Six ways to ensure sustainability for technology based interventions

Over the last two years I’ve been very lucky in working with some excellent projects in three JISC programmes; Users and Innovation, Institutional Innovation and Building Capacity. This community of projects hold a vast core of information and knowledge about the use of technology in institutions and how to get the most of it. In discussions with various people across the 80 plus projects we put together a small list of things that might help sustain technology based interventions.

Do your homework

Before proposing any new intervention make sure that it hasn’t been tried before in your institution or out. If something similar was tried then you need to understand if or why it failed and then articulate how your proposal or the new technology will lead to a different result. It is also worth identifying similar organisations that have already tried your proposal, in order to evaluate the degrees to which different elements of your plan have led to positive results. It may be even more important to assess the challenges that they encountered in order to integrate solutions to those challenges in your plan. 

Align with the existing strategy

Creating a solution that doesn’t yet have a problem is not going to win much support and will not have a long life at your institution. When it comes to the deployment of new or novel technologies it is essential that everyone involved, including practitioners, support staff and senior managers understand why you want to do something. Aligning the intervention with the existing strategy, and showing how your proposal will help deliver that strategy should not only elicit support, but may also win you a senior manager to champion the work. An analysis of the challenges addressed should lead any discussion, as many members of your campus community may not fully understand the specific challenges and need to see solutions in their fuller context.

Change must bring benefits

Deploying an expensive solution that overall costs more money and time than it saves can rarely be judged a benefit. Sometimes innovators or early adopters will enthuse about technology interventions and their benefits without being mindful of time or funding; only seeing their perceived benefits. It is therefore important to measure all of the benefits that the change brings from across the area it impacts so that a proper assessment of the benefit can be made.  This must be done from a total costs perspective. The time that you will be spending on this project will mean that other kinds of innovation will not be happening, include all planning and extra staff time into your calculations.

Change your perspective

Interventions are often led from the middle, answering to both the senior management team and to the operations people who are directly connected to the work being done. It’s important to articulate the ‘story’ of the intervention from all points of view. Use creative examples of how you think the intervention will be of benefit, and develop scenarios where all involved can see themselves and see how their work can be enhanced or made more efficient. Include specific references to benefits to specific positions/people so that people can feel a personal sense of buy in to a project.

Embrace the advantages from the peripheral or tangential

When making a technology intervention identify all the potential outcomes that enhance practice, provide efficiency savings or other benefits at the outset. However, monitor all of the outcomes and the impact that they have. Whilst one of your interventions may only make a small difference to the original benefactor, it may be having a significant benefit in an unexpected area, such as administrative process. These tangential benefits should be reported with the same enthusiasm as predicted benefits to the project stakeholders. Keeping clear track of your challenges in this way can actually lead to significant positive outcomes. If you are open about those challenges new partnerships can form that lead to solving wider institutional challenges.

Take a cyclical approach

Once the intervention is proposed, deployed and measured take the time to reflect and refine the processes. Put it in your workplan to review how the intervention is working and whether new factors (costings, new technology, staff changes) can bring about more benefits. This reflective approach will also help you to understand how and why new unrelated interventions occur. It will also provide a clearer trail to others in your institution who are interested in similar interventions.

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