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Achievements in UK HE staff development recognised at the Developing Excellent Practice Awards sponsored by Advance HE

14 Nov 2023 | Advance HE Winners announced for the 2023 Staff Development Forum Developing Excellent Practice Awards, sponsored by Advance HE.

Three UK higher education institutions and five individuals working in HE have been awarded for their contribution to staff development at the 2023 Staff Development Forum Developing Excellent Practice Awards, sponsored by Advance HE.

Presented at an online event on 14 November as part of the SDF Festival of Learning and Development, the awards recognise and celebrate outstanding staff development by individuals or teams.

The Staff Development Forum (SDF) is a not-for-profit charitable organisation, representing and working with staff and organisational developers in higher education to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and organisational performance of the sector and its workforce.

The 2023 awards reflect the Festival’s overarching theme of ‘Innovating, nourishing and storytelling: The evolving L&D professional’.

SDF Initiative of the Year goes to the University of Leeds for their digital literacy project. In second place for its early management development programme is the University of Sheffield, with the University of Birmingham winning the third prize for its managing people toolkit.

Member of the Year is a new award conferred on individuals who embody the values of the SDF - sharing good practice, collaboration, innovation, inclusivity and leadership. The judging panel looks for passion for excellence, someone who demonstrates their work influences and serves others as a model, someone who champions the role of developing others in the wider higher education community. 

Dr Ross Espinoza, Staff Development Forum Chair, said, "Each year, the Staff Development Forum aims to recognise and celebrate outstanding staff development professionals, individuals and/or teams, whilst continuing to develop people and organisations to realise their potential.

"This year, we are excited to introduce a new SDF award recognising individual contributions aligned to the SDF values and we were moved that managers nominated their team members with very detailed nominations and some colleagues were nominated across different HE institutions.

"The SDF award is an important platform that transforms potential into performance, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and elevating the collective achievements of dedicated professionals.”

Lucy Madahar, Head of Membership at Advance HE and on the judging panel, said, “We are delighted to sponsor the 2023 SDF Developing Excellent Practice Awards.  The quality of the nominations this year has clearly demonstrated the excellent breadth of expertise, experience and innovation across the SDF.

“The strength of the SDF is its ability to share good practice across the network. The 2023 award winners have demonstrated new solutions to the challenges faced by the sector to benefit everyone with the shared learning of what works.”

SDF Initiative of the Year 2023 winners


1st: University of Leeds - Digital Literacy - Learning to Log On

A digital literacy initiative created by three individuals from different services and directorates with one clear goal; to ensure that every member of the staff community had access to a university email address so they received university updates, could check their online pay slips, access free Wi-Fi on campus via eduroam, have access to information on staff benefits, wellbeing resources and online learning resources.

What the judges said: A worthy initiative for an often-overlooked proportion of any university’s staff makeup.

This is without doubt a simple but very effective initiative that sought to address a specific problem that the University of Leeds identified. Whilst it is not possible to know if this issue is sector-wide, it is a likely common problem and lessons can therefore be learnt more widely. 

Equity and inclusion is key to getting staff buy-in at all levels of an organisation and addressing issues associated with staff on the lower grades is as important as addressing issues for staff on top grades. 

The programme appears to be mindful of the needs of the staff it is serving and the fact that the project has received an internal award speaks volumes for the perceived importance of the project locally. Delivering digital literacy will not only benefit the University of Leeds, it will also deliver benefits to the local community as its staff utilise their newly learned skill outside of the workplace as well as inside.

2nd: University of Sheffield - Sheffield Leader: Management Fundamentals - An inspiring and early management development programme

A self-nominated, 10-module development programme, which takes place over six months. Two intakes of the programme are delivered each year, with 100 participants enrolled on each intake, split up into four cohorts. The programme includes a mix of in-person and virtual modules, delivered over full or half days, and is supported by a community of practice and additional resources. The key aim for the programme is to enable individuals to develop the foundational knowledge, practical skills and behaviours to perform and succeed in their current or future leadership role. 

What the judges said: The team at Sheffield acted on a need for development for its Professional Services staff. The outcome was cost effective and is proving its return on investment already.

Management/Leadership training appears to be widely acknowledged as a requirement in many organisations, with a variety of solutions being developed. The cost outlay for this initiative was/is minimal and benefits can be significant if the training is successful.

The evidence presented suggests that the programme is successful, certainly as far as attendees are concerned and it would be interesting to see what proportion of those attending the courses progress to pick up leadership roles in the future.

3rd: University of Birmingham - Managing People Toolkit

An online hub for all people who manage the work of others at the University in any context. It lays out the standards expected when managing people and provides learning materials in support. Built in collaboration with staff across the institution, the content relates to the University of Birmingham Strategic Framework 2030.

What the judges said: This is a great example of a self-service resource that aligns itself with a need identifying in a staff survey. Using Sharepoint instead of the web is an interesting take and the work done to embed it is impressive.

The project is well-intentioned and aims to address a perceived short-coming in leadership across the organisation in line with its Strategic Framework 2030. The consultation appeared to include a wide range of staff groups and buy-in seems to be very positive, perhaps more than originally anticipated. The project is innovative in its use of Sharepoint and its roll-out with the resources being developed and geared to fit with the organisation's aims. 

This approach speaks to contemporary demands for learning outside of a classroom, when it is needed. The collaborative elements seemed to have made a difference in the uptake and embedding of the learning, enabling local teams to use it in a variety of ways. The principles were robust, and taking things like occupational standards and generic content and making it specific to their needs is noteworthy.

View case studies from the winning institutions for the SDF Initiative of the Year 2023 here.

Member of the Year 2023 winners


Zoe Connell, Canterbury Christ Church University

Value: Sharing good practice

What the judges said: A wonderful example of how to implement a new IT system by listening to the people who are going to be using it. Zoe clearly empathises with staff and colleagues and takes time to understand their needs and share her knowledge. Zoe strives to establish a more equitable and collaborative approach to managing performance, using an online process.

Lisette Whittaker, University of Sussex

Value: Collaboration

What the judges said: This is an excellent example of empowering a team member to develop a service and resources to support what has been a hidden group of staff.  The emphasis on identifying good practice, sharing knowledge, establishing an inclusive and collaborative community is outstanding and demonstrates what going above and beyond can really achieve.

Sarah Rhodes, Staffordshire University

Value: Innovation

What the judges said: This submission has demonstrated that by identifying the needs of new teaching and learning staff and understanding the challenges they face, as well as utilising creative skills to develop innovative practice, have resulted in improved retention and a supportive environment for new staff to learn and grow.

Amy Smith, The University of Manchester

Value: Inclusivity

What the judges said: Amy’s work to develop equity for disabled postgraduate researchers is a great example of developing an inclusive service for an often overlooked PGR cohort. Taking time to listen to staff and researchers, to understand their needs, and to promote a culture of sharing practice were key strengths for this award nomination.

Tracy Ellis, The University of Liverpool

Value: Leadership

What the judges said: Tracy is making a significant contribution, not only at The University of Liverpool but in a wider forum. Tracy is at the heart of creating an active and meaningful staff development network for the North-West.  She facilitates meetings where all voices are heard, carefully encouraging different voices around the room and broader inclusion at meetings and interest groups. Her peers recognise Tracy’s dedication to supporting others and encouraging greater engagement from all.



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