By Fola Aina, Social Researcher
Relational leadership as part of Community Organising has so much to contribute to strengthen ways of working within Higher Education. The process of listening and promoting inclusive participation of people allows for an exchange of voices to work toward shared goals and objectives, and more influence. Such work can be hard to evaluate, but is not impossible, as Fola explains…
Relational process-based leadership has a shared exchange of influence
Just as we are all choice architects, putting choices in front of students and colleagues every time we send an email or organise a meeting, we all also have the potential to be leaders, the question is how we chose to lead.
The concept of leadership can be understood using four broad categories. They are: leadership by personality, by position, by results and by relational process. Considering individual differences and the fact that there is usually overlap in how individuals demonstrate aspects, there is no one size fits all idea of leadership.
In this blog, I seek to highlight the value of relational process-based leadership through its links to community organising, a method of bringing people together to take action over mutual concerns. Relational process-based leadership is at the heart of community organising[i]. At its foundation it has the shared exchange of influence between individuals, or groups who have shared personal interest and are working towards a common goal. In this form of leadership influence develops from collaboration within a network to address a common issue or challenge within a community, rather than leadership through a rigid hierarchy of power.
Relational process-based leadership is at the heart of King’s for Change
Relational leadership in HE is necessary because universities should be active participants in the societies within which they are based. It is the process of reaching and connecting with people (staff and students) around you to be able to listen to them about what they really care about, building trust so that staff and students organise together to make change; this is a continual process.
Within King’s, there is a dedicated stream of work focusing on King’s ‘Service’ to society. We have a King’s Global ‘Day of Service’ on March 25th, in which staff and students are encourage to volunteer their time to give back and meet the needs of King’s diverse communities. This is just one way that groups (staff and students) are empowered with the tools they need to take ownership of the process to speak up on the things in the world they wish to change[ii].
King’s For Change, a group set up by students to use community organising practices to elicit change, is a great example of a student self-empowerment project. It seeks to enable students that have a shared interest to address societal issues by training them to become community leaders based on the “snowflake model” , where students can collectively work towards a goal with each member of the team equally owning and contributing to the process[iii]. They are ultimately working towards change across King’s through the people-centred process of community organising essentially building strong relationships as a form of power and developing leaders who go on to develop other leaders.
Thinking beyond, to successfully achieve King’s 2029 Vision of making the world a better place, King’s is committed to working in partnership to serve, support and sustain the city in which we make our home, while playing an increasingly proactive role to lead and change the world for good[iv]. Whilst this plan sounds grandiose, it will be possible the more people are listened to, connect and able to share ideas to build stronger relationships to then plan and take action – the fundamentals of relational process-based leadership.
Evaluating relational process-based leadership is hard
Evaluating relational process-based leadership as an approach is still doable. Even though much of the process behind collaborative interactions can be hard to pin down exactly as the methods and impacts are not always tangible. Evaluation of these kinds of practices often involves being able to demonstrate the extent to which influence is being exchanged and shared amongst the different groups (HE professionals and students) by empirically testing knowledge gained and project reach, as well as measuring perceptions of impact. What Works is currently using this method to evaluate a Citizens UK and Coram project using community organising methods to share citizenship knowledge with parents of primary school children with citizenship needs, a project I have been able to take part in.
A key tool in this kind of evaluation is using a ToC (Theory of Change) to plan projects. A ToC is helpful to allow the right questions to be asked to measure the extent to which aims are met by an intervention or social action, and are reflected in the outcomes and impact. A ToC very quickly allows departments running projects and interventions to make their aims, needs and activities to be more concrete and mapped out[v].
Building relationships and inclusiveness with students remains an important process to create an enabling environment that allows for both students and HE practitioners to closely work with each other. Relational process-based leadership in HE further requires input from students to aid service evaluation and allow learning to be taken forward to improve the experiences of students at King’s.
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[i] Haslem Alexander and Reicher Stephen (2016). Rethinking the Psychology of Leadership: From Personal Identity to Social Identity. Daedalus, the Journal of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 145(3), pp 21-34.
[ii] MacArthur John (1997). Stakeholders Analysis in Project Planning: Origins, Applications and refinements of the Method. Project Appraisal, 12(4), pp.251-265.