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Articulating value : creating a compelling narrative

  • 27 January 2020
  • By Kim Ansell

This blog was kindly contributed by Kim Ansell, Senior Advisor at Advance HE. It is the first of three blogs we will be running this week on the theme of value.

In a time of increasing uncertainty and public scrutiny, higher education is facing an unprecedented challenge to articulate value to both stakeholders and society. So it is paramount that leaders take a rounded and innovative approach to understanding value, and that this is implemented across institutions and throughout our sector in strategy, operations and communication. Indeed, Advance HE and HEPI’s own annual Student Academic Experience Survey has been crucial in highlighting and measuring student perceptions of value.

Communicating with stakeholders in a consistent, authentic and transparent way is the focus for Advance HE’s work on Let’s Talk Value.

Some universities are starting to change the way value is communicated and how it is understood. Changing the narrative to enable higher education to articulate better the value that it creates for students, staff, the economy and society is mission critical.

Taking a holistic approach which considers how all assets and resources are used and drawn on to create value (a multi-capital approach which is explained by the former Finance Director at Edinburgh University here) is proving worthwhile. As Sir Nigel Carrington argued at the last HEPI Annual Conference, official discourse is too narrowly focused on metrics and financials, and he called for a much wider framework for assessing value.

Following a successful pilot project to test and evaluate a different way of understanding, reporting and demonstrating value, Advance HE built on work by the British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG) and engaged mission groups and a small group of institutions in Let’s Talk Value, which looks at value through the lens of integrated thinking and reporting. This is a principles-based framework which helps organisations to think and report holistically considering all the resources or ‘capitals’ at their disposal, beyond just financial capital – for example, intellectual capital and human capital. This approach promotes a mature discussion about performance, provides transparent and authentic board oversight and helps a whole institution connect to a purpose and strategy.

Integrated thinking and reporting is bringing in a step-change in the way universities can engage stakeholders through a far more compelling and accurate picture of the full value we create over the short, medium and long term for stakeholders and wider society. We’re using this approach to enhance our decision making and collaborative working, and in a way that supports and informs our strategic planning.

Chris Cobb, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Operations) and CEO, University of London and Chair of the 17/18 Advance HE project steering group.

So what does it mean for universities in practice?

  • It develops a collective vision of what value means for an institution, framed around its purpose and taking into account external factors.
  • It re-defines reporting as a tool to tell a consistent story to stakeholders about the unique value proposition of an institution.
  • It enables an understanding of the value of all resources and how they work together to create value by using strategic resources more holistically (such as people, knowledge and relationships and social capital).

In short, a multi-capital approach is a holistic approach to delivering strategy, supporting good governance and managing performance and prospects, in the context of an institution’s purpose, over the short, medium and long term.

Of course, using a framework such as integrated thinking and reporting will not achieve all of the above benefits in isolation; it has to be part of a wider effort around organisational values and culture to ensure authenticity and transparency.

Advance HE will be hearing from experts and leaders, debating and discussing how to better understand, demonstrate and articulate value to all stakeholders over time at the Advance HE Let’s Talk Value Conference on 11 February 2020. Find out more and book your place now.

You can view links to a series of resources, including the 2018 Let’s Talk Value report and video by Professor Carol Adams, here.

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