Better elections means supporting the talent

Ashley Storer-Smith is Student Voice Manager at the University of Nottingham SU

Hannah Vile is Student Voice Coordinator at the University of Nottingham SU

Elections are a stressful time for all, especially for the candidates.

When this issue was discussed in SU circles a few years ago, it was seen as character building and important to get the best candidate for the role.

As a sector we have started to ease off that mentality but at Nottingham SU, we have radically changed our elections focus to be on the candidate experience – spending half our budget on wellbeing and accessibility for candidates.

Why did we do this? Outside of the obvious of improving candidate wellbeing, we saw candidates campaign more, have more comradery with their fellow candidate, complain less, and actually want to run again after being unsuccessful.

Candidate wellbeing

To start with the obvious- elections are an emotionally and physically stressful experience for candidates. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact elections can have on a candidate’s life during and post campaigning.

By focussing on every aspect of the candidate’s experience – preparation, campaigning, results night and post elections- and putting sufficient support in place in anticipation of a range of possible stressed, we’ve found that candidates overall have a much more positive experience, thus limiting negative impact on their wellbeing.

At UoNSU, we have on call MHFAs throughout Elections Week and the prep weeks prior as well as a dedicated Wellbeing Candidate Hub during Voting Week also.

For results night, we also announce results to candidates in a private room 5 minutes before their results is announces publicly. This gives them the space to process the news in private and be human rather than feel like a spectacle on stage.

Better relationships between candidates

A big part of the elections experience are the people you go through it with. We choose to look at a group of candidates not as people who are competing each other but students who all have the same goal and are going through a stressful experience together.

We create a culture and environment through elections where candidates can hang out together in our friendly and welcoming candidate bub, share campaign tactics, campaign together (rule permitting) and celebrate each other near the end of Voting Week at our candidate dinner.

Improved relationships between candidates and staff

At UoNSU, there are many ways in which staff can be involved in elections either as part of the Student Voice team, volunteer as a staff buddy for candidates or helping out at results night.

A staff buddy supports 3-4 candidates through 1-1s during candidate prep weeks and voting – this is all motivated by free coffee! We ensure that all staff receive wellbeing training and understand how to support candidates in a range of scenarios.

This means that our staff are prepared but importantly, they’re empathetic, friendly, approachable, and supportive. Positive candidate/staff relationships mean that not only do candidates know which staff they can go to for support during elections, but also post-election as either a new officer or a student who wants to make change.

Better engagement with campaigning (and fewer complaints)

Through Elections week we have a hub where candidates can access welfare and elections support, quiet space, food, water – its free for them and their campaign team to use at any time throughout the working day.

A strong support base means campaigning is more accessible and with the security of knowing where to go for a break or support, candidates are more likely to campaign more and deliver better quality campaigning.

Encouraging supportive relationships between candidates means they also lean on each other during campaigning and particularly for those who find talking to students nerve wracking, will then often campaign with other candidates.

This supportive relationship between candidates also sees a reduction in complaints as they see each other as equals in the same stressful situation of campaigning. Nottingham SU had the lowest ever complaints recorded in 2023 with only 2. The average before then was 25.

Starts good habits of wellbeing

Setting the culture of looking after yourself, looking after others, knowing where to get support and that’s its okay benefits any candidate who experiences elections but especially successful candidates who go onto be officers.

It works both ways in that they can start the role with healthy support mechanisms and boundaries for themselves but also understanding that their place of work has similar healthy expectations for them.

Students want to run again

Musicals end on a big and bold song as it is the main thing you remember when you talk about your experiences on the way home. Elections need to be the same for all candidates, not just the ones who win – especially for students who are returning and could become candidates again. So how do you create a supportive Results Night for everyone?

Candidates are informed a few minutes in advance of who has won (with a supportive friend by their side) with unsuccessful candidates having the option to return to the event, go to our wellbeing hub, or leave the event through a discrete exit.

We also ensure our results are announced early enough and not in a bar so that people are not using alcohol for their nerves or their sorrows.

Candidates who are supported effectively throughout elections are more likely to be happier, campaign more, complain less, and come back to run again.

Elections are always going to be a stressful and difficult time – but if there is a way that we as SU Staff can make that experience a bit easier and more fulfilling, then we should put our efforts towards this.

Leave a Reply