Open leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (4) – The strategic role of open #altc

In this, my 5th in the my reflections on my role as Chair of ALT , I wanted to share some of my reflections as we develop our new strategy.

This week I chaired another quarterly meeting of the ALT Board. The meeting took a slightly different format as the main focus of it was the development of our new strategy.

screen shot of strategy development timeline

The development of the new strategy started in September at our annual conference (add links) and we have had lots of community feedback through the Assembly meetings and our online suggestion box ( feel free to add your suggestions).

In preparing for the meeting, Maren Deepwell (CEO of ALT) and the staff team have been collating and mapping what has been achieved in the last three years.  As I have been reviewing the progress that has been made, it really struck me how openness has impacted on our core values from open licensing to open governance to open participation.

This openness has in turn proved to be a very successful way for us to grow as an an association and also to measure progress. Now, perhaps because the board were very “open” to the idea of open and open practice there wasn’t a huge debate about including open as one of our core values. ALT had already been openly licencing many of its outputs and had just incorporated the OER conference into our conference portfolio. So, we didn’t have to spend a large part of the last three years developing any new open procedures, or policies. Instead the last three years have focused on ALT becoming a fully independent charitable organisation. That is no mean feat in and of itself which I’m sure I will reflect more on too as part of this series.

Rather, taking an open approach first allowed our work from our governance structures and reporting to our openly available conference recordings, to be open and accessible in the most relevant way. 

Maha Bali recently wrote a really powerful post about openness and permissions. It’s really rich post but the notion of permissions really resonated, particularly technical permissions such as copyright versus the human aspect of open educational practice.

Open Educational Practices as a human endeavor is so much more than a technical permission. And I wish we would push this aspect of it to the background of details and instead foreground the other aspects relating to social justice, connection, and co-construction of knowledge in potentially equitable ways, for the interests of diverse people, and on their terms.”

I see the human endeavour, the connections and co-construction of knowledge as something ALT is really getting to grips with and succeeding with. Fundamentally we are all about supporting people, and developing our community. Whilst we endeavour to be as equitable as possible, there is still a lot work to be done. Part of that work is to recognise the cultural context of any UK based organisation, our colonial history, and our current realities in relation to discrimination, lack of diversity, that is part of our educational landscape.  That said, over the past three years I think the diversity of our conference keynote speakers speaks for itself.   

screen shot of ALT  conference keynote speakers

Our members are at the heart of what we do. That may seem like “stating the bleedin’ obvious”, but in many membership organisations there can be a gulf between members and management.  One of my key drivers as Chair is to make sure we keep that value at the forefront of all our work, so that everything we do shows value and supports the work of our (paying) members.   

Having open-ness as one of our core values has allowed us to operate and report really  effectively over the past three years.  We are sharing an ever growing set of resources with our members and beyond. At the same time the human aspect of our community continues to thrive through the work of our member groups, now working so well together through the ALT Assembly, and of course our conferences/events, blog, journal and mailing list. 

What is particular satisfying for me is that our open business model is something that has evolved and grown without us ever having to debate the value or risk of openness.  Through our working openly our staff benefit, our community benefits and it is providing us with a really secure foundation layer for our next strategy, the next 3 years and beyond.   

Open leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (1)

Photo of my ALT C conference lanyard where I am call The Boss
It’s all about being The Boss!

Do you ever have those moments in conversations with colleagues about their working practices,  realise that you should actually be doing a bit more of what they are doing? Well,  that happened to me last week as I met with Maren Deepwell  and Martin Hawksey, ALTs senior management team, for their annual appraisals.   Openness is one of ALTs core values, we try to support open education, research and practice as much as we can.  Over the past year as we have transitioned into a fully independent, distribution organisation Maren and Martin started to openly share their experiences – of leading and managing a virtual organisation via a series of blog posts.

These monthly posts are now augmented with podcasts.   I feel that these posts are exemplary in terms of  open practice and open leadership.  The process of writing the post, planning, discussion, writing, recording are also becoming a really useful way for Maren and Martin to catch up and discuss a range of activities. They both really value the different space and focus that this somewhat experimental process has evolved into.  

During the appraisal I realised that I haven’t actually shared openly my experiences and reflections of being Chair of the Board of Trustees. So, I’m going to change that, and this year I am going to share more about my role and responsibilities

Part of my role as Chair is to contribute to “official” correspondence – yearly updates, the conference etc. You can find out about our governance on the website. But, well, it’s a bit dry, and doesn’t really give an insight into what Trustees actually do. I think that for members of ALT, the Board and it’s workings are quite remote and a bit invisible.

Being Chair does require more of a time commitment that a regular Trustee.  I have more regular contact with ALT staff, primarily Maren and Martin.  So outwith our monthly online GPC (general purpose committee) meetings I am kept up to date with more of the operational aspects of the running of the organisation. I also work with Maren to prepare the agenda and papers for our face to face Trustee meetings.

I see a key part of my role as Chair in providing support for our full time staff members and in particular our senior staff.  If our staff don’t have a supportive environment, then that could have detrimental impact on our wider community and the ability of the Association to continue to do the work that it does.

With the governance changes brought in last year, I am the first Chair to be in place for more than a year. One of the reasons for this change was to bring more continuity to our governance procedures. In a year you just get the hang of things and then you move on.  In terms of staff development,  having to have an annual appraisal with someone different every year is not easy for the person being appraised.  Context setting can take up most of the appraisal time instead of forward planning.

During this year’s appraisal with Maren it was really pleasing to see how greater continuity in this process has help Maren with her development goals.  It’s also been really rewarding for me as I can see how much progress has been made over the past year and what impact our appraisal meetings have had. They’ve been so useful that for the first time this year I had an appraisal with Martin, and then a joint appraisal with both Maren and Martin.

It’s sometimes hard to distinguish Maren and Martin from ALT, so a central focus for our discussions is how to allow their own voices to flourish and grow as part of their roles and responsibilities to the organisation. Over the past year, their joint leadership and management of the association had evolved into a really productive and significant partnership (exemplified but the joint blog posts)  allowing ALT to grow from strength to strength.  

Making sure our core staff are fulfilled and empowered is a key focus for me. Seeing how our staff (and the association) grow each year is incredibly rewarding, and one of leadership roles I cherish the most.