Culture Club at the JISC CAN Conference

Helping to shift tradition - staff member Wendy discusses her presentation with The Culture Change Working Group at the JISC CAN conference.

Thinking as we do that an organisation’s culture is its beating heart, Steph, Cherry, Sarah and I from the OU Students Association wanted to ask students and staff attending the JISC CAN Conference for their thoughts about how we can engage the student community to help us shift the culture away from ‘this is the way we always do it’ to a progressive, outward-looking, kinder and inclusive space that more students want to be involved with.


We were so cheered to have a room full of interested people wanting to engage with us and talk about culture. A show of hands said that a majority of those present thought that their organisations’ culture could do with a refresh too.

“So, what do we mean by culture?” This was our starter for 10.

“Attitudes, they replied. “behaviours, habits, values, traditions, norms, assumptions, unwritten rules, etiquette, customs, ethics, just the way we roll.”

“And what would a healthy student association/union/guild culture look like?”  we posed.

“Respectful, open, kind, tolerant, inclusive, professional, trustworthy, accessible, diverse, considerate of well-being, accountable, forward-thinking.” There was much agreement in the room.

“And how do we rid our organisations of undesirable behaviours that hold us back?” We were on a roll now with the questions coming thick and fast.

“Call it out” they cried. “Challenge it. Knock it on the head. Have strong rules. Have clear boundaries. State expectations. Clearly state the consequences for a breach in conduct and spell out the what, how, when and why-not of stepping over the line. Promote good behaviour, own it, wear it, model it, recognise and reward it.” It seemed that between us we had all the answers.

So how do we develop team connection and encourage best/better practice? 

“Personal relationships, collaborative work, a strong sense of identity, valuing the strengths and weaknesses of colleagues, a strong code of conduct, a sense of pride, a collegiate approach, emotional intelligence, strong leadership, team-building opportunities,” were just some of the answers provided. 

“And how do we start the move towards a better functioning organisation?” This was to be our parting shot. Was the answer to this million-dollar question in the room?

“Show patience, kindness and compassion. Support people to change. Know the influencers who can lead the change. Respect differences, value diversity, value each other, allow time, winkle out the bits that don’t work, celebrate the bits that do, get buy-in from the core team, be the change, take time to reflect, make individuals accountable, understand it’s a continuous conversation.”  

And so we went our separate ways, but not before inviting the audience to contact us on any other matters of culture change that they wished to share. As for ourselves, we reported this insightful feedback to the rest of the OU Student Association Working Group.  This Group is currently charged with commissioning an external review of our culture, which we hope to have in place this Autumn, that will result in recommendations for change to develop our organisation into a more welcoming, engaging and supportive environment for everyone with a positive, forward-looking and professional image.

If you are interested to learn more or have other fish to fry, please contact the Working Group via me at

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Wendy Burrell

Wendy is a member of the Students Association staff team.


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