As a STEM Ambassador and Schools Liaison Officer, he dedicates a huge amount of time and effort to working with children and young people, opening their eyes to what an engineering career can offer. However, his 2019 CVA win recognises a phenomenally useful piece of research that he conducted as a member of the IET’s Volunteer Support Working Party (VSWP).
“The VSWP comprises a broad collection of IET staff and volunteers specialising in different areas – it’s around a 50:50 split,” said Phil. “I have a lot of experience of working parties and can honestly say that the VSWP is the most impressive one I’ve ever seen. Through round-table conversations and meetings, where we alternate between the roles of thinker, interrogator and advisor, we always respect each other’s views and get the best out of everyone.”
The Volunteer Engagement Board was keen to optimise communications in terms of engagement and effectiveness (that they contain relevant content that supports volunteers in their activities, as well as ensuring a good understanding of the organisation as a whole).
“The Volunteer Engagement Board (VEB) asked the VSWP to explore how to enable more effective communication across the IET volunteer community. I put myself forward to carry out a pilot study that would qualitatively examine IET volunteers’ perceptions of communication. It played to my strengths because it’s related to what I do for a living.
“The starting point for positive, lasting change is always to understand how people feel. And the only way to get that information is empower people to resist and criticise. A big part of the research was about making sure that volunteers have a sense of ownership in change and communication.
“We’re not talking about top-down directive from the VEB here; this is a bottom-up oscillation and as volunteers we have to take an active role in it, because we’re not in the IET, we are the IET.”
Phil quickly sprang into action. He drew up a set of standardised, open-ended questions designed to shed light on how IET volunteers rate the importance of communication, so that strategic resources and effort can be appropriately allocated to channels and methods.
“Between late May and early June 2019, I interviewed eight IET volunteers individually, either in person or using online video conferencing software,” said Phil. “Each interview lasted between 40 minutes and an hour. I then analysed the qualitative information I’d gathered from this small cross-section of volunteer roles and used it to complete a number of mapping exercises.”
The interviews highlighted a diverse range of opinions, uses and perceptions of communications channels and methods. Phil identified a number of barriers to and enablers of effective communication – they fell within three main groups (a selection of participant comments is shown in brackets below):
- Technologies – there was a common perception that technologies for volunteer activity were rather dated and that developments in social networking made proprietary platforms such as IET Engineering Communities redundant (“people don’t communicate like this in 2019”)
- Division of labour – many participants expressed frustration that the configuration of Local Networks (LNs) and Technical Professional Networks (TPNs) didn’t reflect communications in the modern world of work (“spray and pray comms”)
- Rules – most felt that communication innovations such as the introduction of Office 365 would be of net benefit to the volunteer community, and that resistance to change should not be permitted (“I’d get sacked if I was this non-compliant at work”).
Having mapped the communications and analysed the findings of his qualitative research, Phil made the following five broad recommendations:
- Set up a working group of volunteers and staff, coordinated by the Volunteer Support Unit, to compile a ‘bottom-up’ eight-step IET volunteer communications strategy, then gain the sanction of strategists
- Extend the qualitative mapping exercises to include representative samples of more volunteer and staff groups
- Publish and celebrate case studies of good communication practice between and within staff and volunteer groups
- Appoint a new Communications Champion volunteer role in LNs and TPNs, to undertake communications ‘health checks’ and to introduce new channels and methods
- Explicate in policies the competences of communication as a process of volunteer engagement; communication in business; and communication as an engineering discipline.
In late 2019 Zoe Johnston, IET Internal and Stakeholder Communications Manager nominated Phil for an IET award. “I fully appreciate the time and effort that Phil has put into compiling his report and supporting this initiative,” she said.
“He worked on the pilot study in his own time, free of charge and in addition to his many other volunteering roles. He provided the VSWP with a great foundation from which to expand the research and take forward the recommendations outlined in his report.”
Delighted to have won the IET CVA for Excellence, Phil said: “Like many people, I’m not too good at celebrating success, but it did make me smile and reflect on what I had done to deserve the award. It was very gratifying to be nominated by my peers – the members of the VSWP really are a fantastic bunch.”
Do you know an IET volunteer who harnesses our core values?
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