Continuous improvement up for a game of Nordic collaboration


When we started to learn about lean and continuous improvement at UiT the Arctic University of Norway, we quickly realized we needed a network, a kinship, to support us. We had little knowledge of which universities we could turn to, to hear those encouraging stories of thrilling successes or the chaotic tales of thundering failures (both equally important). Our perception was one of a growing number of universities in the UK that were heading down the winding road of continuous improvement.

Our foot in the door was a direct request to Christine Stewart at Cardiff University back in 2013. On the back of our visit to Cardiff,Lean HE logo we were invited to participate at the 2014 conference of the newly formed Lean in Higher Education hub in the UK (Now known as Lean HE). Literally as we flew to Waterloo (Canada) the following year, to build further on budding friendships, we formulated a desire for a similar Nordic network – not to mention a bold dream to hold a conference on continuous improvement ourselves. We even promised ourselves to use such a hypothetical opportunity to launch a Nordic initiative.


Fast forward 5 years to April 2020. Last week, we held our first meeting with Nordic colleagues. On the agenda: Exploration of a Lean in Higher Education Nordics network. Ironically, the lockdown due to the Corona crisis made it easier to go ahead with a fully virtual meeting – allowing 12 participants from 6 Nordic universities to meet and explore the interest of such a network. It was a pleasure to experience that the first meeting had a vibrant feel to it. As for the conclusion there was no doubt about the commitment between the participants, but rather a crispy clear desire to establish a Nordic branch of Lean HE Europe.

Hopefully, five years from today, we can look back at this meeting as an important steppingstone to acknowledge years of fruitful Nordic collaboration within continuous improvement and innovation.


Nordic countriesHaving observed the growth of the Lean HE network globally, and the value of “local” branches such as the Southern, the North and Midlands in the UK, Lean HE Poland and Lean HE Netherlands and Belgium, we are certain that a Nordic branch will prove valuable as well. The Nordic countries have strong ties and shared values at their core. Lean HE Nordics will give us a platform to collaborate, explore and innovate on our journey of continuous improvement.

-Svein Are Tjeldnes

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Hyperjump into digital workshops

Digital workshopThe present pandemic situation has impact on every aspect of our lives, including the way we go about our daily business at work. At universities around the world there is a huge push towards delivering lectures and teaching through digital platforms. At UiT the Arctic University of Norway (UiT), this is certainly the case as all campuses are now closed for students.

Closing the campuses, with most people working from home, also disrupts normal routines and procedures within the professional services. As a member of the continuous improvement team at UiT, I know we have been talking about the need to learn how to run digital workshops (and do online facilitation) for many years. At least since we became a multicampus university, with driving distances up to 800 km. Somehow we haven’t got to it, until now. Then again, now, we are doing hyperjumps into digital workshops. Here’s how our first ones went down.

Tech stuff

Luckily, we have been using digital platforms for collaboration for some time now, which means that part of the sudden digital transition has been well paved already. As it is easy to get lost in the jungle of software for digital collaboration, and a short timeframe, we chose to use what we already had in our UiT portfolio: Microsoft Teams. To accommodate interactive participation, we used Microsoft Visio and Padlet.

MS Teams allows us to set up virtual plenary and breakout rooms, with easy switches between the different rooms. This also allows facilitators to move between the different rooms/sessions without having to be “invited” or “let in”.

Dynamics of the workshops

One of our fears of digital workshops have been that we couldn’t create and support the necessary dynamics or “good vibes” to make the interaction flow effortlessly. The question is: How can we enable participants to interact, discuss, challenge and create, when not meeting face to face.

For our first digital workshops (which we had really short time to prepare) we used MS Visio.

Visio let us display material for the participants, but allowing only facilitators to move, change, add etc anything. It turned out to be ok, and we were able to engage everyone for the duration of the breakout sessions (30 minutes). However, it would be hard to keep it going for longer time, standing the risk of pacifying participants.

padletFor our next workshops we used Padlet. Padlet lets each participant interact with the actual material, depending on your setup. This gave by far a better dynamic to the workshop and helped foster good discussions. It also enabled us to let the participants familiarize themselves with the material, and to work on their own for parts of the workshop.

Our initial learning points

  • Use the same language for digital and f2f workshops. Talking about plenary rooms and breakout rooms helps underpin the feel of a workshop.
  • Lower your ambition for each session, at least at first. You’ll need longer time to explain the tech stuff, how they’re going to interact and what the goals are. Your first sessions probably shouldn’t exceed two hours. Remember to allow for breaks, just as you would in a f2f workshop. It is harder to keep track of/read every participant when using digital platforms.
  • Make sure you master the digital tools you are using. Set up some time to practice and prototype the session. Tools for real interaction is highly recommended.
  • Consider creating a facilitator’s communication channel outside the workshop environment. In f2f workshops, facilitators can easily discuss privately. This is more difficult with digital workshops. We have set up a WhatsApp group to solve this for now.
  • Digital workshops work well. No need to sweat over them. Their just different from what you’re used to.

A challenge for ourselves and the rest of you

Are we just emulating f2f workshops, or can we challenge ourselves to take it further to really exploit the power and unique features of digital workshops?

-Svein Are Tjeldnes

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