Programme to teach ‘continuous improvement’ techniques opens for new applications

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Programme to teach ‘continuous improvement’ techniques opens for new applications


The Continuous Improvement (CI) Local Practitioner Development Programme is now open for applications, offering staff a chance to improve how they and their teams work and learn valuable new skills.  

CI is an approach to improving processes through repeated, small, positive changes. Oxford has committed in its Strategic Plan to embedding a CI culture across the University. 

Practitioners on the free, 20-week programme are taught CI tools and techniques through in-person training and eLearning and use them to carry out an improvement project of their choice in their own departments. 

As well as mutual support from the others in their cohort, they also receive one-to-one mentoring from a buddy in the team spearheading CI efforts at Oxford, the Focus team. This includes SSD’s CI lead, Douglas Thornton | Social Sciences Division (

This round of the programme begins in September and requires a commitment of half a day a week of dedicated time on the department’s project and on Focus-led training. The deadline to apply is 14 June.  

Photograph of Antonella Surdi

In the last round, two professional services staff from the Social Sciences Division took part, including Antonella Surdi, Institute Manager at InSIS, the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography. 

She talked to us about her experience on the programme: 

1. Why did you decide to take part in the programme? 

It felt like it was time to do some professional development that would offer new expertise, transferable skills and push me on a personal level; Focus would enable me to see the bigger picture in terms of department-wide processes and their effect on colleagues both in academic and support roles. What attracted me to the programme was that it provided a supported framework with a tried-and-tested methodology.   

2. What project did you work on? 

My project looked at the departmental setup of research projects – specifically the point at which we receive an award letter and the steps taken to move it through from the department to colleagues in central services and back to the department, ready for the PI to begin using the award. 

Before the project there wasn’t a clear pathway between award letter and PIs, administrators, department finance and Research Accounts/Research Services.  

We looked at our management processes across the department to ensure consistent and efficient procedures. We focussed on the actions needed to ensure robust setup, which ultimately makes for successful project management throughout the life cycle of a research grant. Our aim was to establish a clean transition from when a project leaves our pre-award facilitators and moves to post-award administration. The project also looked at agreeing principles and setting up clear guidelines for regular project finance monitoring and clarifying roles and responsibilities within the team. 

3. How did you find the 1:1 support offered by the Focus team? 

It’s such a great idea to have a buddy system, I was buddied by Doug Thornton, SSD CI Engagement Lead. It helped broaden critical thinking and avoid getting bogged down when analysing your own processes. It was very helpful to bounce ideas off someone impartial and who prompts you to consider things differently, reminds you of your ultimate goal and encourages you from start to finish. As you start unpacking your project it can feel overwhelming so it’s lovely to laugh your way through it too. Thanks Doug!!! 

4. What about your interactions with others on the programme? 

The in-person sessions are great, you get to thrash out some of the exercises which can seem abstract until they’re unpicked and actually done in real time. The taught part is important as it balances the independent work and helps develop a relationship with cohort colleagues. The cohort Teams feed helps with sharing problems and successes with the whole group and everyone offers guidance, support and encouragement, including the senior Focus team who are always present. Our group has arranged to meet informally soon which will be a nice way to get to know each other more and perhaps not talk CI, although I’m sure it will make an appearance! 

5. What would you say has improved in your work as a result? 

It’s early days yet, but we have a regular meeting where I can continue to feed CI initiatives through from the University down to the department; as a team we continue to work on our project through this forum. I think your CI antenna are more alert, especially when colleagues discuss issues or bumps in processes that make you think, OK I will jot that down and look into it a bit further to see if there is anything we can implement to help. 

6. What would you say to someone thinking of taking part? 

It’s definitely a worthwhile experience – a really positive professional and personal development experience. The timeframe is just right, it can get very busy at times, but it’s manageable. You meet new people, which is so important in the new working reality, and it puts professional services staff at the heart of change. 

Find out more about the Programme and how to apply here. If you have any questions, please contact SSD’s CI lead, Doug Thornton