Improving cross-campus social interoperability

The OCLC Research Library Partnership recently hosted a virtual event entitled Social Interoperability Workshop: Successfully Engaging Stakeholders Across Campus. This workshop was an outgrowth of the 2019 OCLC Research report Social Interoperability in Research Support: Cross-Campus Partnerships and the University Research Enterprise, which recognized the growing imperative for librarians to collaborate with new stakeholders across campus.

The concise two-hour virtual workshop distilled key findings from the report and followed a format that combined presentations with interactive discussions on three core topics:

  • Social interoperability, complex adaptive systems, and why cross-campus collaboration can be hard
  • Stakeholders and their interests
  • Strategies and tactics for building cross-institutional relationships

Prior to the workshop, registrants were invited to reflect upon a specific cross-campus effort where they would like to build relationships and to come prepared to listen, contribute, and participate. We also encouraged institutions to send cohorts of learners to this workshop; we’ve learned from our own experiences here with Art of Hosting facilitation training, that sending cohorts of learners offers significant synergies for future collaboration and follow-through. Participants were randomly assigned to small breakout groups, and each group was provided with a Google Doc for optional note taking.

Brian Lavoie and I (report co-authors, together with Annette Dortmund) served as event facilitators. Mercy Procaccini and Merrilee Proffitt made the magic happen by providing essential technical and functional support for both events.

We offered the workshop on two different dates and times–June 14 and June 21–to support participation by our member institutions across multiple time zones. In all, more than 70 individuals attended from 32 RLP institutions in 5 countries. Exactly half (16) of these institutions had two or more individuals attending. One institution took our cohort guidance to heart and sent nine participants!

Workshop highlights

Cross-campus collaboration is hard
Word cloud from the start of workshop, where participants shared their anxieties about cross-campus collaboration.

In the first breakout session, participants had the opportunity to commiserate on the challenge of working across campus and to realize everyone finds this difficult. Participants in the one breakout group, for instance, found the description of the institution as a “complex adaptive system” spot on. In the chat, we invited participants to share one word describing how they felt about collaboration, and we received comments like “complicated,” “siloed,” “haphazard,” and even “nightmare,” reflecting the anxiety some feel about this activity.

There are numerous stakeholders

Participants also discussed the challenges and opportunities of working with other stakeholders. Several mentioned the Graduate School as a synergistic partner, and one group cited how uniting more stakeholders around an effort can also help secure more financial support. One of the breakout groups described the importance of informal contacts, while another emphasized the important role of liaison librarians in communications and relationship building.

Building a social interoperability toolbox

In the final breakout session, participants discussed how important informal or “soft” methods of outreach were important. They also discussed how important it could be to find “connectors” on campus to help facilitate relationships and trust building. Through it all, it’s important to be adaptable, using different tactics with different audiences at different times.

Participants reported feeling encouraged

Word cloud from conclusion of workshop, describing increased optimism about collaboration opportunities.

At the conclusion of the workshops, we again polled participants to see if their attitudes toward cross-campus collaboration had changed, and they had! This time, participants used words like “encouraged,” “supported,” “confident,” and “ready to scheme” to describe their growing optimism about working with others across the institution.

Overall, the event evaluations were extremely positive, with participants praising the event facilitation, the applicability to their professional and skills development. Of particular note:

  • 100% strongly agreed or agreed that they found the workshop useful for their professional development
  • 83% of participants said the event exceeded or met expectations.
  • 86% strongly agreed or agreed that they see themselves applying the skills learned in this workshop

We are better together

Building cross-campus relationships in order to support library goals is always challenging, but RLP affiliates don’t have to do this alone. We will reconvene participants later this year to informally check in, share successes and barriers, and, most importantly, provide a supportive global community to enable each of us to catalyze change locally. Watch for more details in the coming weeks.

Also, if you missed the workshops in June, no worries. We’ll be offering this workshop again for our RLP partners.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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