Digital Gardening

How do you explain digital leadership and culture to people? Especially people who aren’t experts in digital technology or who lack digital confidence? Since joining Jisc’s Advice Team, I’ve regularly found myself coming back to one metaphor when explaining:

  • the work we do
  • the role of digital leadership
  • the nature of digital culture

Digital gardening.

Hands in the soil.I’m not a great gardener. An unfortunate number of plants I try to grow end up dead or if they’re seeds, never really live in the first place.  There can be a number of reasons for this.  Maybe the ground is too hard for me to want to dig far enough. I might plant something in a part of the garden where it gets too much sun or not enough. Perhaps something else in the garden I’m not aware of is smothering it out. 

There are five themes covered in Jisc’s Advice Team:

  • Building Digital Capabilities
  • Engagement
  • Infrastructure
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Digital Leadership and Culture

Each of them present possible reasons why things aren’t growing as expected and how we might respond.

Growing the Digital Garden

I think of digital capabilities as the plants that we are trying to grow throughout our organisation’s digital garden, its culture.  Sometimes we need to consider whether we’re sowing the right seeds in the first place to grow the capabilities we want in our staff.  But other times we might be puzzled when digital capabilities flourish in one part of the organisation but not another. Maybe there are other things we should consider.

Perhaps we’re lacking the right infrastructure? We need to invest in the right equipment to ensure that people’s experience of digital tools is a positive and productive one.  If our colleagues’ experience of using digital tools is unreliable then they are unlikely to take root. Or perhaps we’re hoping that simply owning all the right equipment will be enough, but we haven’t invested the time and effort to water the seeds with the training people need to use it confidently.

Gardening gloves and sequiturs.

At other times, digital capabilities seem to rapidly grow into something ungainly. That might be because we’ve not prepared the ground with the right fertiliser from the very beginning.  We discover enthusiastic engagement of people using technology but its inaccessible, non-compliant, or both! We find ourselves needing to unpick unhelpful learning and sometimes it feels like we’re having to start all over again.

If all goes well, then the hard work from us and others blossoms into digitally supported and enhanced teaching, learning, and research but at other times we’ll be dismayed that for whatever reason things aren’t blooming as we expected and consider what other steps we need to take.  Maybe as leaders we’re not providing our people with sufficient resources for things to flourish or perhaps they are distracted by other things which we need to help them prune or cut back.

Nurturing a Culture for Digital Life

I’m increasingly convinced that the relationship between leadership and culture is the active intervention that people take to shape and change the culture.  Digital leaders skillfully intervene in their organisations to tend, nurture and cultivate a digital culture that helps them succeed.  They nurture a culture of digital life instead of digital death.

Whatever level of our organisations we find ourselves we will need to attend to the digital capabilities of our colleagues, break up the hard ground and prepare and nourish the soil so that their practice is accessible and compliant, provide effective equipment for people to use and the time, resources, and training to use it so that the learning teaching, and research of our students and staff flourishes.

Watering can pouring water on to plants.

I might be stretching the image. What do you think? How else might it help you to explain digital leadership and culture? 

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