ucisa is the membership organisation for professional staff working in information systems in UK higher education. Since its foundation in 1993 there has been a technological revolution with IT now underpinning every area of university life. The organisation was increasingly concerned that it was failing to attract enough new and younger members and wanted to ensure that it was fully fit for purpose, providing its broad-based membership with the support it requires.

Housebrands was appointed by the ucisa Trustees to help reshape the brand for future success.

Our approach

Our first task was to conduct a perception study amongst ucisa’s broad and complex stakeholder base. These included:

  • member institutions (165 UK universities)
  • individuals working in the sector from a range of different levels and role (COI to newest recruit)
  • potential members
  • corporate members such as Apple, SAP, Oracle etc
  • representatives from a range of other professional bodies in HE such as Jisc, UCAS, SONUL, ALT etc.
  • representatives from FE Colleges.

The research

The aim of the initial research was to understand current awareness and perceptions of ucisa amongst the different target segments and identify any developments required to ensure that the organisation remained the ‘go to’ IT organisation in Higher Education, attracting a broad swathe of loyal members who fully understood the benefits they derived from their membership.

We created a two-stage research programme using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research.

Stage 1: Quantitative and qualitative research amongst all individual members

Quantitative research

  • Online questionnaire of between 10 and 15 minutes sent to all 5,000 members, both university and corporate
  • The survey was focused on uncovering current perceptions of ucisa, examining key areas such as:
    • Role/remit
    • Effectiveness/perceived usefulness
    • Importance
    • Closeness/level of engagement
    • How active/engaged members are
    • Value for money
    • Competitive landscape

Qualitative research

  • One-to-one interviews amongst a sample of corporate members and broader stakeholders (other professional bodies in HE, FE Colleges etc), adding depth to the survey by exploring understanding, perception, and perceived need in more detail.

Stage 2: Qualitative research amongst institutional members.

  • Interviews took place with the CIO/Head of IT and other senior IT personnel
  • Group discussions with junior to mid-level IT staff
  • Group discussions and one-to-one interviews took place in a sample if UK universities. The sample included a cross representation of members – highly active members, members of medium level activity and inactive or distant membership institutions.

Our findings identified the need for the organisation to update its brand positioning. Whilst it had a good reputation, it was increasingly seen to lack the innovative, challenging approach required within the digital sector. For many it appeared old-fashioned – with its long name, acronym and visual identity.

Outcome of the research

Our findings identified that ucisa needed to make some radical changes if it was to remain the ‘go to’ IT body for professionals working in HE. Whilst it had a good reputation it was increasingly being seen as cosy and old-fashioned, lacking the forward looking, innovative, thought-provoking approach required within the digital sector. The competitive landscape was changing as the research discovered – there were a growing number of external professional organisations who were crowding into the HE space – traditionally the preserve of ucisa.

Implications of the research

With the output from the research, we redefined ucisa’s brand strategy in line with the needs of a more ambitious digital membership.

Our recommendations included encouraging ucisa to take a simpler and more inclusive approach to membership, to be more externally focused – looking at developments in the outside world and making them relevant to HE, to reflect and meet the needs of their various members more fully (what a COI is looking for from a professional body is very different from a junior on a helpdesk) and become more open and less hierarchical.

To demonstrate and reinforce the changes afoot we redesigned and updated ucisa’s ‘look & feel’ including its name, brand narrative and key messages, developing a new website and complementary suite of communication tools.


The research was instrumental in helping to reposition ucisa. It allowed for a new brand strategy and identity to be created that would demonstrate a more contemporary approach and outlook, portraying the organisation as more relevant and useful.

“Straight talking, creative and committed, they were never afraid to tell us the way it really was. Great to work with, they managed the whole potentially tricky process very smoothly. We are delighted with the outcome and can highly recommend Housebrands.”

Paul Butler – Secretary, ucisa