Tech Outreach and Onboarding

Pin It

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.

9 comments

  1. drew

    This is a great use of our blog. I hope everyone will start posting more stuff like this. Personally I think this blog is an amazing way to keep people up to date, push them to volunteer, and help them understand the projects we are working on.

  2. Charles Lenchner

    What a great list of things that need doing. Great background for folks trying to get involved. We should promote this.
    (Still a fan of marketing/branding fun!)

  3. Jack Smith

    Its a confusing system. I didn’t know if such a open collaborative tech movement existed online. Just so happened I was visiting Nycga.net, which to the average user offers no hint by URL name alone. Once you click through you see ‘New York General Assembly’, again, gives no hint to a person seeking global collaboration. I initially thought it was specific to NY and didn’t host the global tech group. Once I figured out this was possibly the correct place, I then had to search through dozens of groups and to track down an unknown number of groups relating to tech. Tech Ops seems to be the place, albeit a little quiet. Then I found some links in forum, to wiki, projects being worked on, blog, etc. Although much of this info was spread across several sources, so it took a little work to piece together a story about what is happening. Further confusion occurs when forum talk revolves around NY local meetings, etc. Are there meetings online? how open are you guys to non NY’ers collaborating on the projects being discussed? etc.

    I see you guys are consistently progressing, great job, but you are spread too thin and hidden behind layers of non-descript branding. Perhaps separating the Global Occupy branding from the Occupy NY may make things more appealing and clear to those who wish to collaborate online.

    • Jake

      We definitely recognize that this is all hard for the average/new user to figure out.

      To clear up some confusion, Jack, nycga.net and all groups, blogs, and events connected to it really are about Occupy Wall Street, specifically, here in NYC. That includes this blog and this Tech Ops group. That said, we do have many folks from outside NYC collaborating with us on NYC-based projects. We need all the help we can get.

      At the same time, I will note that we are in communication with tech-minded folks from many other occupations around the country and around the world to try to build something much bigger and much more broad. That is still mostly a dream at this point, but we’re working on it, one conference call at a time.

  4. Brian Martinez

    Foremost I would like to congratulate the Tech Ops team for the magnitude of work you all have accomplished to date. I have ideas that would help developers as myself get up to speed more efficiently. I have tried to replicate your environment locally and ran across a series of issues that proved to be aggravating and time consuming. Do you all have a developer environment online whereby developers can spend some time training and becoming knowledgeable to your environment and platform? Developing web cam overviews as to where you are at, what you have accomplished to include the key php files used, your DB structures, methods you have developed, SQL statements etc… Essentially an MVC breakout in a web cam format would be extremely helpful in the initial training and overview process and would help capable developers get up to speed without doing to much heavy lifting. It would also be far more efficient and lessen the burden on the Tech Ops Team to be in a constant training mode with newbeeies. I volunteer to put this together for tech ops since it would get me up to speed and leave a lasting set of tutorials for others to view.

    For example, at one of your training sessions we can capture the session on web cams using Camtasia Studio and post it so others can review to use as a foundation and reference point. While the Google Group, Wiki, IRC are foundational they really do not paint the complete picture from a development standpoint. The screen cams will also enable those who cannot get into NYC for a formal training session the capacity to train Occupying their couch.

    If you all have an interest to proceed with this idea or would like to developed it further please contact me accordingly. I am reaching out, once again, so please reach back.

    • Jake

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for being in touch! We do have a team heading up trainings, both in person and as web-casts, but these are really being designed to help train USERS of the sites on how to use them most effectively. That said, we also need a better way to train future developers and get people up to speed. We have the wiki, which is full of a lot of useful documentation, but that can be improved and videos are always good fun. I hear you saying that you would be willing to create those resources. That’s fantastic. Please email us at tech@nycga.net so we can discuss this further and get you rolling.

  5. liza

    your report is brilliant and it made me wonder if the problem isn’t that nobody has stepped up but that we aren’t clear as to how to follow up with all these channels of communication.

    you’ve identified 15 channels of communication and this, by itself, can be overwhelming. i’ve started a board at

    http://sprintboard.occupy.net/onboarding

    and all am asking is for people to help organize these 15 channels into manageable FOLLOW-UP categories. off the bat i can think of 4 FOLLOW UP categories: EMAIL, DOCUMENT, PERSON, TWEET. maybe this isn’t the way to identify the follow ups, but that’s all i have at the moment :D suggestions