Congregation liturgy

You go to a special place at a special time.
Organ music is playing.
Family members sit in rows, dressed smartly.
People in robes process in.
There is standing up and sitting down.
Symbolic objects and costumes are in evidence.
Special words are spoken, which change the identity of the participants for all time (as long as they and others believe in what is said.)
The event comes to an end, and everyone spills out into the sunlight, blinking and reaching for cameras.

This could describe a wedding, a baptism, or a graduation ceremony. Sitting in the audience of the Edge Hill ceremony (a splendid event) yesterday I mused on whether this ritual is as secular as it seems. Obviously it isn’t attached to a particular religion (though the graduation events of some institutions are, to a greater or lesser extent). Nevertheless, an observer might see some structural similarities between the use of space, time, ritual and speech-acts in degree ceremonies and sacred or spiritual events. There was no mention of God but plenty of appeals to, and invocations of, large, transpersonal, intangible concepts – the future, achievement, success, society, development.

Perhaps these events are a kind of secular spirituality?

‘Won’t you please, please help me’

‘Help’ is a widely-offered commodity these days – there’s usually a little button offering ‘Help’ on the screen of your device of choice; companies offer help lines and help desks. Some kind of ‘help’ function has become a must-have accessory for many organisations, with ‘Customer Care’ being a box everyone needs to tick. But the quality of the aid and assistance actually offered varies considerably…

Yesterday I spent some time working on the Student Information Centre Helpdesk at Edge Hill, as part of a ‘Back to the Floor’ day organised by HR. It was the busiest and least caffeinated I’ve been for a long time… the volume and diversity of enquiries kept me on the go without let up for the whole period. I was impressed and surprised by a number of things:
– the complexity and scale of information that needs to be immediately available from the desk
– the huge range of services deployed to support students
– the immediate willingness of staff around the University to drop what they’re doing to help sort out a student’s problem
– the Kafka-like world of student finance, and the effort involved by Universities and the students themselves in making it work.

The Student Information Officer did a great job of mentoring me whilst (inevitably) responding to a lot of the questions after I had blanched in fear, dropped the papers on the floor, proffered the wrong form and so on. But I now know what an EMC form is and the deadline for a Module Change Request.

At Edge Hill, at least, the ‘Help’ on offer is real and (now that I’ve left the proper people to get on with it) professionally delivered.

Skaters seen from Lancs Hall


This excellent picture is part of the Geograph website, which collects images from grid squares across the UK. It and its neighbours can be found here – the caption reads ‘Edge Hill College pond skaters -Taken from hall of residence, Lancashire Hall, now demolished, in the severe winter of 1962/3’ and it was submitted by a ‘Chris Coleman’ – obviously taking an interest in Edge Hill students at a very early age!

Come And Steal Everything (CASE)

Four days, 802 delegates, 42 countries, and what felt like several hundred sessions – this year’s CASE Europe conference in Edinburgh was big, intense, exciting and exhausting. As a member of the planning committee (with a pink ribbon on my badge to prove it) I felt a kind of nervous parental pride in the whole endeavour. As a marketer I suppose I need the stats to tell me if it was any good or not, but for now, based on feedback in corridors, at meals and around the bars of Edinburgh’s pubs, I can say it was fantastic.

Me at the newcomers' induction

Some highlights as I recall them:

Tom Hayes, Professor of Marketing at Xavier University is reputedly fast on his feet on the soccer fields of Cincinnati. His speed and agility served him well, delivering a 90 minute session in 50, providing a splendid high-energy start to the marketing track.

Antoinette de Villiers and Nick Stokes gave fascinating insights into brand and positioning.

John Grant‘s sessions were a bit like being hit with a firehose of ideas and examples – some of which I’m sure will start someone’s marketing revolution – whether it’s IKEA’s furnished skyscraper lifts in Shanghai, Charmin’s toilets in Times Square, or those Jamie Cullum CDs sent to head girls in schools.

Edge Hill’s very own Alison ‘Web Services’ Wildish finished the track with an updated version of her ‘Let the students do the talking‘ presentation. This created a megabuzz at the University Web Managers’ conference (video here) and got people talking here too (so that’s two worlds she has conquered.)

There were countless other things I couldn’t see as I needed to be somewhere else. I would loved to have heard Steph Cosgrove on community-building technologies; Dave Roberts on fees…

Then there’s all the little, random, social things that fill in all the corners of events like this – evening sun on Arthur’s Seat – learning the Russian way of toasting – driven out of the halls at 7.30am by a fire alarm (grateful for the complementary Business School bathrobe) – buying an emergency tie in Princes Street.

What never ceases to amaze me is the willingness to share within a professional community comprised of competing institutions. Despite the joke Come And Steal Everything acronym, no-one needs to steal anything as so much is freely given.

More photos

Emperor Ning

Having heard it described at the CASE Europe Conference as the ‘rule changer’, ie a next big thing in social networking, I thought I’d give Ning a try. Offering the opportunity to ‘Create Your Own Social Network for Anything’, it lets you set up a website with features such as forum, blogs, photos, groups and more all in a few minutes. It’s also a platform for developers to create their own features. It can accept feeds, links to Flickr, probably makes tea. The network you set up doesn’t have to have Ning branding on it, and ads can be removed for a small sub. Basically it’s really easy to set up lots of things very quickly.

My initial view is that this would be a good tool to service groups with an existing connection, eg clubs, students on a course, niche interests. But who knows – people will customise it to do whatever they fancy. Or ignore it. We’ll see.

Just in case it turns out to be useful, I’ve blagged to stop it going to one of the other Edge Hills, or (say) a student drinking club…

Come and see what its like to join an existing Ning network and discuss Ning (or anything else) at

Or just go to and start your own…