Autistic strengths inform course development at the University of Melbourne

On a mission to discover a world of course development opportunities in the post-professional market, The University of Melbourne has embraced autistic strengths to develop a methodology and approach to understanding key data.

 The University of Melbourne worked with IT consulting and autistic-majority company auticon on a data analytics project that would offer insights to improve the University’s courses, to help keep the institution at the cutting edge of developing tomorrow’s alumni and elite thinkers.

The project was led by Jo-zanne Owen, Director Product and Customer Experience at the university, and it was the first time they had embarked on a project of this kind. She spoke about her experience working with auticon to source neurodiverse talent and benefiting from the unique analytical skills of auticon’s consultant, Gareth Morgan.

“Gareth and I had a true collaboration as we formulated our approach and methodology to undertake the analysis, it was a real partnership.

“Gareth excelled in taking our overarching vision and translating it into a detailed analysis plan. While we collaboratively defined the high-level approach, he was particularly skilled in fine-tuning the methodology and carrying out the data analysis.”

Jo-zanne went on to talk about the advantages of empowering someone who thinks differently to successfully achieve the desired project outcome without overly restrictive boundaries.

“I was flexible in the boundaries and direction that I gave him and offered a sense of the desired outcome. I think that the flexibility I offered Gareth gave him permission to be creative in his approach to the project. We then discussed the approach he had developed, confirmed it was right for the project and agreed it was a strong approach.”

In working through the project Gareth not only connected well with the ways of working at the university he also has a strong social fit with the organisation.

One common misconception about people on the autism spectrum is they are somehow anti-social. It is true that autistic people see the world in a different way to the rest of us and this can lead to differences in the way they react in social situations, but most autistic people enjoy having relationships and want to engage with people at work.

Whilst undertaking the project at the university, Jo-zanne invited Gareth to a peer-led learning session on facilitation led by a co-worker. She spoke about Gareth’s engagement in this session, “The one thing that I loved about Gareth is that he fit in really well with our team. He came and had so many great questions just as if he’s been with us forever.”

Jo-zanne was not the only one that was impressed by Gareth’s quality of work and ability to connect with the team. General Manager of the Melbourne School of Professional and Continuing Education (MSPACE) Owen Shemansky spoke about having Gareth on board.

“I really love how Gareth has worked with us – his ability to dig deeply into the data, his communication style and his obvious love for all the nuances that come up in this sort of analysis, which makes all the difference when you’re trying to weed out trends and patterns,” said Mr. Shamansky.

Jo-zanne Owen Director of Product and Customer Experience
Jo-zanne Owen Director of Product and Customer Experience at The University of Melbourne

The project that Gareth has been working on has delivered numerous strategic insights for the university and while these insights are significant the results may not be known for some time. However, the project may have never gotten off the ground if the university did not embrace diversity as one of their strategic values and have leadership that was personally prepared to live the values of the school.

“I really believe in the power of individuals to take action to cultivate greater inclusivity and diversity in their workplace. You don’t have to wait for an organisational strategy to make an impact. Even something as simple as curating diverse recruitment panels is a step to a more inclusive workplace,” concluded Jo-zanne.

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