August 25, 2016

Action Plans at the University of York

By Michelle Blake, Head of Relationship Management

When we restructured our Relationship Management Team (RMT) at the University of York in January 2014 it was with an aim to allow staff to develop expertise across three main areas (rather than to try to be expert across all 3): relationship building, research support services, and teaching and learning. One of our overall aims was to strengthen relationships with staff and students across the university by understanding and engaging in the new research and teaching environment, and providing appropriate and targeted services and support.

Liaison is one of our key functions and our structure allows our liaison librarians to have the time to focus on building meaningful relationships with academic departments, notably through the academic staff themselves, with an aim of reaching and influencing students through them. At the same time we introduced this model we developed annual library action plans.

The purpose of our Action Plans are:
  • to help make explicit the investment, usage and purpose of the Library to each department
  • to help to focus the work that needs to take place with each department to address issues or improve current service
  • provide an opportunity to discuss priorities with department and build/maintain relationship
  • function as a partnership document between the Library and each academic department
  • act as a workplan (forms much of Liaison Librarian objectives for the year)
  • act as evidence for departmental planning processes

Ned’s post describes some of the sources of information we use and shows what our plans in 2015 looked like. Below you can also view our template for 2016.

York Action Plan 2016 Template

We’ve found it’s crucial to have buy-in and input from the top in each department to make the Action Plans work. The Action Plans act as the basis for a meeting which takes place with key members of the academic department - notably the Head of Department and the academic Library Representative - and the Library - the Academic Liaison Librarian and the Head of Relationship Management or the Academic Liaison Manager. Where it hasn’t been possible for the Head of Department to attend we have someone else in key position in the department e.g. Deputy Head, Chair of Board of Studies. The Academic Liaison Librarian leads the meeting and it allows all draft actions to be discussed. After the meeting the finalised action plan is produced and sent to department and they choose how to disseminate it within their own department.

We have been fortunate in getting all departments on board. The first year we scheduled action plan meetings, all but one department met with us. The second year we had meetings with all departments. Departments see the value of the meeting as we develop shared priorities for partnership working. We have honest and open conversations about the issues in each department and most are realistic about the limits of what we can do. This approach has resulted in even closer working relationships and a more detailed understanding of how departments work (and the nuances between them). Our engagement efforts are becoming more meaningful and we are viewed as a trusted partner. We are able to tailor our communications with departments as we have insight into what will work with each of them.

After all action plan meetings have taken place analysis is conducted to identify the key themes and identify which departments we need to work with in these areas and where there is commonality to work across a group of departments rather than duplicating effort.

We are realistic in how many initiatives we can undertake with any one department and ensure that no one liaison librarian (they are each responsible for 3-4 departments) is involved in too many initiatives. Priorities are then discussed with the rest of the senior managers to establish what work will take place and likely timescales as part of our larger planning discussions.

Finally in order to ensure liaison librarians can keep track of their actions (and everyone else across the wider library service knows what is happening) we have developed a centralised spreadsheet of actions where updates can be added. In addition, we have developed our own customer relationship management (CRM) database where all our interactions with departments are captured so we have a holistic picture of what activity is taking place across all departments. A future blog post will look specifically at our CRM.

Our timeline:
  • Planning for the coming year (October-December) e.g. data gathering, template created, scheduling meetings with departments
  • Results LibQual (Library Survey) and drafting plans (January/February)
  • Checking of plans and sending out in advance of meetings (February/March - sent 1 week before the meeting)
  • Meetings take place (March/April)
  • Finalised action plan sent to department (approx. 1 week after meeting)
  • Summary/theming of issues (April)
  • Prioritisation and planning work (May)
  • Start work on actions (April-May)
  • Review of process (May) and improvements documented for the next year
Our top tips for implementing Action Plans:
  • Someone needs to take responsibility/ownership for the process (and preferably more than one person)
  • It’s a long process (but one with lots of benefits)
  • Look for quick wins (especially in the early days)
  • Report back on what you’ve done to the departments
  • You need to have good reliable data
  • Context is key (you need to understand your departments)
  • Plan and prepare early
  • Review and improve - it’s a continual process
  • Get feedback (from everyone)
  • Look for common issues - where can you do things across a number of departments
  • Show the benefits to the departments (especially the Head)
  • Encourage departments to use/share the Action Plan e.g. APR, BoS
  • When key staff members change ensure you explain the process (don’t rely on them to know what they are and why you do them)
  • Ensure actions are followed up and regular updates are given (to Library Rep)
  • Share internally - make sure you’re own staff know what’s going on
  • Remember it’s a relationship and works two ways
  • Embed it - make it a part of your normal day to day, yearly process
An article about our Action Plans and how we’ve used them to build relationships at York was published in Sconul focus 65.

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