The current COVID crisis has made us all think about communication and the importance of the format, platform and message. As Head of School I have been acutely aware that there is a need for clarity in updating the school on the response to COVID. There is also a need for information about educational and research issues locally, nationally and internationally. There is likewise a need to refute “fake news” in social media linked to the University and its management. I also want to congratulate people when the deserve it and encourage a celebration of school success stories. Some messages are for particular people in the school while others are for everyone. So, it’s been an interesting balance to devise a way forward. It’s also been a process of trial and error. I get most inspired about modes of communication when “out of the office” and having a time to reflect.
School Forum- old style
Before “lockdown” we had informal and unstructured weekly coffee meetings on Wednesday morning alternatively in Cruickshank and Zoology. This was a great chance to bump into people; ask generic questions and get some answers. I began to structure the update components that I presented and we (Mel) emailed key issues around. Email is a troublesome beast and it’s clear that these often went unread.
School Newsletters and Update- old style
In the past the school had published elegant outward looking newsletters but these did not really seem to hit a specific audience. They were not effective in terms of time spent versus benefit gained. So, to supplement the school fora, I also created a newsletter: a monthly update on big issues and a fortnightly single page to consolidate what may have constituted a dozen emails. I did this for four months but several staff said “there is too much to read” and “it does not engage”. Once again the communication was of limited value: but the answer was not to regress back to the dreaded staff meeting.
School Forum and Podcasts- new style
I was brought up listening to Radio 4 and naturally the spoken word is better than emails and newsletters. Now, the school forum is rehearsed and recorded early on a Wednesday morning and then broadcast live through MS-Teams at 10.30. At the moment I focus mainly on issues that impact on the school and university. For broader issues I would recommend staff/ students to read https://wonkhe.com/ which is a daily HE update and really engaging. Panopto has allowed me to trial a range of approaches to record information. Here is last weeks school forum, my enthusiasm about studying soils, some information about an ancient soil in Aberdeenshire, a tribute to the late FitzPatrick, the Science Teaching Hub update and the return to campus information.
And the Sean Connery connection?
Thumper said to Bambi (in Diamonds are Forever) in front of James Bond “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. So maybe this is the basis for a Podcast- let’s think about what we communicate, how we undertake this and how people will receive the message. As my Mum tells me- “it’s nice to be important but it’s much more important to be nice”.