“Vicky was able to provide us with valuable insights that helped us to develop a strategy that was both realistic and ambitious. As a result of her work, we are now well-positioned to expand our international reach. ”
— Kate Walewska, Director of Future Students Office, University of Leicester (2023)
International strategy creation - Part 2
Posted on by Vicky Lewis
Tips on engaging and consulting effectively
My previous blog explored why engagement is such an important part of the international strategy development process.
The three main reasons I outlined for engaging with stakeholders correspond broadly with three key (but overlapping) stages in the process of strategy creation:
Building and broadening understanding
(discussing why international engagement is important for the university community and getting challenging issues out on the table).
Strengthening the strategy
(unlocking input and insights from key stakeholders).
Securing commitment to delivery
(getting relevant people to take ownership of specific elements of the strategy).
This blog highlights the role of institutional context, some pitfalls to avoid and some guiding principles I’ve found useful.
Context makes a difference
Contextual factors include things like:
the stage the university is at in its internationalisation journey;
whether the institutional culture is more managerial or more collegial;
the locus of responsibility for internationalisation;
the resources and infrastructure available to support both strategy development and implementation.
The relationship of the international (or internationalisation or global engagement) strategy (or strategic plan, enabling plan, core plan or similar) to the main institutional strategy (sometimes called strategic plan, corporate plan or ‘Vision 20xx [year]’) also makes an important difference.
Integrated: Sometimes the international dimension is seen as such a core element of the university’s strategy that engagement and early-stage consultation on international goals and priorities take place as an integral part of the creation of a new institutional strategy. This means that there is already a clear steer for any supporting international strategy and some ready-made momentum for fleshing it out.
Cascading: More typically, a new institutional strategy is created with limited specific engagement on the topic of internationalisation. Once it’s near completion, a list of supporting or enabling strategies is devised to cascade from the main strategy, with ‘international’ being one of these. And the task begins of determining what this might look like and how best to secure buy-in.
Loosely attached: On some occasions, creation of an international strategy is largely disconnected (sometimes simply because of the amount of time that has elapsed) from the institutional strategy development process. It may become a priority part way through the period that the university strategy covers. This means that engagement and consultation usually need to reference the existing university strategy while also ensuring that subsequent developments and emerging priorities are reflected in discussions and used to inform the new international strategy.
So, the timing of initial discussions about international strategy (during university strategy consultation; soon after a new university strategy has been finalised; or part way through the implementation period for the institutional strategy) impacts on whether the internal debate can build on conversations that are already underway, or whether it is taking place from a standing start.
Preparing the ground well for the discussions that will inform the strategy is important.
In the course of my consultancy work, I’ve observed practice that has impeded effective engagement and approaches that have facilitated it. These are often two sides of the same coin. In fact, reflecting on the pitfalls can help you to build a robust set of guiding principles.
Some common pitfalls include:
Waiting until too late in the process to involve those who will be involved in implementing the strategy. If it comes across as too top-down and key people don’t understand why certain things have been prioritised, support is likely to be half-hearted and practicalities may be overlooked.
Bringing senior leaders into discussions too late in the process (less likely to happen with the Integrated approach outlined above). If it’s too ‘bottom-up’, it can become a bit woolly as people are unsure of the level of ambition and the parameters. And senior leaders may veto ideas bubbling up from the community, damaging buy-in.
Employing unimaginative and non-interactive methods of engagement and consultation which are likely to elicit predictable responses from a predictable set of individuals.
Not providing enough opportunity for a wide range of stakeholders to challenge the emerging strategy.
The corresponding guiding principles are:
Ensure it’s an iterative process, with genuine dialogue between senior leaders and the wider community.
Identify champions (particularly academic champions) who can help to initiate and maintain conversations about internationalisation with colleagues in their part of the institution, flushing out any concerns they may have.
Go beyond the usual committees. Involve groups who may have ideas to contribute (or may be impacted by the international strategy) but risk getting overlooked (e.g. EDI committee, sustainability team, members of the local community, Students’ Union, alumni, PhDs/ECRs, international staff, in-country staff and partners).
Offer a variety of ways to contribute to strategy creation (virtually and in-person, verbally and in writing) and plenty of mechanisms and opportunities to challenge the emerging strategy.
In a nutshell, make it:
International strategy engagement case studies
Of course, many of the above tips are quite generic.
In my next blog, I’ll share some good practice case studies (drawn from projects I’ve worked with universities on) to illustrate engagement approaches that have proved effective when it comes to creating an international strategy in different institutional contexts.