One thing that we spent a lot of time talking about at tonight’s meeting (though this is FAR from the first time we’ve had this discussion) is the fact that our efforts to connect with interested folks who want to help have been absolutely dismal thus far. One of the things I brought up at the meeting (sometimes with less of my signature tact and cheer than usual – sorry) was the fact that we have tried many ideas for outreach and on-boarding, but they have repeatedly fallen short of our aspirations, usually because no one steps up to really make them work. I tend to think it is not because we have been lacking the perfect piece of software, and not because we have been lacking the right imaging or branding or marketing, but rather because we have been lacking the individual human beings with enough time/motivation/interest to take it upon themselves to really push these efforts forward. I think that many of the things we have tried, and the things we have repeatedly discussed trying, could have worked great if only they had been actively followed-through on. To help contribute to this conversation, I figured it might be helpful to compile a list of some of the tactics we have tried thus far and a brief analysis of their success:
- IWG Google Group: Hundreds joined during the October rush. At that point, we even had a team of about 3 or 4 off-site volunteers who were Google Group moderators who were actively screening incoming messages and helping direct interested parities to the right place. Many reached out to us though that. Lots wanted our help on outside projects at a time when (like now) we had no resources to spare. Lots wanted to offer suggestions at a time when (like now) we had very limited capacity to implement them. Some were able to use this tool to get involved and stay in the loop, but as time passed, the list traffic slowed down and began to be pretty polarized. Now traffic has slowed even more. We currently have 341 subscribed members, presumably with a HUGE range of things to offer to the group, most of whom have probably changed their preferences to “no email” or setup gmail filters to not see the messages. As far as I can tell, our once-acitve team of moderators has been gone for months.
- IRC Channel: We first began using this to collaborate on the ncyag.net 2.0 initial build. We advertised it on the Google Group. Since then, this has proven to be a great way to communicate and collaborate. Occasionally, new people will join the IRC channel and say they have skills and want to help. This sometimes is an effective way of on-boarding, but it requires that right then and there, someone in IRC stop what they’re doing to help greet and orient the newbie. Also, tech folks from other occupations sometimes join us in IRC for help/advice. This is also sometimes pretty successful, but also interrupts any work that is going on in IRC. Overall, since IRC is primarily just steaming real-time chat, it is not ideal for providing background info to newbies, but it is good for making people feel like they’re beginning to establish a personal relationship with Tech Ops and not just being asked to read off a website. As I write this, 10 of the 20 humans in IRC (not including the esteemed iwg-bot) are people that I do not personally know who they are. Maybe they’re active in some corner of our work, but not in a way that is evident to me personally. We have also jumped into other IRC channels briefly (wordpress, buddypress, etc) and asked for interested with some good results. We could definitely do more of this.
- Volunteer Form at internet.nycga.net: This was our big initial push to get people to help us develop nycga.net. When we first built it, we promoted it on twitter, craigslist, google groups, etc. We got a whole bunch of replies and many of them lead directly to great people (some of whom are still core members of Tech Ops, some of whom did great work and then moved on, and some of whom never really got too involved). After the initial push of me personally contacting the initial volunteers from that form, that role was handed off many times to different people/groups of people and at this point, I don’t even remember who is supposedly currently bottom-lining this effort. There are 118 entries on the form. Many of these people once showed some interest but we have not followed up with them.
- Orientation Meetings: At one point, we had the idea to have one of our weekly meetings each week be an orientation meeting to get people up to speed on what was happening in Tech Ops and build personal relationships so they would be able to plug right in a productive way. I think this plan lasted for about 1 week before fizzling out. It then evolved into having separate training sessions after the meetings on Sundays. This lasted for a few more weeks before fizzling. Tonight at the meeting, there was talk of having the first meeting of every month be a bit of an on-boarding/orientation meeting.
- IWG Blog: Ron did a lot of work setting up the internet.nycga.net blog to try to solve some of the same problems we continue to struggle with today including project lists, project documentation, outreach, and more. It never got much traction within the group.
- Tech Ops Blog: We have been beginning to blog a little more on our new tech.nycga.net blog. We’ll see how this goes…
- Tech Ops Group Page: We have 525 members of our group on nycga.net. This is within the top 96% of groups on the site in terms of membership. That said, the participation in our forum conversations is not very high. We also have the ability to send emails to all of those 525 members directly through nycga.net, but as far as I know we have never done that. This could be a GREAT way to reach out to people (weekly?) to advertise projects, both internal and external, which need help.
- @OWS_Tech: I recently made a twitter handle for us. We currently have 300 followers. As far as I know, Patricia and I tweet on it. Anyone else want to? I have had a couple of people get in touch with me via twitter to help and some have taken some steps to follow-through on that.
- Direct one-on-one Outreach: Both in person at OWS and online, we have had some good success with personally reaching out to specific people that we know have some of the skills we need. This is time-consuming but can yield good results, in my experience.
- MSM Interviews: Lots of us have done articles in various mainstream media outlets. These have definitely generated some buzz and brought some interest in.
- Enterprise Outreach: Matt has been reaching out to companies in the industry to get support/free stuff. This has been very successful on the free stuff front.
- Unconference Session: Not a huge amount of attendance. Was more of an opportunity to do a training than a real on-boarding process.
- InterOcc calls: Lots of interest, and lots of talking, but hasn’t lead to much direct collaboration, AFAIK.
- Volunteer Services (OWS_Works): They are working hard to solve these problems movement-wide. I do not know specifically of any success stories yet, though, of people that actually found us through Volunteer Services and were able to connect and start being involved.
- In-Reach: We have had some contact with folks staying at churches, folks in other WGs, etc. A few have expressed interest in helping. Usually, though, this falls through because it is hard to make connections and actually get this to move forward, or because people are too busy, or because access to technology is too limited.
- Local Meet-Up Visits: Some folks in the group have done this on a very limited scale. This could be much more active.
So, I guess my point is, for all the talk of branding and imaging and marketing, we have not really even been able to send out emails or effectively follow-up with people who have already said they want to help. I think we have a long way to go before branding is the thing that is holding us back.