Education estates: from engaging students to senior stakeholders
Embarking on the journey of a new campus development is an exciting milestone for any education institution. Whether you’ve secured capital funding to develop a new standalone campus, or are investing in your existing buildings for the future of your organisation and students, it’s a time of great opportunity to promote your enhanced offer.
From Social’s experience of navigating this type of path we’ve found that securing stakeholder ‘buy-in’ and taking them along for the journey is integral to the success of the project. This was a crucial part of the programme when we helped Luminate Education Group launch their brand-new Quarry Hill Campus. We all want to get to that first day when students see their new teaching space for the first time, but the communications journey starts much, much earlier.
Whether it’s demonstrating valuable use of public money, showing local businesses how your training offer will help to equip their workforce of the future, or raising awareness of what the new facilities will have to offer to prospective students, the route from concept to completion requires well-planned communications.
With this in mind, we’ve shared some key lessons we’ve learned from working with education providers, when it comes to communicating and engaging around your exciting project.
Have a plan
It might sound obvious, but it’s really important to take the time to plan before diving into the delivery. Running a complex institution in the education space can be a challenge, but clear communications planning and stakeholder mapping – aligned with your organisation’s overall strategy – is key. What will be the ‘stand-out’ points of the development over the next 6 months? It’s likely that this will differ from the perspective of investors, local politicians and students. Put in place as many of the known milestones as possible, be clear on who is leading which piece of activity and work towards clear deadlines.
In order for your project to succeed, you’ll need to build a consensus; students, staff, parents, your local business community, interest groups, local politicians and partners will all need to be brought along on the journey. Are there any other influential groups you’ll need to work with early in the process? How will the course of engagement develop as the project progresses? Start early and sustain regular ‘touch-points’ of contact throughout.
Capital projects in particular involve many different organisations and numerous moving parts. It’s likely that you’ll already be dealing with a variety of stakeholders – all of whom want their involvement recognised and to feel engaged. There may well be set requirements to engage certain individuals and groups with your activity; map them out from the start, and ensure they know you care that they have a real stake in your proposals.
Give consideration to the factors that make your project shine and how you’ll go about using these to make it a success. What does it mean for the wider area – will your project help upskill the future of the city’s workforce, or provide a welcome economic boost? What impact will it have on your community – will the development help bring a more diverse demographic into the local area, or perhaps the new arts department will bring a vibrant new cultural offer to the surrounding community? Or perhaps there are historical points of interest to be drawn upon – do the proposals or ethos for the new facility give a nod to the history of the site, or the community to which it belongs? The project will mean different things to different people, so develop a number of ideas that will capture the hearts and minds of a wide range of stakeholders.
Measure your success
Take the time to think about what ‘good’ looks like. Is it about being ‘front of the queue’ when new funding becomes available, generating an uptake in student recruitment, or perhaps a reputational transformation for your organisation? It’s crucial to set in place clear metrics and KPIs to ensure you know what you’re aiming for – and that you’ve been able to deliver on it. It may be beneficial to segment objectives by stakeholder; how will you know that engagement with each distinct group has been successful?
At Social, we have experience supporting FE institutions to successfully deliver major capital projects, working alongside organisations to deliver stakeholder relations, consultation support, event planning and PR activity. We have gained cut-through in local, national and trade media, delivering hard-hitting messages that support the cause. To find out more about what we do, or to discuss your communications needs, contact Julian Pearce, Associate Director and Head of Media: firstname.lastname@example.org