It is good to have a fair, consistent and transparent way of selecting organisations. This helps spread the workload across the university team and makes the process less reliant on individual personal relationships. For some modules, a simple list of criteria for selecting clients might be suitable. However, many the success of the students is dependent on a rich mix of factors, and often the willingness and ability of the clients to support student learning is the critical factor.
The tool covers:
- Some important characteristics to consider when selecting clients.
- Potential reasons for excluding certain types of organisations.
If the project is entirely virtual, then apart from time zone differences, the location may be irrelevant. Even so, you might want to prioritise more local organisations, as part of the university wanting to build networks locally, with easier ways to follow up on other opportunities.
If the project is mainly f2f, then location is important. Within what distance are you willing to have clients located? You need to consider how often students will need to visit the client, and the practicality of getting there, especially if students in a team need to coordinate timetables.
Example from a module: “Clients must have premises within one hour of public transport door to door. We want local clients as this helps build local networks and meets our mission as a civic university. As an exception, we may have online-only clients, and that would be if we have some students who are not in the UK. Online-only clients should be a reserved list in case we do have one or teams in that situation. Even then we expect online-only clients to be within or strongly connected to the local area.
Opportunities for student learning
You may have to discuss some of the factors below with a potential client, as these can be difficult to address from an application form alone.
- Will the organisation provide specific learning opportunities for the student(s)? Be clear how much you are expecting the organisation to do this, or whether the work is more like students being employed to do a task.
- Does the project need new thinking, or some sense of innovation, where the client does not yet have a clear idea of the solutions?
- Is the project not so critical, that if the team did not do as well as expected, the student work will not adversely affects the client’s business?
- Will there be enough variety and richness in the project to stimulate interest in students, and have an element of choice for them?
- Will the project require students to interact with individuals (e.g. the client’s customers, beneficiaries, suppliers) such as via interviews or surveys or performance with the community? Or is the project only requiring the students to do secondary research? Projects that have minimal interaction with a client are likely to be less interesting than ones that do involve interaction with external stakeholders.
- Is the project substantial enough to be meaningful for the size of your student teams, and over a prolonged period (e.g. several weeks)?
- Is there a reasonable prospect of the client taking any recommendations forward and tangibly benefiting from the project?
- Does the project allow the students to take risks, to learn and experiment?
- Will the client be able to give regular feedback to the student during the project?
Size and type of organisation
With small to medium-sized organisations, the client can take decisions without having to seek authorisation from multiple layers of management. This usually means faster decision-making and will help the students to progress.
Projects from very large organisations can work fine, provided that adequate authority can be delegated to a single client, and that the organisation is serious about considering the students' work.
Micro businesses, especially where there is only one person (e.g. self-employed) can be suitable, but the client may not have enough time to dedicate to the project on a regular basis and may need to make decisions about the organisation that can rapidly change what the student team has been asked to do.
With public sector organisations and community organisations, consider whether decision-making processes and authorisations will be timely enough to meet the module and project needs. With community organisations, if your client is a volunteer, then they may have limited availability.
Projects that tend to work less well
These are projects that:
- Focus on the team only doing research, to gather data, with no opportunity to create and explore solutions with people outside the university.
- Have too narrow a focus, such as finding out what price a specific product should be sold at so as to increase sales.
- Can be effectively carried out very quickly (e.g. within 2 or 3 weeks of a 10-week term). Students may get bored.
- Are so challenging that they require undergraduate students to be masters level or seasoned graduates.
- Require a detailed technical understanding of specialist subjects outside their courses (e.g. a business studies student may struggle with an electronic engineering, or chemistry/physics/biology focus. Or a graphic design student would struggle with deep focus on economics). Sometimes, clients will not know the scope of the student's courses, so being clear about this in the recruiting process is important.
Projects that are usually unacceptable on ethical grounds
These are likely to be projects that are against the values of the university. Examples of organisations that a university may not wish to work with are:
- Organisations in the tobacco and alcoholic drinks industries. Although, working with hospitality venues such as hotels and restaurants may be acceptable.
- Campaigning organisations where there are likely to be highly polarised opinions (e.g. animal rights, right to life vs abortion, and religion-based).
- Cosmetic surgery firms.
Even if a project appears to acceptable, it might pose significant problems, such as obtaining ethical approval for any interviews, or having a high degree of controversy that would make it difficult to create a viable project because of objections from students and staff.
Informing key stakeholders of your selection criteria
We recommended that you inform key stakeholders of your selection criteria, even at the headline level. This will reduce the number of clients applying to work with you that do not fit the criteria. It's also helpful to inform all staff involved, such as tutors and professional staff. You may want to let your staff on other SEKE modules know about your selection criteria, as a client that may be unsuitable for your module, might be suitable for a different module.
This tool will help you decide how best to select your clients, by presenting a range of questions and points to consider.