities, particularly if agreement can be achieved about overall shared goals and values.

Looking back, It is hard to believe I have devoted no less than 8 blogs to the topic of trust. But then again, I suppose it is because I feel so strongly about this topic and we really don’t bring it into the work place very much. Yet so much rides on trust. And it all starts with each of us.

The quote I began this series on trust with was: “You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible. ” Anton Chekhov

No one said any of this would be easy but then again, if you would like a reason to try building trust with others in a more contemporary quote, Canadian ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky did say “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”