Monday, 21 November 2011

HLF conference report 3: getting what we want

This is the third, and last, part of my write-up of the HLF conference on 15 November 2011.


Phil Sykes of the University of Liverpool, obviously a Jane Austen fan, gave the first talk of the day, under the heading 'Persuasian with Sense and Sensbility'. I must confess that I hadn't been certain quite what this talk was going to be about, but as it transpired, it was a very useful and straightforward exlanation of some of the techniques of persuasion that Phil has developed.

Phil believes that persuasion is built of two components: the logical part (sense) and the emotional part (sensibility).

He started with sense, which he divided into six aspects:

1) Get into the minds of the people you're trying to persuade, and imagine how the world looks to them. Phil gave the example of a library continually facing budget cuts and appealing for money by saing 'we're doing all this good stuff with the little you give us, so please give us more'. The people with the money will probably hear this as 'we're doing really well with hardly any money - why give us any more?'.

2) Once you've considered your audience, you can begin to pick off their likely objections in advance. Phrases like 'it might seem like... but...' are useful in this.

3) Consider how much time people will actually devote to what you're writing. Phil illustrated this with a story about a speech given in Parliament. There might only be 10 people listening to the speech, and 50 people in the bar. If you're going to be successful, you need the 10 who were there to tell the 50 in the bar what you said. Therefore make your point clear, don't waffle, and don't say so much that they can't easily summarise it.

4) What you say about what you've writtten is at least as important as what you write. If you're submitting a paper to a committee meeting, the chances are that at least some (if not most) of the people at the committee won't actually have read the paper in depth. So know in advance what you'll say when you're invited to comment on the paper at the meeting. (Also try and get your item high up the agenda so that it isn't guillotined if time runs short!0

5) Write clearly! Start by working out what it is you want your reader to know, and then write that in a way that they'll understand. You can make a big imapct by using 'humane' language. Say 'we'll be friendly' rather than 'our innovative new service model will deliver excellence going forward with a robust strategic emphasis'.

6) Adapt your arguments to suit the audience. The people who hold the purse strings will be movedby financial arguments, the media might be moved by 'public good' arguments, and academics can be hard to please.

The emotional side of persuasion is harder to quantify and often needs a long-term committment to come to fruition. Three things were suggested:

a) Build up your credit in the 'favour bank' - help other peple out and then they'll be more willing to help you out in the future.

b) Work your audience. If you're presenting something to a committee, sound out some of the members in advance. This doesn't have to be a hard sell, but ask them what they think of your propsal and whether they're willing to support it,

c) Don't necessarily puff yourself up or be over confident. Phil cited the rheotical technique of diminutio: using phrases like, 'Im no expert, but it seems to me...'. It was pointed out afterwards that this isn't always the best technique - sometimes you do just have to sell yourself and your library as loudly as possible.

I really enjoyed this talk - even though mine came immediately afterwards and I was prompted to refine what I was going to say to be a little more persuasive...

Writing an Heritage Lotter Fund grant bid

Jonathan Harrison, of Senate House Library, rounded off the day with a case study about Heritage Lottery FUnd bids at St John's College, Cambridge.

St John's College Library has made successful bids for 'Your Heritage' grants for cataloguing and outreach projects based on the papers of Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), and Samuel Butler (1835-1902). Jonathan suggested that the St John's bids were successful because both Hoyle and Butler are interesting and controversial figures (don't be afraid to 'embrace the embarrassing' people that you might have in your collections), because of team working within the library (two pairs of eyes to read the appication), because of the College's willingness to open up to the outside world, and because those involved conveyed belief and enthusiasm.

Your Heritage grants:
  • are aimed at first-time applicants
  • offer between £3,000 and £50,000
  • are for projects that will last up to three years
  • have the priorities learning, taking part and preserving
  • will fund up to 95% of the cost of the project
  • have no deadline - you can apply any time
  • have a single-round application process
  • make a decision within 10 weeks of receiving the application
  • are hands-off once the project gets going
  • have a high percentage of successful applications

Jonathan's tips for making a successful bid :
  • Before you start, survey your collection: find out what you've got, and what needs doing (in terms of cataloguing and conservation)
  • Set out clear aims
  • Have a realistic project timetable
  • Explain who will benefit and how
  • Include evidence of consultation
  • Show how the project outcomes will be sustained after the end of the project
  • Set out your costs clearly
  • Include good visuals
  • Amass letters of support - from famous or important people, and/or from the 'everyday' people who will benefit
  • Make use of the HLF offer to look over your application before you submit it!


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