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The latest insights on narrative, storytelling and leadership in higher education.

Festival of Ideas

Sometimes we need a spark of creativity to help think about, and see, our work differently. To reignite ideas, find new solutions, or change our habits and connect differently with people. The challenge is how to find this inspiration; especially when we’re working remotely.

This April, we will be hosting a Festival of Ideas: a series of free online sessions for people seeking creative and imaginative ways to lead, and who want to meet and connect with others outside of their university.

From problem-solving in real-time, to engaging students, reaching hearts and minds and kindness at work, these short online sessions are a place where you can ask the questions that are on your mind, share your experiences and stories, and be guided through techniques you can use in your work.

The core principles of the Festival are equality, openness, feedback and confidentiality. A place to talk about and celebrate successes, and talk through failures in equal measure.

We will provide the themes, frameworks, provocations and techniques. We ask that you come with an open, curious and developmental mindset.

3 guest provocateurs joining the Festival

We’re delighted to announce three guest provocateurs taking part in the Festival of Ideas. Professor Susan Lea, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hull, Professor Charlotte Clarke, Executive Dean at Durham University and Professor Michael Harkin, Vice-Chancellor at University College Birmingham, will join us for a cup of coffee (In conversation with), provide a sticky leadership challenge (Hot-seating) and talk about the big ticket items on higher education’s agenda (What’s on the Strategy ’21?). Read the full story here.

The agenda and booking

Every sessions is free and is open to everyone working in higher education. To book one or more sessions, please use this short booking form via the ‘book here’ button.

Monday 19 April

In conversation with…?

One of the most surprising things about connecting remotely is how quickly you can get to know someone well. Our screens become portals into each other’s worlds, and we bond over the small things – like what we had for breakfast. To start the Festival week, first make a brew and then join us to meet a surprise guest, and let’s get the week started together.

Hosted by Dr Paul Gentle and Louise Clifton, with Professor Susan Lea, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hull joining us as our guest provocateur.

Monday 19 April, 10-11.30am via Zoom

Purposeful Leadership

*This session is fully booked* Please email Louise to join the waiting list.

Join us in this 45-minute micro session to dig deeper into your professional purpose. Explore how your identity and raison d’être shape what you do and how you do it, and how you can use this, practically, to build a values-led culture.

Hosted by Helen Teague and Jamie Jauncey.

Monday 19 April, 1-1.45pm via Zoom

Tuesday 20 April

Leading now: espresso conversations for burning leadership questions

Are you facing a burning leadership issue which you’d like to talk through and get a different perspective on? 

Dr Paul Gentle and Louise Clifton will be hosting an online drop-in coffee session, free to all, to talk through the leadership challenges facing you and others in the room, at the moment. Find fresh insight, breathing space and connect with others to find solutions over a cup of the good stuff. 

Tuesday 20 April, 10.30-11.30am via Zoom

Hot-seating: problem-solving techniques in real time

A problem shared is a problem halved. Join us to work through a sticky, real-time, challenge, and experience 5 layers of activities that will help create a solution to the problem at hand. Dr Paul Gentle and Louise Clifton will guide you through this problem-solving maze, demonstrating techniques that you can use with your team, in your context.

Hosted by Dr Paul Gentle and Louise Clifton, with Professor Charlotte Clarke, Executive Dean (Social Sciences and Health) at Durham University as our guest provocateur.

Tuesday 20 April, 1-2pm via Zoom

Wednesday 21 April

What’s on top of the Strategy agenda in ’21?

*This session is fully booked* Please email Louise to join the waiting list.

What are the things that are really important for universities, now and in the future?

Lift your gaze to the horizon in this session that focuses on the long-term view of what is shaping higher education. Climate change, social justice, political relations, new challengers and civic engagement: we’ll discuss what’s on your to-do list, and how we can turn plans into action.

Hosted by Dr Paul Gentle and Louise Clifton, with Professor Michael Harkin, Vice-Chancellor at University College Birmingham joining us as our guest provocateur.

Wednesday 21 April, 10-11.30am via Zoom

Engaging students online: a coffee chat

*This session is fully booked* Please email Louise to join the waiting list.

Students are a huge part of our HE ecosystem. Their passions, hopes and dreams are wrapped up in the experience they’ll have over the three or more years with us. As such an integral part of the community, how can we engage students more deeply to create solutions to the challenges our institutions face? What have we learned over the last year about engaging students online that we can build on to foster deeper connections and to put student engagement at the heart of what we do in our institutions, everyday?

Rhiannon-Breeze Harris, an education graduate from Anglia Ruskin University, joins Dr Graham Holden to spark new ideas and insight into how students and university leaders can connect and reshape relationships that endure in the future.

Wednesday 21 April, 1-1.45pm via Zoom

Thursday 22 April

Facilitation tips 101: find creativity in leading online

*This session is fully booked* Please email Louise to join the waiting list.

Join us for an introduction to a range of facilitation techniques to try with your teams online, focusing on developing a feedback-rich culture and leading productive meetings.

Dr Paul Gentle and Louise Clifton will take you through a range of experiences that will engage, inspire and help you connect more deeply with the people you work with and influence.

Thursday 22 April, 10-11.30am via Zoom

Reaching hearts and minds through communication

*This session is fully booked* Please email Louise to join the waiting list.

Our day-to-day is so often shaped by operational needs: getting things done. Yet the culture, tone and how we connect is what creates our experience of work, and ultimately our sense of belonging and happiness in this space.

Over 45 minutes, Phil McNaull and Louise Clifton will lead you through the neuroscience of stories, shared narratives and practical tips and techniques to help you reach the hearts and minds of the people you work with through how you communicate.

Thursday 22 April, 1-1.45pm via Zoom

Friday 23 April

Sharing practice and building networks through Action Learning

Join us to meet colleagues from across the sector and take part in Action Learning. You’ll work with a small group and an expert facilitator in a confidential online room, and be invited to share a challenge or opportunity you’re working on but would value fresh thinking and support to move to the next level. You’ll meet new colleagues from outside of your organisation, in a space where you can talk freely, build new relationships and gain different perspectives.

Hosted by Dr Paul Gentle and Louise Clifton.

Friday 23 April, 10-11.30am via Zoom

On kindness

*This session is fully booked* Please email Louise to join the waiting list.

“So what is this radical idea?
That most people, deep down, are pretty decent.”

Rutger Bregman, Humankind: A Hopeful History (published May 2020)

Wellbeing in the workplace is more important than ever. A negative office culture can lead to hurtful criticism, lack of collaboration, miscommunication and worse. Studies show that small acts of kindness can create a ripple that positively affects the whole workplace culture – leading to feeling valued and acknowledged at work and impacting on employees’ sense of wellbeing. What does it mean to lead with kindness? How can we harness the power of kindness in our everyday work?

Drawing on the inherent connectivity of creative writing, Stuart Delves and Dr Graham Holden will take you through a range of reflective experiences to inspire you to identify practical ways of making the workplace a kinder, more positive and productive place.

Friday 23 April, 1-1.45pm via Zoom

Some of the sessions are intentionally small so you can connect more deeply with others in the virtual room. If the session you want to book is full, please email Louise and we’ll add your name to the waiting list.

All sessions are hosted using Zoom. You don’t need an account with Zoom to access these sessions, and we’ll send you the link for your session when we receive your booking.

Please see our terms and conditions for your bookings here.

What to expect

The idea of the Festival came about from the needs and hopes we’ve seen grow whilst working alongside our alumni, clients and friends over the years. The sessions are based on the most popular questions and challenges we’ve seen people ask for our support in for their leadership at work.

In creating it, we’ve designed two different types of sessions; those that that focus on practical techniques for you to use to deliver quickfire learning, for your context. Your just in time and need solutions.

In other sessions, we will challenge you to be bold, innovative and visionary. It is a place of exploration, where you will think about sticky challenges and ask, ‘what if…’. We can’t promise answers here, but we can promise insight and support.

In every session, we will create the room and space for you to think, guiding you through discussions and activities that connect you to others in the virtual room and that builds trust in, early. We will provide a spark of creativity to encourage you to think differently, and every session will be founded on openness and confidentiality, agreed at the start. This is your space, to think, plan and imagine.

Terms and conditions

Every session in the Festival is free to attend, however once you have made a booking we take it in good faith that you will attend and participate. After booking, if you can no longer take part, please email Louise at least 48 hours before so that we can invite others to the session. Some of the sessions have limited capacity, if you’re attending one of these please let us know about your cancellation as early as possible and at least 48 hours beforehand.

We only hold the information you provide in your booking, and we won’t use this for marketing purposes. At the end of the Festival, we will invite you to be part of our community by joining the mailing list, and we’ll also contact you to ask for your feedback to the session(s) you attended. Our full Privacy Policy can be seen here.