This is the second post in a series which explores the National Monographs Strategy project principles in some detail. My colleague Ben Showers described the principles in brief in an earlier post. Realising benefits is our sixth principle, but as you will see it is closely related to some of the other principles.
Principle six states that:
“In order for the project to be a success the eventual strategy will support libraries, publishers and content providers in delivering real benefits for teachers, learners and researchers.”
This is a big ask. The word benefit has a very particular meaning in the programme management approach Managing Successful Programmes (MSP):
“An end benefit is a direct contribution to a strategic objective. It describes an advantage accruing from the outcome.”
The suggestion there is that we can identify and make real a set of interrelated advantages which arise from change activities conducted as part of the programme. With MSP benefits are developed as part of a detailed business case and a Business Change Manger (or a number of these) is responsible for defining the benefits for particular business unit which is undergoing radical change. Within the confines of a commercial company, or of a public institution, it is challenging to define benefits, but it is at least clear that something needs to change from the outset. A programme also has a set of objectives which help in steering its benefits definition activities. In such situations the business case and all its related documentation acts to centralise all the activities which will ultimately lead to benefits.
The NMS project is not at all like this. The project spans multiple institutions and complex UK wide systems; it also seeks to identify national and local solutions. It is being conducted at a time of massive disruptive change within the monograph landscape, so defining measurable benefits is challenging. To devise benefits which will serve multiple stakeholders across a fragmented landscape, we have decided to take a design led approach and are working in a fairly agile way. Central to this approach are the stakeholders. Our approach has been to engage in very real ways with these groups, through events, blogs and Twitter to ensure a thorough examination of the issues relating to monograph management and delivery.
Firstly, we have had to define what the actual problem is with the Monograph. We attempted to define this during a really engaging workshop with a group of Librarians, Service Mangers and Academics. Secondly, now that we have understood the problems, we are starting to shape some tentative solutions. Thirdly we will need to produce a cogent set of recommendations. The idea is to have done the preparatory work for a strategy during phase one, which we will then fully develop in phase two. In effect this phase is all about capturing requirements and understanding the needs of our stakeholders. Understanding these two things is central to defining benefits.
Once the strategy is in place we hope to have a clear articulation of the envisaged benefits. We will have achieved this by building benefits thinking into the process from the start. By being ‘open’ we are engaging with a wide group of stakeholders. Having identified these groups of fellow travellers we are envisaging together what the ideal change will look like for them. We will then need to identify measures to ensure the benefits. We will agree these with our co-design partners and the wider community ensuring they are actually achievable, and can be evidenced and tracked.
Obviously the benefits won’t only accrue to those we are working directly with, academic librarians, but we hope this initiative will change the way the sector delivers benefits to its large stakeholder groups; students, researcher and the wider society.
The data we are gathering as part of the current phase will help us to draw a baseline which is a key part of measuring change and to establishing if a benefit has been achieved; so we are being ‘evidence based’ from the outset.
Being open also helps use to share our learning with our stakeholders throughout the project and to gain continuous feedback. This should, we hope, result in the benefits being owned by the community, hence the principle ‘community led’. By approaching this project with a co-design methodology, a design thinking approach, and with agile overtones we have benefits sitting right at the heart of things, something we hope will result in really impactful change for the sector and the recipients of its services.
Ultimately to realise benefits we will have to actually do something, and at the moment we are working with our stakeholders to sketch out some prioritised recommendations which we hope to pilot and prototype over the coming year. This work will inform our vision, the strategic aims and finally result in a roadmap for a new approach to the management of monographs.