Why did I remove documents?

On 21 March 2018, I received an email from the Head of UCL Human Resources. “I am emailing to request that you close the website https://uclculture.wordpress.com/ .” This was respectful and professional, perfectly colleagial. Apparently, it is “not UCL’s practice to publish organisational change consultation documents to other departments or external organisations/interest groups.”

I don’t think this is true (UCL TOPS is a counterexample, where consultation has involved the whole university). More important, it is a comment that hits at the heart of my petition campaign. Is this proposal about a minor internal re-organisation, or is it about a strategic change in scope and purpose?

  • Managers in the unit seem determined to keep it local and closed, seemingly minor.
  • I believe the museums and collections are a university-wide resource and they are held in trust for the community. I’m not alone, but I speak for myself. And to my mind, “re-structure,” “re-design,” “service review” all mean the same thing: re-thinking what we are doing and why. The rest is word play.

I disagree with they way management has framed who counts as a stakeholder in this case. This explains why engagement outside the unit has been so poor (they don’t think we deserve a say, it seems), and why they have been overwhelmed by the response (they didn’t think it involved us, it seems). The desire to keep it local gives managers (who designed the proposes in the first place) massive power over decision-making. They can decide the timing and the rules. They can decide who is listened to and what is done about it. They can approve it all and present it with a pretence of being “fair and open”.

Widening the frame changes the power relationships between managers, staff, and everybody else. For me, managers of this unit serve the university’s academic mission. This mission is diverse and complicated: teaching, research, impact, preserving collections, contributing to university-level ambitions, and much more. UCL academics need to do it all. We need to keep the frame wide here because UCL is an enormous, complex, exhilarating, and fantastic organisation. We need a lot of things from this unit. It’s not someone’s personal fiefdom who can command others to “keep their noses out”.

We must respect privacy

Before posting the restructure documents, I checked. A top manager in the unit told staff, “the proposal is public and can be circulated.” I know about data protection, and I checked the materials myself, too. However, the Director of UCL HR was right to be concerned there might still be a theoretical possibility of a privacy breach.

Whether I agree or not, privacy is something we must absolutely protect. Because I’m an interested party in making this decision, I simply cannot trust myself to be fair on my decision. I need an independent expert to check. So, while we resolve this internally, I’m breaking links to the substantive documents in the Round 1 consultation. We must respect privacy, and erring on the side of safety is the right thing to do.

Person wearing sandwich board circulating at the launch of UCL Culture’s “manifesto” in 2016 (source: department’s promotional material)

Do you still believe in the “power of open”?

It’s easy to talk about openness.

“We believe that it starts with ‘the power of open’; open to sharing and developing knowledge, open to discussion and debate and vitally, open in terms of access to that knowledge.” (Simon Cane, Director UCL Culture source)

“Our UCL Culture Manifesto embraces this concept through one of our three aims to Mobilise people. UCL Culture works with academics and students to enable them to mobilise people to engage” (Simon Cane, Director UCL Culture, 2017, 21 July 2017 source)

“We believe that good quality engagements between universities and publics should be the norm and that agency should sit as much with publics and communities as it sits with universities.” (Simon Cane, Director UCL Culture, 2017, 21 July 2017 source)

I simply don’t think this rhetoric aligns with the process used in this case, from the failure to circulate consultation documents to the failure to create forums for discussion. This has been presented as private, closed, internal, and “not in my job description” to comment upon. I couldn’t disagree more. Also, I think managers should use the process they preach when training our students and colleagues in public engagement.

I think it’s time to start over.

Engagement is a journey, says UCL Culture
Engagement is a journey, says UCL Culture, in the advice on public engagement. In contrast, the proposed re-structure was developed with no meaningful engagement with stakeholders in the museums.

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