Convene Customer Success

Doug Shaw, Bursar, St Peter's College, University of Oxford

Having a governance system has made committees more democratic. Convened meetings have engendered structured approach.

Reasons for considering a Board solution in education.

Oxford colleges have governance systems which rely greatly on various committees. The most senior committee is Governing Body and sub committees manage most activities within college life. As Bursar, I chair several committees, convene others, and attend yet more, so I felt that it was vital to have a consistent approach in all cases.

We had issues with collating agenda packs using a PDF writer. Even simple items like adding page numbers proved to be a complex task. The entire process was error prone: I had to write down the page numbers (sometimes on the back of an envelope) and then go back and edit them in. There was also the problem of late papers being submitted after the pack had been sent out, so the entire numbering process had to be redone from scratch.

In our continual drive to project a professional look and feel, you need to have the tools in place to support this. If I were facing these challenges, undoubtedly colleagues convening other meetings would be facing the same issues. They may have found workaround solutions or were simply suffering in silence! The difficulties were compounded by the fact that knowledge share was restricted, which made it harder for us to learn from each other in terms of best practice. Processes surrounding meeting preparation were arduous. Moreover, people were approaching committees with trepidation since they were concerned that their materials may not be of the appropriate quality nor correctly presented, when in fact they should have been able to focus on how they were going to perform in the meeting itself.

We had an external chair of one of our meetings who commented that our agendas (which I was writing in Word at the time) were below par because they failed to convey the information that was expected by committee members. The complaint was that the Chair was not sure what was expected of her, for example was it a case of reporting required information, was approval needed, was a decision expected etc. Having the drop-down boxes in Convene encouraged us to be more rigorous when it came to managing valuable information, including information that was necessary for decision-making. We did not have the resources or the ability to bring in corporate secretarial services.  Too many Friday evenings were taken up with meeting prep, which in turn encroached upon much coveted personal time! This was not sustainable from both professional and individual standpoints, and I was keen to introduce a tool that would resolve these issues and encourage efficiency at the same time.

Budget is always an issue within academia so I am keen to make sure that we continue to evolve which in many cases can only be done with technology. Without Convene, I would have had to hire an assistant to manage business process for me which would have been another cost. I have bought in software services in the past and they lasted not necessarily because they offered the appropriate functionality but because they could be purchased and deployed without fear of failure or the risk of us over-committing ourselves.

Convene has shaped the way of the role of the Bursar

It has made committees more democratic. Having the system in place when I convene my meetings has engendered a more structured approach in terms of how I engage with those who report to me who either have to prepare the papers for me to present or have to present information themselves when they attend the committee. Convene affords them a greater sense of the context surrounding the decision-making processes, and I’ve made sure that my key people are users within the system. As we approach the end of a week, they are already loading papers into Convene and working on the order in which they will appear in on the agenda. For instance, I have a Finance committee meeting coming up and it means that my Finance director will be spending on average two days before the meeting loading information into Convene so that when I go into the system independently, the information is already there, and many of my questions have already been answered.

This means that the responsibilities have already been spread out more evenly so that by the time I get to Friday night (when agenda and papers are circulated) everything is already in place.

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