Sunday, 29 June 2014

Advising the Advisers

Some while ago we helped the Student Counselling Service to review and improve their student registration and other administrative processes, with some success. As a result  the Student Advice Centre approached us to help them with their processes. On the face of it, the SAC has the same problems as the Counselling Service: multiple entry points; difficulties in scheduling appointments and balancing the demand from students with other work and priorities, a lack of clarity about the service offering and the extent and remit of the work.
It would be tempting, therefore, to assume that the solution for one could be applied to the other in a biscuit cutter fashion, but this would be a mistake.
Working with the Student Advice Centre last week, we soon realised that their history, position in the University (they are part of the Students’ Union), service offering and indeed processes are very different from the Counselling Service, and therefore approaches to change needed to be based on their unique situation.
So, while the Counselling Service team decided that the appropriate way to improve admissions process for students was to unify the various routes into counselling by introducing a short online registration and a half-hour triage session, SAC were very keen to keep a variety of contact mechanisms - email, telephone, ‘drop-in’ enquiries - to deal with the different student preferences and geographical realities. What SAC realised is that the method of contact should not be used as a way of prioritising work. As one team member said “an email is just a person really”. As a result of this ‘aper├žu’, the team decided to unify the process ‘behind the scenes’, so that prioritisation could be done based on need rather than contact type.
As well as providing advantages for the student, this approach made it obvious that time needed to be allocated for advisers to deal with emails in just the same way as it was for drop-ins and other appointments.
It’s also interesting that, while Counselling Service were aware that their drop-in service was a sticking plaster designed to address the problem of lack of time for appointments, none of the SAC team saw their drop-in sessions as part of  the problem before the improvement event. As a result of unpicking the current process, however, they came to realise that drop-ins did not guarantee timely service for the student, and that an appointment system might serve both advisers, who would have more control over their diaries, and students who would have greater flexibility about when they saw an adviser without having to wait for an indeterminate amount of time in a queue.
What does this tell us? For us it’s about making sure we understand what’s happening in the particular place of work, and not assuming that solutions for one place will work in another.

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