Explaining UniForum

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The University will be taking part in the UniForum data collection again this year.

The exercise will look to understand what our professional services delivery looks like at the University, benchmarking against other similar institutions across the UK, Canada and Australia. Colleagues from around the University will be asked to get involved in coding the types of activities which staff undertake as part of their role.

Here we talk to Dr Catherine Martin, Vice-Principal (Interim) Corporate Services about how she has approached this exercise in the past, and the value she believes it has across the university.

Why do you think it’s useful to take part in the UniForum data collection programme? 

There are many tools out there which can help organisations like ours to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of their professional services activities. The UniForum programme is useful to us because it is sector-specific and provides us with relevant benchmark data on the volume, distribution and cost of our professional services activities. That is important because it allows us to see where we have actively made resourcing decisions but also where activity and cost have changed in ways which were not planned. As we recalibrate after the Covid pandemic, which has seen our sector not just cope but innovate, some of our ways of working may change and we may find that our professional services need to respond differently. It is important that we have an accurate picture to help us plan.

When our University joined the UniForum data collection exercise for the first time several years ago, there were fewer participating institutions; in the forthcoming collection exercise, we will have more benchmarking data from which to draw and more opportunity to consider lessons peer institutions have learned. Cubane have also introduced a new modelling tool in 2021, the Implementation Planning App (IPA), which will offer us more support to plan more easily, even in a context of continuing change.

Can you briefly explain how our UniForum data has been used within the Corporate Services Group, and what benefits this will have? 

Corporate Services Group houses a very diverse set of services, supporting many different stakeholder groups, inside and outside the University. Our management team has spent some valuable time with Cubane, looking in depth at some of our activities and how they compare to other, similar organisations. There is so much helpful context and interpretation that comes from discussing the data with service directors and looking at the data in a workshop setting helps us to see where we differ from peers and to understand why. We have learned that changes in activity often arise from decisions taken across the University, not just within any one department, and we are looking forward to considering the new data collaboratively both across our own directorates and with the University’s other budget areas.

How would you encourage others to engage with the Uniforum programme?

Responsible organisations understand their activities and the related costs: it is important to know where we are less efficient than we could be and to be aware of areas where we may be under-resourced. Exercises like UniForum do take a few hours of colleagues’ time in each collection cycle, but the data we get in return – as well as the rich interpretation and case study material Cubane can offer us – can support us in making evidence-based decisions about our resources at a time when that has rarely been more important.

You can find out more about the UniForum programme on their website.

If you have been asked to be a Primary Contact or Respondent in the programme, there is also a UniForum Launch and Guidance Event on Wednesday 28 July from 1pm-2pm. Please book via My Bookings.

The Programme Team would also love to discuss where this could be of value in your area – please contact them at uniforum@ed.ac.uk