Working together in uncertain times

Head and shoulders image of David White

One of the things I most enjoy about my job as a Divisional Registrar is the opportunity I get to work with all the different parts of the University. Whilst a lot of my time is spent working with the 15 fantastic academic departments that make up the Social Sciences Division (SSD)  and with the excellent team who are based with me in the divisional office I also get to work with people based in other academic divisions, the colleges, GLAM, Continuing Education, and central services.

All these interactions combine to make my Oxford experience an incredibly stimulating one. It is also fair to say that Oxford can be a frustrating place to work, at least some of the time.

Working together

It seems that nearly all parts of the University are facing similar, difficult issues right now, and we could work together to tackle them. At the top of my mind is how we can support our staff and students effectively in these uncertain times. And, how can we deal with worsening financial pressures without causing harm to academic activities?

For me, the genius of Oxford’s structure is that so many academic and operational decisions are made within departments and colleges, where the needs of each academic discipline are best understood. All the same, I think we could preserve our structure and ethos, and still find many ways to speed up our decision making, and to simplify our administrative processes. We could also look for ways to help the different parts of the organisation to collaborate better.

Professional Services Together

It is for these reasons that I am very supportive of the Professional Services Together programme. In Social Sciences, we think it is a timely opportunity to tackle some of these bigger organisational questions.

We have enjoyed some early successes in adopting continuous improvement approaches within our departments. This has provided some simple tools and methods to help teams self-evaluate their ways of working, and then make small but impactful changes to improve their services.

We have also contributed actively to the larger-scale University service reviews with the same aim. I am pleased to see that colleagues from SSD departments are getting involved in new professional communities of practice, through which different groups of professional staff can share expertise and establish fruitful professional connections.

Supporting and celebrating colleagues

In my team, we have been supporting more secondments for professional development, and we hope to trial a new job shadowing scheme in the near future. I was also really pleased to see so many of my divisional colleagues being recognised for their excellent work in the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Professional Services earlier this year – another new initiative from Professional Services Together.

Next steps

If our devolved academic structure is worth preserving (and I believe it is), then I think we need to be clear-sighted about the ways in which we sometimes waste unnecessary time and effort on our administration and services, and then get serious about tackling this. This is, of course, easier said than done, when we are dealing daily with issues and continuing to deliver a high standard of service. 

So, I look forward to the outcome of the Strategic Review of Professional Services which is looking into many of these issues. I am also interested to hear thoughts and experiences from SSD and beyond – please do get in touch to share your ideas.

Please find David's contact details on the Social Sciences website