The Social “Stuff”

I’ve spent a lot of my career supporting the implementation or adoption of new technologies, whether it’s a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, an open-source ETD workflow, a RIM system, or the global adoption of ORCID identifiers. Throughout all of these efforts, I heard multiple versions of the same refrain:

“The technical part is easy compared to all the social ‘stuff’.”

The social “stuff.”

It’s all the non-technical activities that ensure user adoption and project success. In other words, things like building trusted relationships, securing buy-in, and managing resistance.

This is particularly true for the new generation of research support services like data management, RIM systems, and research analytics. The provision and consumption of these services are distributed across many stakeholder units on campus, including research administration, campus, IT, academic affairs. . . and, of course, the library.

Photo by Anna Samoylova on Unsplash

Dealing with the social “stuff” is HARD!

But you already knew this. Universities are complex adaptive systems characterized by decentralized decision-making authority, self-organization, and a lot of people acting independently without consultation with others.[1] I’ve even heard this memorably described as “herding flaming cats.”

Addressing the social “stuff” requires the cultivation of a specific type of soft skill: the ability to create and maintain working relationships between individuals and organizational units that promote collaboration, communication, and mutual understanding. We call this skill “social interoperability,” and it was the focus of a recent OCLC Research Report, Social Interoperability in Research Support: Cross-Campus Partnerships and the University Research Enterprise.

How can we increase the odds that we will be successful in this environment?

I believe there are specific actions we can take to develop our own social interoperability skills. This requires an understanding of. . .

  • The campus environment and its cultural barriers
  • The stakeholders and their interests
  • Specific strategies and tactics that individuals can leverage for greater impact

Upcoming RLP social interoperability workshop

I invite our OCLC Research Library Partnership affiliates to join us in June for a concise 2-hour interactive workshop, where together we will explore these challenges and then individually identify specific strategies and tactics to apply locally. We will be offering the workshop at two different times to accommodate global participation. Note that this offering is exclusively for affiliates of RLP partner institutions.

I will be facilitating this workshop along with my report co-author Brian Lavoie. We have offered previous iterations of this workshop—

Who should attend?
  • We strongly encourage institutions to send cohorts of learners to this workshop, as it offers significant synergies for learning and implementing the social interoperability tactics.
  • We also think it will be especially useful to early- and mid-career managers and practitioners.
  • And, this event should be highly beneficial to practitioners working in an emerging area of research support at their institution. You may feel isolated, and this event can connect you with others in the same boat.
  • Finally, we encourage RLP institutions to send non-library professionals as well, as part of the cohort, as a way to practice strengthening cross-campus relationships.

Following the LIBER webinar series, participants reported feeling optimistic about developing cross-campus relationships to advance research support activities at their institutions. I’m optimistic that the attendees of this next workshop offering will leave feeling the same.

Come join us.  

[1] Rouse, William B. 2016. Universities as Complex Enterprises: How Academia Works, Why It Works These Ways, and Where the University Enterprise Is Headed. New York: Routledge.

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