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From Wallflower to Dance Captain – three steps for our sector to lead assessment debate.

Everyday, global exam sector stories ping my news trackers - white-hot opportunities to grapple assessment issues. 

But too often, those stories pushes product before people. They talk (software) features, not benefits. Staying doggedly ‘on message’, whatever that means in 2022. The sector repeatedly shies away from hearty debates, usually due to lack of planning and prep.  

Where’s the lively debate? I want to see our sector positively impacting everyday lives and society. And not just vanilla case studies that fall agonisingly short of advocacy!

So, how do we set that agenda? Take the lead? Evidence our societal impact? And more importantly, reach new people and wider audiences? 

We’re visible participants – let’s take the lead

Some operators prefer to operate out of the media spotlight. They totally dedicate themselves to customers, often as a reflection of their senior management style and personality. They don’t care for coteries or customer communities. I get that. 

Those organisations deserve safe routes to unlock their perspicacious insights, without forcing them down stony and lonely pathways. They’ve got great stories to tell.

Equally, those that trade in volume comms (but not depth) need to feel that their stories have un-mined value, that they chime and resonate with contemporary audiences, and communities they claim to serve. Behind the bluster, there is often stunning, insightful, and erudite work taking place.

There’s room for every style and personality. We can all be visible. So how do we lead the debate in our sector?

Three steps to leadership heaven

1) Visibility

If you’re uncertain, shy, or awkward, plain sight visibility is the first step. It’s a client win press release, event keynote announcement, and responsive statements to press queries: social, trade press, and partner activity. This gets you in the game. Owning the issues, being regular, and consistent is a good place to start. Don’t worry!

2) Participating

Next, move from a wallflower to the dance floor – participating. 

This is always a two-way street. Dialogue. A conversation. Not tablets of press release stone. Our sector is a broad church. It should provide platforms for unorthodox perspectives, new ideas, and the incitement of lively debate. Firebrands, stalwarts, and everyone in between. Challenging!

Try gifting data insights, rather than squirrelling away analysis for nebulous ‘advantage’.  Own a position within a debate, so that the wider public and new audiences know we stand for. 

Understanding our sector’s risks, and articulate how to overcome objections. And that’s what your sales folks do all day, right?

Spending time developing and communicating opinions that can be processed easily. And repeatable. Not just ‘say it and leave it’. Know what your stand for, especially when the opportunity arises. Don’t be afraid to repeat, tailor, rinse – you get the idea!

The true sign of progress is engagement with new sectors and people. You can’t lead by talking to the same people in the echo chamber all the time.

3) Leadership

The centre of attention. The Dance Captain. The MC. The conductor. Leadership demands the mobilisation and incentivisation of like-minded others: coming together and campaigning. 

As in any relationship, it’s the fine art of persuasion. Changing opinions and taking down unhelpful tropes that undermine and regress our sector, such as ‘robots marking exam papers’.

This means active lobbying for regulatory and sector-wide change – a movement, if you prefer.

All of these activities induce market leadership. Opinion makers turn to the spokespeople - the change agents, setting news agendas, sharing common goals.

So what should we do now?

I want to see our sector grow together and increase our impact to:

  • Set the news agenda with opinions, insights, and rock-solid evidence. 

  • Spark the art of persuasion.  

  • Build a much larger groundswell of grass-roots support. 

  • Reach new, larger audiences, reflecting the global communities we serve.

  • Evidence how we’re positively impacting learners’ lives.

  • Lobby for regulatory change to increase equity and equality.

Trade bodies, exam owners, suppliers, and influencers must mobilise and lead. Each needs incentivising. While none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days, leaders need to step off the sales treadmill, bring communities together, and show the impact our sector has everyday. 


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