Prototype, Pilot, Iterate: Reflecting on the TimeraiserPlus Spring Workshops

Reflection is a key part of running a successful program in the nonprofit sector, but after working so long on one thing, I’m usually eager to just forget about it and move on to something new and shiny. However, since our Spring season workshops wrapped up yesterday, I’m forcing myself to hit the pause button, share some of my thoughts as a facilitator, and consider the feedback we’ve collected from our participants.

This season, TimeraiserPlus hosted four in-person Volunteer Management in the Cloud workshops in Toronto, Calgary, Regina, and Hamilton. The curriculum, which debuted in Toronto, is divided roughly into three sections: an overview of digital infrastructure strategy, a discussion about online DIY volunteer management options, and some hands-on work using Weebly and Google Forms to create a volunteer-focused microsite and intake form. Follow the link above to read through the workshop agenda for a more detailed breakdown.

In the workshop we advocate a prototype – pilot – iterate approach to developing digital infrastructure strategy, and I also try to apply this framework to our programs. Piloting the new curriculum meant facing a novel set of challenges and opportunities in the workshop environment. Since this is a relatively new position for me, there were lots (lots!) of lessons learned as a facilitator, but I’ve decided to focus on just one key positive and negative takeaway here.

The biggest challenge with piloting the new curriculum is (gracefully) managing the disparate levels of technical skills in the room. The mix of participants always ranges from newbie to savvy on the tech-scale and the challenge is to deliver innovative content without losing those who are less technically inclined. In fact, TimeraiserPlus workshops are intentionally small so my colleagues and I can provide individual, hands-on help for those who need it.

Of course, this challenge isn’t limited to the most recent curriculum, but it is definitely is something that we actively strive to address in our workshop design. As a footnote to this, a second challenge (OK, it was a flop), was the idea of using a collaborative notes document. I got this idea from the 2015 NTC Conference, where the collaborative notes documents were great, but apart from the Toronto session, no one in any of the other cities contributed to the documents. Collaboration cannot be forced, it seems.

The biggest success of this curriculum is in finally getting participants to recognize the value of the stakeholder mapping exercise. Different iterations of this exercise appeared in our past workshops, and despite firmly believing that it’s critical to planning successful strategy, the exercise never resonated all that well – until now. In addition to allocating more time for the exercise, I also created an handy online template for the exercise (you can download a copy here for free), and these two adjustments have improved the participant feedback about this exercise. Previously, only 14% of respondents found the exercise “Very Useful”, while in the spring workshops, this number jumped to 63%. I’m proud of this improvement, and of the favourable reception of our newer volunteer archetype exercise, which 90% of participants rated as being “Very Informative or “Informative.”

Now that we’ve piloted our prototype curriculum, it’s time to iterate. My biggest takeaway is the length given to each section of the workshop: nearly 67% of participants wanted “Just a Little More Time” for each subject covered. Over the coming months, the TimeraiserPlus team will be dreaming up ways of more effectively fitting everything we want to say about nonprofit technology into a four-hour workshop. And that’s no easy feat, let me tell you.