Our Impact

Distinct has promoted behaviour change in the sector by reaching out to senior university professionals. This has been achieved through a dedicated website, www.distinct.ac.uk, presence at key events, 'make the case' workshops, a sell-out conference and a collection of case studies available to view on the website and in the printed final report. See also the: conference report.

Our impact will continue as we promote the Distinct Framework by presenting at external conferences as and when opportunities arise. For example, we are presenting a session at the NSA conference on 16th October 2012 which, whilst not connected to the Distinct project, may draw an audience who would be interested in our work.


This project has been funded under the HEFCE Leading Transformational Change strand of the Leadership, Governance & Management (LGM) Fund.

In 2009, the LGM Fund's Strategic Oversight and Assessment Group, which is made up of Vice-Chancellors, identified specific themes that exercise leaders in HEIs and sought proposals focused on those themes. The themes are: distinctiveness strategies; new business models; and collaborative partnerships. Read more about the full details of HEFCE’s invitation to tender.

Project objectives

  • Develop a shared understanding of what distinctiveness is and how it is used to achieve competitive advantage outside the HE sector and how it can be applied within the HE sector.
  • Capture lessons for developing and executing distinctive strategies by examining the experience of the partner institutions and other HEIs.
  • To highlight the role of leadership in developing and communicating distinctiveness, and to establish an understanding of the skills that enable effective leadership in a context of transformational change.
  • Transfer knowledge across the sector.

Outcomes and benefits

  • An understanding of how organisations in different sectors have achieved distinctiveness and differentiation and how such techniques and strategies might be applicable in HE.
  • An understanding of characteristics that could be seen as distinctive to the HE sector as a whole, or sub-groups within it, and how these might contribute to the distinctiveness of an individual HEI.
  • Enhanced knowledge about the relevance, applicability and utilisation of strategy maps in HE.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the significance of communication in developing and implementing corporate strategy.
  • An understanding of different models of stakeholder engagement in an institution's strategy, and the respective strengths and weaknesses of these models.
  • An understanding of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that enable senior managers to provide effective leadership in a context of transformational change.
  • An understanding of the implications of this for senior management training and development, and proposals for how this can be effectively delivered.

Project phases

The project involved three, largely sequential, phases:

  1. Discovery
  2. Research
  3. Dissemination

Phase 1: discovery

The initial phase involved

  • Looking around the sector to identify sources of data about HEIs which are consistent across the sector, and to gain an impression of the way in which HEIs present themselves to the world.
  • Looking outside the sector to identify organisations and potential contacts likely to have a view on what distinctiveness is and how it is used in corporate marketing.
  • Considering different ways in which to address the desired outcomes and benefits of the project: from literature reviews and multivariate data analysis, to focus groups and individual interviews, to textual analysis of university missions and strategies and browsing university websites to gain an impression of the identity they project.
  • Attending one of the Action Learning Sets held with the partner organisations, to observe the learning process.
  • A discussion with the steering group to uncover our own preconceptions and ideas of distinctiveness.

Phase 2: research

The research phase consisted of a number of qualitative and quantitative strands.

  • A literature review to assess the current state of understanding of organisational identity, both within and outside the HE sector.
  • A multivariate analysis of the data items identified in the discovery phase, seeking to identify those aspects of universities which make them similar and those which make them different. The objective was to establish whether there exist ‘natural’, distinct groupings of institutions, based on the data available.
  • Interviews with individuals with experience of researching, developing and communicating organisational identities. Interviewees were selected from three groups: organisations which could be described as distinctive, agencies which specialise in working with organisations on the development and implementation of brand strategy, and HEIs which have some claim to distinctiveness.
  • Development of the Action Learning Set approach, to make it more applicable to the circumstances of individuals representing institutions rather than themselves.
  • Interviews with senior staff in HEIs who have had first hand experience of changes in leadership, to gain insights into the role of leadership in the establishment of a distinctive identity.
  • Consultation with the wider HE sector through: workshops at the 2011 HEFCE/LFHE Leading Transformational Change conference, a survey of VCs, an audit of communication channels used by the senior management of the three partner institutions, and interviews with HEIs to discover preferences for communication channels.

Phase 3: dissemination

Dissemination has been an ongoing process which began with a presence at the 2011 HEFCE/LFHE Leading Transformational Change conference, and culminated in our sell-out event: the Distinct/CASE 2012 Conference, which took place 12 June, 2012.

Copies of presentations and handouts, along with resources developed by the project team for the sector, can be found on the events page.

See the News and Ideas section of this site for the latest project releases.

Project now closed

This project is now finished and the content on the site is provided as an archive of the research.