What is Institutional Digital Capability?

If you are reading this in search of a definitive answer, I am sorry, you will not find one here. This post is not based on months of arduous, thorough, rigorous research, it is based solely on my own experience and conversations I have had at a Jisc Digital Capability Service Modelling workshop.

This post, and its content, does not speak for Jisc. They have not sanctioned this post nor asked me to write it. They are working on their definition and supporting materials. If you want to know more speak to James Clay. I am just writing down my own poorly formed thoughts.


An institution should have the basic infrastructure necessary to be ‘digitally capable’. Hope that helps. Oh, sorry, were you wanting more information? I don’t know much about the infrastructure necessary to support an educational establishment but I’ll give it a whirl.

So basically people need computers right? Internet connection, WiFi, an efficient network, storage, communication tools, software etc. I don’t think listing  names of technologies will help here given they constantly change and by next week this blog would be outdated.

Access and Availability

Access to and availability of, for staff and students,  technology is vital. It’s all well and good encouraging staff and students to use technology but if they can’t access it you’ve failed already. Not only should institutions make sure they have the ‘basics’ but they should be keeping their eyes firmly on the horizon watching out for emerging technologies.

Strategy, policies and expectations

Strategy is very important, it  sets the ‘direction’ and ‘tone’ of a University. It tells the outside world what a University is about. Although I admit that often strategies are more words than action. It also tells prospective staff and students what will be expected of them and what they can expect. An explicit reference in strategy shows that the institution sees value and benefits of engaging in the digital.

Whilst I’m not keen on policies, as dictating what people do is not always the best approach, a solid set of basic policies help to set expectations. Policies around the use of the VLE, electronic management of assessment etc. are useful in that they show what the institution expects of staff. They are also useful to start conversations. Talking about the ‘minimum’ will often lead in to conversations about the more advanced.

I think setting expectations is key. Especially in staff. I think that job descriptions should specifically refer to the digital. It should be clear from the outset that the institution expects staff to engage in the digital and develop. This should be followed up in the interview with questions raised about how they can demonstrate their engagement. Appraisals should similarly focus on their digital practice and engagement.

I will caveat all this with the following, all of these things should be developmental not used as a stick to beat staff with.

Responsibility and Duty

The responsibility is everyone’s. The institution has a responsibility to make sure everything is in place that is needed. Infrastructure, CPD and support etc. It is my opinion that the institution has a duty to ensure their staff are developed whilst they are employed. If an institution can say “when you work here, you are developed and supported, and will leave a better xyz” I think that is very powerful. I also think that’s their duty as it is with students.

Staff have a responsibility to engage and develop their skills. Staff cannot rely entirely on the institution to do everything for them. There must be give and take. They have to engage. That is what they need to do to deliver to todays students.

Values, narratives and culture

What does the University want to say about itself? What attitudes does it want to engender in its staff and student body? Decide these things early and make sure your strategies, expectations and actions are all aligned to it. The culture will change as a result.


This is absolutely key. The institution needs to recognise that a significant investment, not only monetarily is necessary but also in time. Transforming people is not quick or cheap.  Building a capable infrastructure is not cheap either.

In my opinion, time is more important than money. The institution needs to be mindful that developing people takes time. Not only does it take time, they need time. The space is most important. Space in the curriculum to explore and also space in their schedules. Developing resources and learning new skills is time-consuming. Even more so if you want it done well.

I have always liked the idea of a ‘digital day’. Where staff are given a day to explore and develop their resources for the next year. I know getting a whole day timetabled would not always be easy but it’s a start surely?

It’s Personal and Professional

A digitally capable institution recognises that it’s not all about professional skills. That it’s not just about preparing staff and students for work. It’s also about their personal development and, in my opinion, that is more important than the professional skills. This is about caring for your staff. Again, what does the institution want to say about itself? Surely it should show that is cares about its staff and student body.

It’s not about technology

A lot of the things I have mentioned here have nothing to do with technology. They are about transforming people. You can put in as much technology as you like but if you don’t change people, it’s all for nought.

Change in institutions is hard because people are hard to change. At its core, digital capabilities are about people, their skills and confidence. People will make the difference. Support them.

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