SHAPE is our capacity-building framework, developed at Imperial College, which aims to provide an antidote to the dominant marketised values of neoliberal higher education (for instance individualism, competition and instrumentalism). This blends the skills of emotional intelligence (for instance, empathy and communication) with the social and political consciousness that is often suppressed when institutions disproportionately prioritise market concerns.


SHAPE can be nurtured at departmental, school/faculty or whole institution levels, and the qualities it denotes should be seen in all aspects of a unit’s work, from top-level policies to interpersonal interactions. This process can be seen as cyclical and holistic: individuals with these qualities SHAPE institutions, and vice versa. The capacities developed by SHAPE can be further broken down as follows:

The capacity to recognise how emotions impact on opinions, attitudes and judgments
The capacity to accept oneself and maintain motivation and connection with oneself and others

The capacity to communicate feelings and perspectives in an upfront and respectful way
The capacity to engage in self-reflection for personal growth

The capacity to establish, grow and maintain diverse relationships in which others’ needs are considered
A deep commitment to creating social change

Political Consciousness
The capacity to recognise, and work to mitigate, disparities of power
A strong commitment to equality & diversity as a political principle

The capacity to be present to and understand other people’s thoughts and feelings
The capacity to listen actively and authentically

It will take time, and may require expert help, for institutions to develop the capacities outlined here. It is also not a goal which can be achieved through setting targets, measuring indicators, creating policies and implementing training programmes. However, there are some tools which can help, including the Grounded Action Inquiry methodology developed by our project which embeds many of the capacities within SHAPE and can be consciously deployed to nurture others.


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