I have often found that getting everyone on board with solving a problem, is one of the greatest obstacles yet at the same time most critical factors of success, for improving space or timetabling practices. Accomplish this and you can have a much more informed, success focussed proposal as well as the significant extra benefits majority support will bring.
I have touched on the importance of communication within a previous article, however I feel that it deserves a more detailed look, considering that it can truly make the difference between failure and celebrated success. This article will be the first in series, looking specifically at communication within an education institution and how it can be used to influence your ideas and proposals and ensure they bring you and your institution celebrated success.
This first article looks at “framing a problem for your audience” and I define this, as your ability to explain what the problem is, how it affects your audience and why they should care. In every meeting your ability to successfully frame the problem to your given audience will make the difference between a successful, problem solving meeting and a downbeat, problem finding meeting.
I have broken this article down into three key questions that when answered successfully, will help to frame the problem and improve success for any given space and timetabling problem.
What evidence is there to back up this problem?
You must ensure you have evidence that you can refer to and are prepared to go into further detail if requested. This should be provided visually, i.e. in a graph or basic table and either be referred to within a slide when presenting the information or if not a hand-out. The former will ensure that the audience remains focussed on you, but a hand out will at least ensure the audience can visualise the problem you are discussing. This is the key – present the evidence in a visual way and the audience are more likely to understand and engage with the problem.
If you haven’t got evidence that you feel you could present – then you probably haven’t got a problem, that can be solved as of yet. Until you have evidence that backs up your problem, clearly and informatively, hold back from charging forwards, it will do more harm than good if you do.
It is critical that you know your evidence, study it front to back, back to front and be prepared for any questions in relation to your evidence that may be asked. Discussing the evidence with another person from within your team/department should help to unearth areas you may have missed and help to ensure you are as prepared as possible, if you have a trusted contact who fits the same profile as your target audience – even better.
Make sure there aren’t any areas within your evidence that can be seen as a weakness i.e. sample size, if there is make sure you can clearly provide an answer on why this isn’t a weakness, that will satisfy your audience. If you are asked about this potential weakness and cannot fully explain why it isn’t, this will quickly turn the audience against the problem so if you can’t, consider why this is – perhaps your evidence isn’t as strong as you require?
What is the problem?
The next step is to clearly define what the problem is, without getting overly technical, to the specific audience.
Don’t be tempted to try and impress by getting down into fine detail at this stage, or use technical space/timetabling terms, the aim here is for all of your audience to clearly understand what you are saying the problem is. If there are people in your audience, who are unlikely to know a great deal about timetabling/space management think to yourself, “how would I explain this problem to my family and friends” and you are on the right lines.
Your definition of the problem, should be focussed towards your individual audience – who are they? If it’s a specific department, then spend time describing what the problem is in relation to them rather than solely focussing at an institutional level. If there are students/academics/administration staff/senior management attending make sure you discuss the problem in a manner that they will understand and appreciate.
Why should they care?
This should be the part that really draws attention and gets your audience to fully engage with the problem you are raising. Define what effects this problem is causing in relation to the audience think to yourself “Why should they care about this problem?”
For example, if discussing a space/timetabling problem with an academic department’s administrative team it would be wise to discuss the effect this problem has to them, the academic staff and their students – not other departments. Alternatively if discussing the problem with students, then think how this problem effects them – for instance a low space utilisation won’t mean much to most students, but explain the effects of this and how improving it will benefit them and they are much more likely to want to engage with the problem and want to help you find a solution.
Using you evidence to create predictions of how solving this problem will benefit your audience is a really useful way to bring the problem together. A clear, “before and after” slide will help to wrap up the problem clearly framing the problem as discussed and showing what a solution will bring to the audience.
By considering each of these three questions and focussing your answers towards your specific audience, you will help to improve engagement with this and the next step – problem solving. A clearly described, audience focussed and evidence backed problem discussion, will go a long way to ensuring the audience understand the problem, why it’s a problem to them and the importance of solving it i.e. a problem solving audience.
This problem solving audience will now want to solve the problem and work with you to find the solution(s) rather than find reasons for not. This will make finding the solution quicker and easier, as well as a lot more effective as you will have an engaged audience that want to help you find the solution. I will be looking at this further in the next article of this series – How To Problem Solve With An Audience.
So what do you think? Have you found this useful helpful? Please let me know your thoughts and questions via the comments field at the bottom of the article and remember to sign up to the Education Space Consultancy newsletter to receive more free information and articles like this direct to your email account. Also if you do like this and other articles posted on this blog, another great way to show your support is sharing and/or like via LinkedIn or other social media as this really helps to spread the word.
All the best