Challenge Groups are groups of three or four participants from different higher education institutions working together on a common area of leadership challenge that has high current relevance and significance. They are used in the Future Professional Directors (FPD) programme, which is designed to include, among a variety of innovative elements, an entirely self-directed group activity.
Step one involves each Challenge Group identifying a question pertinent to all group members that could become the basis for an active enquiry process. The question should be challenging but achievable and with a reasonably specific focus. The Challenge Groups then work independently alongside the eight months of the programme to explore the question from multiple perspectives, using their own institutional contexts as a resource and looking more widely at other sectors. While there is no formal assessment mechanism, the use of feedback is built in. The feedback comes from tutors on the original question and proposal (including a tailored stimulus webinar for each group), from peers through a mid-point review, and then from peers and tutors through online comments on the finished work.
Doug Parkin, FPD Programme Director, observes that
“The challenge groups are a powerhouse for collaborative learning around questions that really matter to the participants and are also an opportunity to experience shared leadership across both professional and institutional boundaries.”
As part of their application to join the FPD programme, all participants are asked to identify three leadership challenges: a people challenge, a change challenge and a stakeholder challenge. The information provided forms the basis for deciding the Challenge Groups, clustering participants around common themes or areas of interest. It is for the groups to then work together to identify a single question which will be the focus for their shared, collaborative enquiry.
Martin Hookham, Head of International Office University of Sussex and former FPD participant reflected on the groups, saying,
“The Future Professional Directors programme was an exceptional experience, with well-constructed lectures and relevant content looking at key topics in higher education. The opportunity to meet with colleagues from across the sector in challenge groups was a highlight of the programme – taking a live challenge to produce practical solutions. The toolkit that my challenge group produced has been a stimulus for management dialogue and further staff training that has been invaluable to my own professional development.”
Future Professional Directors has been designed in partnership with nine sector bodies to create a unique programme for aspiring leaders of professional services from all areas of the university/institution.
Application deadline for the next Future Professional Directors cohort is Wednesday 15 May 2019.