I’m the Communications Advisor for the Digital Team at the University of Exeter. Our Digital Strategy sets out that we want to become ‘an authority on digital capability, focusing on speed to competency and ready for work’, and a part of achieving this is by sharing what the University is doing to deliver the Digital Strategy, increasing external engagement with our story, and inspiring others to learn from us and our journey while also building connections and learning from them along the way.

Read this blog post to hear about my experience of speaking at my first international event, Digital Universities US!

A THE Global Network Partner

The University of Exeter is a Times Higher Education (THE) Global Network Partner for 2023/24. This network gives us the opportunity to share our work internationally at THE events, and we hosted the Digital Universities UK (DUUK) event on our Streatham campus. This event brought 645 delegates from across HE to our lovely campus to experience the University of Exeter – you can learn more about this event in this blog post. This partnership has so far led to many amazing opportunities, showcasing our Digital Strategy to over 250 people from the HE sector, making connections with institutions globally, publishing our work, featuring on podcasts and collaborating with institutions to share our learnings and ways of working.

Speaking at Digital Universities US

Digital Universities US was held at Washington University in St Louis in May 2024, hosting a packed agenda examining how institutions can break down silos within their own campuses, collaborate with industry and maximise resources to foster a human-centred, digital-first future.

Helen Cocks, Head of Digital Strategy and Engagement, and I were invited to speak at the event about how we embed users into our team to help us to deliver our digital strategy. Our session, titled “How to be truly user-led”, highlighted the problems our digital strategy sets out to solve and how we are solving these problems with a user-led approach.

Sharing our communications principles, we focused on our ‘student storyteller’ principle. Over the past two years, we have had Exeter students embedded into our team to help us to bring to life the story of everything we are doing in Digital to improve the student experience. Our student communications and engagement assistants help spread the word of our work amongst other students, being empowered to share the work we are doing in whatever way they wish to. We don’t tell them what to say, but we share what we are doing with them and ask that they share their honest opinions with their peers. This post was written by Rebecca Bates, one of our previous Student Assistants. And this post was written by our current assistant, Deborah, who I work closely with to ensure we are embedding a student voice in our communications and engagement activity – as we understand that students would rather hear from their peers!

We also shared how we are user-led in other areas outside of communications – such as with the delivery of our Digital Hub service and the development of the MyExeter app where we provide opportunities for students in take part in user research and user testing.

My takeaways

Being able to share my work and achievements over the past couple of years on a global stage was an amazing opportunity!

We had a very engaged audience of over 50 delegates from across the HE sector, with follow up questions showing that they valued hearing what we were sharing and were interested in learning more about our user-led approach and how it has helped us get to where we are. We even got a shoutout in someone else’s talk the following day! Helen and I were approached after our session to talk in more detail with some delegates, and I was even asked to help mentor a new communications employee at a US institution – which is a huge highlight for me!

The biggest learning for me at DUUS was that there is a lot of agreement among institutions internationally that being user-led is key to achieving goals and truly improving the student experience, and although we are only two years into our journey in the Digital Team at UoE, it seems we are generally a bit further ahead in how we are putting this into practice, as for many institutions at the event being ‘user-led’ and embedding users into teams was more of an idea rather than output right now.

I loved challenging myself to speak to a room full of people about my role and what we have achieved so far, especially when it resulted in inspiring members of the audience to bring their student voice to their work. I hope I get to do similar things again in the future.

Want to hear more from me? Take a look at this blog post I wrote about how we approach our communications in Digital at UoE.

– Written by Scarlett Yeo, Communications Advisor for Digital

View our 2030 Digital Strategy here to learn more.