Discovery update: External Engagement

19 August 2021

Since our first discovery update, the SET team has made significant progress advancing the functional reviews of the six workstreams in order to transition to the new operating model. A functional review is how we can shift from our current state into our new operating model, and consists of three phases as demonstrated in the diagram below.

The external engagement workstream has concluded its discovery phase, engaging with functional experts and leaders to gain a better understanding of the current state of external engagement-related activities across the university. These activities include communications, marketing, development, alumni relations, and government and community relations. The information gathered will inform the roles and responsibilities of the communications and marketing partners, identify processes and activities that can be streamlined or transferred to Shared Services and Centres of Expertise, and has aided the design of the new structure for the Vice President, External Relations (ER) portfolio

Key discovery findings

The data worksheets completed by staff across the university illustrated that communication, digital, and marketing support varies significantly across the university, and is distributed, rather than integrated. A few highlights from the discovery results include:

  • Fewer than 40 per cent of external engagement activity is currently conducted within the VP External Relations portfolio.
  • Over 300 staff code less than 0.5 FTE to external engagement activity, which suggests that many staff conduct external engagement activity as a small part of, or in addition to, their main role.
  • Development and alumni relations are already predominantly centralized.

We also learned of some common themes which staff identified as opportunities to improve upon in the new model:

  • Improve brand consistency and cohesion across the university
  • Increase external engagement to collaborate with national networks
  • Create a share pool of resources and expertise that everyone can access 
  • Create more strategic and consistent alumni relations across faculties
  • Create consistent, streamlined, and proactive support for government relations including funding announcements, ministerial events, and reporting
  • Increase connection, collaboration, standardization, and learning from peers

Consultation and engagement

Led by Vice-President, (External Relations) Elan MacDonald and College Dean, Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell, the external engagement team implemented a transparent consultation process and fostered open and inclusive university engagement. Faculty and staff across the university were engaged in a variety of activities including workbook development and completion, validation of discovery data, review of findings, and more. A total of 110 discovery workbooks were completed by more than 200 staff in faculties, departments, and units across the university—the most of any functional workstream. The team hosted two discovery workbook sessions for a total of 120 attendees providing an open forum for faculty and staff to ask questions and provide input. In addition, the external engagement stream held three service catalogue consultation sessions attended by 167 people.

Since consultation began in February, there have been more than 1,000 individual virtual touch points including Lunch with Elan (five Q&A style events attended by 405 staff), all staff consultations on the service catalogue, weekly updates from Elan, engagement through current communication channels, as well as collective and individual meetings with college general managers, faculty general managers, deans, and VPs.

Transforming the External Relations structure

Through these consultation sessions, discussions with faculty and staff, and analysis of the discovery workbook data, External Relations, in collaboration with SET, was able to make informed decisions when developing the portfolio’s new structure which launched on July 22. The new structure will support faculties and units with high-quality, professional services and is predicated on a service culture that is strategic, responsible and timely. 

It will also bring significant benefits to the university’s marketing and communication functions that did not exist before. It creates:

  • A single integrated communications and marketing structure across the university that will reduce duplication 
  • More efficient work structures that strongly linked the central external relations portfolio with every college, faculty, and central unit.
  • An opportunity for staff working in external engagement related roles to have more interesting and varied careers within the university 
  • A central marketing function that will ensure brand consistency, support revenue generation and recruitment as well as developing an analytics function that will support better understanding of key audiences and decision making.

The consultations and research also indicated that the current fund development structure should remain in place to build on the strong relationships between development officers and faculties. The structure also strengthens the U of A’s government and community relations capacity.

What’s next?

The next few months will be a time of transition for external engagement activities and staff across the U of A’s campuses. External Relations is now working on populating the model with a sequential implementation plan that will ensure leaders in the new structure have the opportunity to participate in the selection of their own team. Be sure to regularly check the Position Opportunities Page (POP) and the Careers site as new roles will be posted over the next few months. 

On August 25 from 11 a.m. - noon, the SET team will be hosting another edition of our Ask SET Anything series specifically for staff working in an external engagement related role to ask questions and learn more about transitioning. We encourage you to register for the event.

As the new model is established, the external engagement workstream and the VP, External Relations portfolio will continue to develop the operating model and existing processes will be reviewed and re-designed to ensure they are optimized for the new structure. 

Learn more

It’s important to recognize that each functional workstream is moving at its own pace through its own discoveries and processes, and therefore, each will reach milestones at different times.

For more information including updates and progress within the external engagement workstream, visit their dedicated web page.



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