I want UoB to be...

Open. We should know what is being discussed and planned.

All too often important plans and decisions are made behind closed doors by small committees of people that nobody has ever heard of. They discuss things in private, and keep information about future plans closed and not accesible to the majority of students.

I believe that staff discussion and student feedback about...

  • Changes to courses
  • Best practise teaching methods
  • Lecture Capture
  • Structure of the academic year
  • etc

... should be happening in public. Published online in an easy to read format, and in a place which is easy to find.

Collaborative. We should be creating change in partnership with staff.

Staff put a lot of effort into canvasing student opinion. They they send us countless feedback surveys, they hold focus groups, and they ask course reps for feedback. But this approach is both inefficient and unfair to students because students are not present when plans and final decisions are made.

I believe that all important decision making and planning groups should be...

  • Open to all students.
  • Open to new members at all times.
  • Discoverable via a central list, with information on where and when they meet (as well as summaries or recent discussions as above).

In addition to this, when many people are interested in an issue, public discussion (not private, and not merely consultation) should take place online.

Ambitious. We should be aiming for awesome, not merely acceptable.

I believe that the univeristy should be ambitious in it's aims. And actively put energy into realising those ambitions. For example, I think we should be aiming to:

  • Significantly improve course teaching and materials. Every year.
  • Look to make student representation not just better, or even good. But class leading, better than anywhere else.
  • Innovate new forms of education. Undergraduate education clearly can't survive in it's current form at it's current price point. So we should be pushing boundaries and merging Bristol academic credibility with modern learning platforms.

The way I see these things being achieved, is by making it much easier for people to try out new ways of doing things. And by promoting a culture where the default answer to a new idea is "yes, let's try it". Not "no, it's fine as it is".


Vote Now!

To vote (hopefully for me), go to http://www.ubu.org.uk/elections/ and click 'Log in to vote'. Once you are logged in, click the 'vote now' button which is in the green box titled 'Senate Rep Elections'

Or ask questions...

I'm more than happy to answer any questions you may have. So please ask away:

Email: nico@nicoburns.com

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I also want your feedback! Let me know what you think of my ideas, or if you have any suggestions.

Inspiration: Mozilla's participatory organisational structure.

From Mitchell Baker, ex-head of Mozilla, who are masters at organising participatory communities (from this podcast starting at 24 minutes):

"Often I hear about businesses who say 'I want to people to contribute, and I'm very glad that people are willing to contribute, but I still want to make all the decisions' And that's not a good path, because you won't get very far."

This is exactly my experience of UoB. They want student contributions, but only on their terms, only if they retain absolute control. And as Mitchell says, that doesn't work.


Interestingly, she goes on to suggest an alternative:

"You need to make a space where people contributing get something back, have something invested, and have some authority or ownership. Some ability to actually make a difference."

Which is exactly what Mozilla does. At Mozilla, literally anyone can become an authority in some area, providing they can demonstrate that they are capable of doing the job, and are willing to put in the time and effort required. These people are not necessarily employees:

"There are a bunch of people who have authority over firefox who aren't employed by anyone, and those people make all the day to day decisions about their chunk of code. That includes what code goes in, whether it's good enough, whether it solves the problem you want to solve, whether it's the right time. All of that stuff goes to the expert, and he or she makes the call... Anyone whos got the expertise and the interest can, and is encouraged to become the authority. Meaning you've got real authority in that area of code."

Replace "chunk of code", with something more generic like "area of responsibility" (and indeed Mozilla do apply these principles to non-code governance), and this is directly applicable to the University.


They even have mechanisms by which to recruit new community leaders:

"[on the Mozilla website] You can find a webpage with the dial in number, that says every tuesday at 6pm there's a discussion about 'set of features A'. And if you care about 'set of features A', you can call up and join in."

These people aren't trusted straight away, but they are allowed to participate. And by doing so, they are given the oppotunity to both gain the experience necessary to contribute further, and to demonstrate their worth.


Finally, everything is done in public, so it is easy to keep people accountable, and obvious when someone is no longer suitable for their job:

"If they get way off track, and we start to hear a lot of noise and complaints, or the code starts to be bad quality, then we'll come back to it and reconsider whether that's the right person. [and it's possible to check, because everything is done in public]"

More to come...

If I have time, I'll update this page with more interesting links and observations. 'Like' the facebook page for updates!