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Supporting Good Practice in Network Leadership


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Part 1 report of the Network of Australasian Tertiary Associations

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Supporting Good Practice in Network Leadership

  1. 1. A network of networks: supporting good practice in network leadership and the dissemination of good practice in tertiary education The Network of Australasian Tertiary Associations (NATA) Final Report 2014 Host institution: University of Southern Queensland Network partners: ACODE, ascilite, CADAD, HERDSA, ODLAA, AARNet, NetSpot Project team and partner representatives: Mike Keppell (network leader), Gordon Suddaby (network leader), Natasha Hard (project manager), Karen Halley (administration/ACODE), Tom Prebble (project evaluator), Helen Carter (ACODE), Caroline Steel (ascilite), Kylie Readman (CADAD), Shelda Debowski (HERDSA), Som Naidu (ODLAA), James Sankar (AARNet), Kim Edgar (NetSpot) Report authors: Mike Keppell, Gordon Suddaby, Natasha Hard <> Funding for the production of this report has been provided by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching. The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.
  2. 2. Network summary The Network of Australasian Tertiary Associations (NATA) was established in August 2011 under the original title of the National Networking Initiative (NNI). The Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) legacy project aimed to facilitate a sustainable collaborative network between established higher education associations. Network of Australasian Tertiary Association partners: • Lead associations: Australasian Council on Open, Distance and E-Learning (ACODE), Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ascilite) • Collaborative partners: Council of Australian Directors of Academic Development (CADAD), Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA), Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA) • Enabling partners: Australia's Academic and Research Network (AARNET), NetSpot, Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT). The project included two network leaders, a project manager, an external evaluator and partner association representatives. Partner association representatives were nominated by their association, however, they predominantly consisted of the leader or president of the respective association. This role was critical to ensuring that the direction and activities of the network were shared within their association and that NATA related news was communicated back to individual partner associations. NATA objectives focused on bringing together kindred associations to develop an integrated higher education network. This network would support these kindred associations to work together to promote OLT/ALTC activities, disseminate good practice and support each other to meet their objectives with respect to learning and teaching. The development of 8 NATA Key Objectives provided tangible foci for network activities such as the NATA research project, partner projects and dissemination of the Good Practice Reports. As the project developed, network leadership, member engagement, the effective use of technology, promotion of sectoral issues and possibilities around dissemination of good practice emerged as the key value propositions for network partners. NATA outcomes and deliverables: • NATA Blog <> and Twitter account (@NATAonthenet). • Keppell, M., Suddaby, G. & Hard, N. (2014). 10 Principles for Good Practice in Network Leadership. NATA network leadership research output (see page 5). <> • ALTC / OLT Good Practice Report eResources. • Debowski, S. (2013). Tips for Leading Academic Networks. HERDSA Partner project output. <>. • Debowski, S. with Keppell, M. & Hard, N. (in press). Leading Academic Networks. Milperra, NSW: HERDSA. • A range of other outputs from NATA partner projects that are being undertaken by ACODE, ascilite, CADAD and ODLAA are currently being developed. These resources will address issues and/or practices in engaging with and supporting association members in the digital age. A network of networks: supporting good practice in network leadership and the dissemination of good practice in learning and teaching 2
  3. 3. All resources will be accessible on the NATA blog with the exception of the HERDSA Guide, which will be available through HERDSA in early 2014. Contribution to learning and teaching The Network of Australasian Tertiary Associations operates at a macro level several steps removed from the lecture teacher-student interface. However each partner association consists of members who are practitioners in learning and teaching in tertiary education. The NATA has contributed to learning and teaching in the following ways. By supporting partner associations to improve their networking practices specifically in the areas of network leadership and communication technologies, NATA sought to improve the experiences and professional development opportunities afforded to partner associations members (educators). Whilst all NATA partners have a general learning and teaching focus, network leadership and the effective use of communication technologies emerged as the key issues of mutual interest and potential value. By working collaboratively to explore and address these common concerns, the collective actions of NATA enhanced the ability of partner associations to effectively cooperate in addressing these issues. Consequently, partner associations have been assisted in meeting their learning and teaching objectives. NATA promoted a wide range of learning and teaching related materials across the sector through an openly accessible website, Twitter profile and use of network partner communication channels. The NATA blog and Twitter communication has emphasised project based information, however, NATA has effectively utilised its communication channels to highlight a variety of learning and teaching resources such as publications, OLT supported networks, webinars, conferences, calls for papers and OLT funding opportunities. With approximately 12,000 views since March 2012, and a growing audience, the NATA blog has validated its use as a dissemination vehicle. In combination with the NATA Twitter profile and access to partner association communication channels, the NATA widely promoted learning and teaching. By supporting new connections between people, organisations and networks, NATA helped foster the sharing of experiences, expertise and resources. The NATA brought together the leaders of a range of learning and teaching associations who had not previously engaged with each other in a focussed and sustained way. Due to the underlying similarities of these associations this collaborative project provided scope for the sharing of experiences, expertise and resources of common relevance. New relationships, resources and independent collaborations between partners have emerged which support learning and teaching. The active dissemination of the ALTC / OLT Good Practice Reports (GPRs) aimed to improve the practice of educators by increasing awareness and engagement with Good Practice in Learning and Teaching. The GPRs were designed to foster the sharing of experiences and outcomes from ALTC / OLT funded projects. However, these reports remained significantly underutilised. As such, NATA adopted a multidimensional approach to their promotion. Webinars, conference A network of networks: supporting good practice in network leadership and the dissemination of good practice in learning and teaching 3
  4. 4. presentations and workshops were conducted whilst short promotional eResource videos were developed to enhance engagement with the GPRs. By extending engagement with the reports and communicating the value they afford, NATA sought to improve educational practices. Factors contributing to productive networking Network achievements 1. NATA brought together a range of stakeholders in the Australasian Tertiary sector who had not previously collaborated in a sustained way by enabling them to explore synergies. 2. NATA established an active website and Twitter profile which promoted the NATA and its activities along with a wide range of learning and teaching related material. 3. NATA successfully supported network partners to engage in projects that would deliver value to their associations and members whilst offering general value to NATA partners. 4. NATA has supported the development of a range of freely accessible resources on effective network communications including social media and digital technologies. 5. NATA activities expanded the understanding of network leadership and developed practical resources to support future network leaders. 6. The network was not limited by the disparate nature of members as a virtual project management approach was successfully developed and enacted. 7. The NATA enhanced awareness of the ALTC / OLT Good Practice Reports within the Australasian Tertiary sector through adopting a multimodal approach. Effective methods of networking: Lessons learnt • It is important to take the time and work with network partners to ensure that there is a clear and shared vision for the network. This was a particular challenge to the NATA as it brought together diverse stakeholders and independent groups for the first time. • The role of a critical friend is highly important as networks involve various parties, interests and tensions. A credible evaluator or critical friend is able to bring an objective perspective to network discussions. • Establishing regular and appropriate communication with key stakeholders is essential. For NATA it took considerable time to establish the correct balance between engaging partners and overwhelming them with content and time demands. • Relevant communication and activity are vital for member engagement. To foster network engagement you need to be proactive and persistent if you wish to engage people with your vision. • An effective and current web presence is essential. Developing a readily accessible and active web presence that provides a means for people to better understand and engage with your network is fundamental to establishing a robust identity. • Effective dissemination underpins the success of networks. Finding an ideal balance of dissemination remains problematic. Supranets (networks of networks) such as NATA have access to large audiences and effectively communicating what is needed remains a critical challenge and opportunity. • Effective networks are based on collaboration. It is important to reflect upon the ongoing value of collaboration at key points as the context in which networks are established continually changes. Understanding how such changes impact upon the network and key stakeholders is important for network sustainability. A network of networks: supporting good practice in network leadership and the dissemination of good practice in learning and teaching 4
  5. 5. • It is important not to underestimate the importance of face-to-face meetings for developing relationships. The NATA had three opportunities for face-to-face meetings between network partners which were invaluable in streamlining processes, building collegial rapport and advancing network discussion. • Understand and account for partner differences and similarities. Despite operating in the same context and having similar foci, on occasions network partners appeared more dissimilar than similar. This often required strong but considered facilitation. • Succession planning is integral to maintaining continuity for network engagement. To reduce discontinuity and knowledge slippage, appropriate succession planning and induction practices need to be in place to minimise the inevitable changes of those involved in the network. Networking recommendations The recommendations below are derived from the small-scale research project conducted by the NATA titled ‘An investigation into network leadership within established Australasian tertiary education associations’. These 10 principles are designed for tertiary education networks, especially academic associations due to the scope of the study and NATA experience. However, it is hoped that they will be applicable to a wide range of educational networks which face similar challenges and contextual issues. 10 principles for good practice in network leadership 1. Network leaders need to have strong personal networks to help inform/contextualise network practices and assist network dissemination. 2. Leaders need to have a clear understanding of, and focus on the priorities and challenges for their association now and into the future. 3. The leaders of networks need to be cognisant of the needs and interests of their members so that activities and communication are relevant and offer value. 4. Network leaders need to understand the capacity of executive members and have realistic expectations regarding workloads and timeframes given the volunteer nature of their involvement. 5. Executive members need to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities in order to foster ownership and provide a specific focus to their association-based activities. 6. The development of rapport between executive members is critical for effective functioning: face-to-face interaction can assist the establishment of working relationships which can be strengthened through the use of communication technologies. 7. Systems need to be in place to ensure that association knowledge and experience is maintained whilst new and innovative ideas are supported. 8. Networks require a culture of vibrancy and transparency if they are to be sustainable and maintain a healthy and engaged membership. 9. Communication needs to be fit for purpose both in mode and message: consistency and the appropriate use of technology can support a sense of connection and the development of a community of trust. 10. Establishing financial security enables strategic allocation of funds for activities aligned with association priorities. A network of networks: supporting good practice in network leadership and the dissemination of good practice in learning and teaching 5
  6. 6. Barriers to productive networking Key challenges and network responses Turnover of network members. The turnover of partner representatives often resulted in discontinuity and disengagement of partner associations as new representatives needed to be familiarised with the purpose, and foci of the NATA. This process of induction proved a particular challenge due to the complex nature of the network and its activities. To streamline this process communication regarding network activities was enhanced, especially through the use of the semi-regular ‘NATA Update’ on the network blog. This complemented the NATA news report by partner representatives back to their executives and association members. NATA also adopted greater inclusivity in regular meetings and developed a range of documents outlining the NATA’s strategy and key objectives to increase transparency and minimise the disruption of personnel changes. Establishing and sustaining a shared network vision. The NATA project proposal was developed over a short time frame and the project involved the formation of a new network comprising a diverse range of stakeholders. This context meant that there was a limited ability for the project leaders and network partners to fully engage in conceptualising the network prior to the project commencement. Considerable time during the project was dedicated to clarifying and developing a shared network identity rather than actively pursuing project objectives and activities. Utilising time at the face-to-face meetings to accelerate this process proved effective particularly in relation to collaborative development of eight operational key objectives. Maintaining the ongoing engagement of network partners. Engaging partners who voluntarily donated their time to participate in network activities was an ongoing challenge. Many of the partner representatives already volunteer their time to support their respective association. By developing a supranet, such as NATA, it created yet another responsibility on top of their already busy workloads. Throughout the project, the NATA communicated and reinforced the value that participation in the NATA offered to the individual involved as well as their respective partner association. Ownership and responsibility regarding partner projects also assisted partner engagement and a sense of commitment to NATA. Timeframes and contextual changes in developing a model for a sustainable network. The development of a sustainable model for NATA beyond the funded period was complicated by the protracted phase of network establishment and clarification. Moreover, the conclusion of the funded NATA project altered the context and parameters for future engagement. A new network model needed to be collaboratively conceptualised and the value proposition of ongoing involvement for key stakeholders needed to be made explicit. Challenges of networking in general • Competing priorities and available time of those actively involved in the network. • Establishing a common identity that is clearly articulated and accepted by network partners. A network of networks: supporting good practice in network leadership and the dissemination of good practice in learning and teaching 6
  7. 7. • Developing an effective internal and external communication strategy that communicates the value of the network. • Ensuring that the network delivers sufficient value to key stakeholders in order to maintain member engagement and be sustainable. • Effectively managing the different perspectives, priorities and opinions of network members and partner associations. What the network offers What the NATA offers to potential members and stakeholders continues to be an ongoing consideration. In building clarity around network sustainability, a document based on a revised network model was collaboratively developed at the end of 2013 outlining the value proposition for an ongoing NATA. This revised model centres on improving engagement through good practice in network leadership. The key objectives of this revised model are provided below. Key objective 1 - Improve network leadership • Support tertiary association/network leaders (mentoring, processes and leadership skills). • Improve executive functioning (processes, transitions, inductions). • Enhance social media use and communication practices within networks and associations. • Learn from and share related experiences and common challenges. • Provide a forum for consensus building on key issues facing the sector. Key objective 2 – Support OLT networking • Improve connections between the sector and OLT. • Engage a greater audience in the activities and outcomes of the OLT around learning and teaching. • Provide a forum for the dissemination of OLT outcomes and activities. Potential value of ongoing collaboration for key stakeholders • Network / tertiary association leaders (partner association leaders): Leaders would have the opportunity to learn about good practice in networking and network leadership. Additionally, they would be able to explore common challenges and possible solutions, share resources and provide mutual support such as mentorship for new leaders. • Networks / tertiary associations (partner associations): Partner associations would have a stronger voice and greater influence in the sector. Avoiding potential risks, improving executive functioning, benchmarking, coordinating and collaborating regarding events, sharing resources and clarifying understandings of the spaces each association occupies within the sector are all valuable outcomes of collaboration under this model. • Tertiary education institutions: Leadership development and the enhanced profile of staff, improved business intelligence, access to innovative developments in learning and teaching and reputational currency are possible outcomes for tertiary education institutions with staff involved in a continuing NATA. • The office for learning and teaching and government: The revised model provides OLT with the opportunity to gain access to early trends emerging in the sector and a forum for the delivery of messages and efficient dissemination. It also promises to build an enhanced profile for the OLT and provide a conduit for receiving comprehensive feedback from the A network of networks: supporting good practice in network leadership and the dissemination of good practice in learning and teaching 7
  8. 8. sector about issues and concerns arising. • The Australasian tertiary education sector: The sector stands to benefit through the provision of a cohesive and authoritative voice, engagement with senior executives, ‘crowd sourcing’ opportunities and an increased awareness of and ability to address emerging issues and trends. It also promises to increase the profile of learning and teaching, improve dissemination and increase linkages with international networks. A network of networks: supporting good practice in network leadership and the dissemination of good practice in learning and teaching 8