I didn’t post last week. I experienced the impact of the pandemic and the way it is impacting not just health but also the infrastructures that keep society going. People are working from home, in front of screens and on their phones, but communication, or access to the right information is not “business as usual”. The rhetoric of “pivot to online”, interpreted as “you have broadband and a device therefore you can do your job” ignores the cultural difficulties.
The week before last was not easy. One small mistake in information presentation led to exponential failures in communication. My Mother was dead for over a week in her care home before the information was passed around different departments, communicated incorrectly and given to several different people, before I was informed. And don’t get me started on what is being lost or mismanaged around data protection and other information areas during this pandemic, that is not only going to be true for this space. It is true for many other domains, including education.
This week I have been preparing an online workshop around digital strategies. I was struck by some of the recent research that Donna Lanclos and I have been doing around the response of academics to the pandemic. Digital Strategies rarely come in a one size fits all. What people need to be effective in digital is complex, a set of variables around Discipline or Role, what they need to do, and their behaviours.
Those three elements will change over time, even within a day, and for the same person. The resulting digital practices will also change. Importantly, it also needs to be remembered that how people change their online digital practice will have an impact on those around them. The pivot to online didn’t happen. We are just getting by, even if some people are thriving, we need to check and see if the people they are working with, for example their students, are also thriving.
Digital practices don’t happen in a vacuum, they impact on others. Small changes in what we do online, shifting communications channels sometimes have bigger knock on effects than major digital platform migrations. Some of the staff I have been working with recently feel disenfranchised by their colleagues switching to Teams, or Slack or “other – it’s not OK to just say “well you can use it too!”. You need to get people on board with the changes, and build in mechanisms to ensure that no one is left behind.
That’s essentially what happened in the communications around my Mother, platform changes during the pandemic, personnel with “institutional memory” off sick, and a whole series of people working from home without access to the right information from the right databases.
This won’t be the last crisis – we need to learn lessons and change our approach to digital and the practices around it. Those changes need to be evidence based, which we (Jisc, Donna Lanclos, and others) are gathering. I don’t know what a good digital strategy looks like, but starting from the point of the people in an organisation, and their diversity of needs, should be a priority.