Work in Progess is the operating brand of Lancaster University’s Enterprise Team, providing a service to support the development of entrepreneurial competencies in students, staff and alumni, for the purposes of start-up and business innovation as well as employability and industrial engagement.
The support model has evolved over time from being 1-2-1 and workshop driven to being much more about social learning. Structured development is still available through a self-access blended learning model, but we have increasingly sought to grow and empower a community of peers who actively support one another.
Development and Delivery
While we had recognised that this was the approach we wanted to adopt, the practicalities of transitioning to it were ultimately anchored to our default in-person service model – how do you get people to feel like they are part of a community when you can never get a critical mass of people in the same place at the same time? When Covid forced us to move to a purely remote-access service, these constraints evaporated overnight.
Our first step was to create a dedicated Work in Progress community space in Teams that sought to recreate the customer experience people were accustomed to – walk through the door, speak to whoever is around, get involved in whatever is going on, leave when you’ve got what you need. We created channels and rooms that they could use, and added links to all of the resources that we’d normally send out by email. We then invited everyone in our database into this space and waited to see what they would do with it.
The main impact immediately was on our team as we had to switch quickly to a community facilitation role (as opposed to an intervention facilitation role), responding to support requests on an entirely ad hoc basis and seeking to broker connections between peers who might be able to help as opposed to leaping in to answer questions ourselves.
For learners, this approach was naturally challenging for some and welcome for others. Regardless of their individual position, the fact that there was still a service available when everything else was closing down around them definitely paved the way to universal adoption, even if it wasn’t what they’d been used to. And those who have embraced it, e.g. by coming forward to propose and deliver peer sharing events of course provide examples for others to follow, so those who are still wary or keeping their heads down don’t feel pressured to come into the spotlight themselves, but can still take advantage of these platforms to raise their own questions and share their own experience.
We have adopted the Value Creation Framework (Wenger, E., Trayner, B., and de Laat, M. (2011) as a means of capturing the value created for individual members of this community at different points in their journeys. Feedback collected so far includes:
- Social learning can help with soft skills like confidence, like communication or pitching your business ideas…
- I could be an expert in one thing, but I can’t be an expert in everything, that’s where the social will help me to understand…
- We can look at another business with a fresh pair of eyes and share ideas, even if we have no or limited experience in the sector of that particular business.
As a result of what we’ve learned through this process, we’ve made some valued contributions to One Lancaster, the institution’s internal community of engagement and knowledge exchange staff, including formalising this group as a community of practice and initiating a member-led series of practice sharing events. It’s still too early to say that this has made the organisation more entrepreneurial but our increased visibility within this community as a result has certainly raised awareness of the value of entrepreneurial learning and entrepreneurial competences within the institution approach to industrial engagement.
Based on the demands of operating this community facilitation model we have recently contracted in an additional team member to act as Social Learning Facilitator. Our next step is to create some moderator roles for members of the community who are most actively engaged and have potential to benefit most from this responsibility.
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