2012 Research Topic


My first PhD topic was the relationship between academics and administrators - in the context of being neighbouring professions in universities.  I came to to this interest primarily because of my practice as a university manager where I could see that a whole lot of energy is wasted focusing on the relationship instead of on how to get work done more effectively, in ways that demonstrate understanding of how work gets done in academic environments. Universities have a management structure that won't serve them well for many years to come, but there is little effort being spent on how to re-design those structures for the future.

I've written a bit about the relationship and shifting how it is viewed has become a bit of an obsession over the years. In my PhD application, I wrote that:

"If I am being honest, I want part of my legacy to be that I contributed to a re-thinking of professional staff roles that sees them deeply integrated in the DNA of the university and how it is managed, instead of often being regarded as an 'alien species' here to do harm to a very special organisational form they don't understand."

Those words appeared on paper as I was writing my application, and they capture very clearly my intent. Whether they capture enough to drive a PhD research question remains to be seen!

Given that I now am committed to using foresight in what I do, my research question for this PhD had to include the future. So, the broad topic is The Future of University Management. After the work we did in Workshop 1, I've begun the process of honing it. This is where I am at:

I am interested in collaboratively designing future university management models that integrate academic and administrator beliefs about how work gets done in universities.

A ways to go yet but it highlights the key points for me:

  • collaborative design - I won't work in the future university, so the design of possible management structures has to emerge from the minds of the people who do work in universities,
  • future university management models - the current model is well past its use-by-date, and new options are needed to ensure that management reflects and supports the shape and needs of the emerging future university,
  • academics and administrators - well, they do the work in universities, so their views are at the nub of this research,
  • beliefs - I'm interested in what's in the minds and hearts of academics and administrators about how they believe work should be done in universities, not about how they do their work today, and
  • university - it was my professional home for 28 years, I care about it as an organisational type, and I want it to morph into future sustainable and agile forms that allow it to maintain its key knowledge role in society.

In an integral sense, this question looks like this so far:

Integral research question
Integral research question

And here's what the topic looks like it its first, raw iteration.

photo (3)
photo (3)

I'm pretty sure I'm nowhere near where I need to be yet, and I don't think I've articulated what the orange circle in the integral diagram is really all about, but it's starting to make some sense in my brain. I'm sure that will change!