In the fill-in-the-blank percent

I live in–no, I am a homeowner (which has its own privileges) in a ZIP code where the life expectancy is 20 years higher than it is in the ZIP code in this city with the lowest life expectancy.  In large part, this is because I was able to marry my partner (thanks, Loving vs. Virginia!).  Because in addition to being part of a two-income household, I otherwise would not have imagined ever owning a whole house with an bachelor’s degree in English.

I have a full time job with benefits, which means employer provided health insurance.  Which means that I probably don’t have as much to worry about because employer provided plans have not typically, even pre-ACA, excluded coverage for pre-existing conditions.  Which, when you’ve had gap in coverage, can be anything.  I had a friend who once got a letter from his health insurance (pre-ACA) that listed “pain” as a pre-existing condition and therefore not covered.  Not even specific pain, just pain.  And so “historically” is not terribly reassuring to someone who didn’t have insurance for most of her childhood and still sometimes forgets that she can go to the doctor now and that the co-pay is probably less than buying several potential solutions in the OTC aisle of the drugstore.

I have a full time job with benefits that I would not have gotten without a college degree, even though one really does not require a college degree specifically to perform my job, nor any of the jobs I have ever held.  A college degree that, without Pell grants and federally subsidized Stafford loans–well, okay, my parents and I could have taken out private loans and paid ridiculous interest, and we’d still be in debt now, over a decade later.  I took out subsidized Stafford loans in my name and, combined with Pell grants, work study, and a scholarship, my dad was able to afford the rest.

Aside from a mortgage, I am not in any other debt now because my dad gave me my car and because I paid off my college loans years ago.  I paid off my college loans thanks in large part to my dad, in part to a partner who was okay with getting all our groceries from Save-A-Lot, and in part to the education award I received after serving a year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA.

Did I mention that I started my career thanks to AmeriCorps?  With that year of experience, I was offered full-time employment at a time when many of my peers were going to grad school because there are no student loans for being an unemployed college graduate, and/or moving back in with their parents even while working.  This was just before the housing bubble burst in 2008.  Did I mention that I was able to graduate (from a public college) when I did (in 2006) because I was able to take AP Calculus and college-level classes at my public high school?  Timing can be everything, and I was lucky there as well.

I have been incredibly fortunate in life.  Yeah, I work hard and save and all that.  But my dad also did his best to give me a solid start in life and as an adult by minimizing the debt I had.  Even if we didn’t have health insurance.  I was extremely lucky not to have had any serious illnesses or injuries as a child and still am extremely lucky at the moment.  Because that’s one of the ways people lose the roof over their head and start that spiral.  When I graduated from college and was accordingly kicked off my parents’ health insurance, I was able to sign up for S-CHIP in the month between my last final and when the catastrophic insurance I had through AmeriCorps kicked in.  And thanks to COBRA, I could buy an extension of that catastrophic insurance at the group rate while I waited the 60 days or so for my employer provided health insurance to kick in.

I am female, but I am also heterosexual.  I am a person of color but also a member of the model minority.  I don’t have any physical disabilities or learning disabilities.  I grew up in a middle class household, with a dad who worked a white-collar job, so that I knew enough of what was okay and not okay and a lot of the unwritten rules of that type of professional world.  Rules that I’m not even sure I can articulate now, even as I’ve watched others struggle with them.  Which I guess I bring up to say that it’s complicated, intersectionality.  None of us are all privileged or all disadvantaged or all anything in all spheres.  Not even white, Christian, heterosexual males.

I guess that what I’m trying to say is intersectionality applies to cause and effect as well.  That we can all (myself included) do better in clarifying the world instead of simplifying it.  I am privileged to the point that I’m probably not the person who comes to mind when most people think of someone who has been able to get to this place in life because of my family, government programs, and plain good fortune.  Would I have gotten here without those combined with working hard and trying to make good decisions?  Probably not.  But without any of the first three, I never would have had the chance to try.

Improving our defaults

Last week, I was at #17NTC (the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference) and I’m still processing all of the things I learned or ideas that were sparked and how I might apply them in my work or in life generally. But one of the biggest takeaways for me was a question:

How can we improve our defaults?

This was sparked by a session on improving website accessibility for people with disabilities. Someone on the panel mentioned how, in the most recent version of Drupal, they had worked to improve the defaults so that some level of accessibility was built-in even if the organization using the platform didn’t specifically care about or pay attention to accessibility. Most of these things, like offline adjustments for accessibility, could benefit everyone. Otherwise, they were no detriment to the user experience for anyone else.

One of the other suggestions in the website session was that we should build accessibility into our budget and our project schedules so that crossing it out is a active choice. Similar to automatically opting people in and making it an active choice to opt out—which can be annoying for e-mail lists but beneficial for 401k participation.

The day before, I’d been in a discussion with community organizers where we were talking about venue. One mentioned that a challenge was that the space they currently had for events was not accessible for people in wheelchairs or who otherwise had trouble getting up and down stairs. They were raising money for a lift, but in the meantime, they stated upfront in each event description that the venue was not wheelchair accessible. Which sounds a bit counterintuitive, but the organizer mentioned some community members appreciated that the information was there, that they didn’t have to ask. Because they have always had to ask—many organizations hosting events, in leaving this type of information out, made an implicit assumption that people attending their event would not have disabilities.

One: Don’t make people ask.

From the start of the conference, there were efforts at inclusivity all around. When I checked in, I could pick up a pronoun ribbon to attach to my badge. In one look, people could know my name as well as that I use she/her. Other options included him/her, they/them, and there was also a write-in option. There were gender neutral bathrooms. At the opening, the CEO mentioned both of these along with the nursing mothers room, the prayer room, and other amenities that recognized we are not simply session-attending robots. In addition, recognizing that there were many first-time attendees, she explained some common lingo and abbreviations. There were “I’m shy” buttons, for those who were happy to talk to others but perhaps looking for the more outgoing attendees to make the first move. There were Birds of a Feather lunch tables and volunteer-staffed Dine Around Town reservations so, although you could certainly eat with whoever you chose, nobody had to eat alone or had to figure out how to ask a stranger to eat with them in a city they didn’t know.

None of these things are terribly difficult to do. None of these things precluded people from choosing otherwise (e.g. some chose not to use the pronoun ribbons, some chose to make their own plans for meals). But as someone who has come a long way to be able to ask a stranger if they wanted to eat lunch, about what an acronym stood for, and who still struggles with these things, and has watched others stress out about trying to find a place where they could pump or breastfeed, about whether or not they could even get into the building, let alone use a bathroom once inside—it means a lot to be seen.

Two: Inclusivity means nothing without access.

Inclusivity is not the fact that you have taken down the signs that say “No coloreds” or changed your policy from being a men-only club to one that allows female members. Sure, nobody is actively stopping women or people of color from applying to jobs in technology (or any other field). Nor is that an explicit reason people don’t get promotions or aren’t seen as leaders in spite of actions that would demonstrate leadership if only they looked like what we expect a leader to look like.

Inclusivity is meaningless without access; inclusivity is as much about removing barriers as it is about creating the space and opening the doors. As in, not only are we not restricting membership by gender, but we’re also ensuring that this space is actually accessible to all community members for the purpose we aim to serve. If people need to be able to spend a day learning at a conference, they will also need to go to the bathroom, possibly need to pump or breastfeed, may need a space to observe their religion, will need to be able to get in the building and into all of the rooms in which we are holding sessions and events. If we want people to lead at all levels within our organizations, then we need to look for those actions in all places rather than only in the places and people we’d expect.

Three: Improving accessibility + increasing inclusivity = benefits to us all

Revamping your website from looking like Times Square to being less cluttered and focused is not only easier for people using screenreaders but is a better user experience for all of your website visitors—yes. Not having to navigate stairs helps even those of us who can walk when we’re moving heavy carts of equipment or boxes of supplies—sure. Being able to use either single-person bathroom rather than having to (or feeling like you have to) wait for the one that says “Women” even while the one that says “Men” is empty—heck yeah.

But it also benefits us all because we’re getting whole people. People who aren’t spending mental energy (and actual energy, and actual hours of time) on planning out how they’re getting from point A to point B via points F and U because of stairs, or because of needing to pump every few hours or because they need to bring their own interpreter, or because there isn’t a bathroom they can use within a 15 minute walk (as exhibited in Hidden Figures), or because they need to assist their opposite-sex adult child who has special needs in using the bathroom, or because the way they observe their religion frightens some people who do not know them. When people can bring their best selves and their whole selves—why would we not choose that over people bringing only a part of their brain power, a part of their time, a part of their talent and passion and brilliance? If we’re willing to spend time and energy on recruiting/hiring/engaging the right people, why wouldn’t we make sure we could get the best of them?

Four: We will never be completely inclusive or accessible.

Another recurring theme, in the session on website accessibility, and in many others, was to let go of perfect. We may not currently have the budget to install an elevator. Or the capacity to overhaul our website.

But what can we do right now to make it better?

Maybe it’s saying, to our community members who use wheelchairs: We see you. We can’t fix it yet, but we wanted to give you a heads up that there are stairs. Maybe it’s not having a prayer before a meal but having a moment of silence for those who wish to pray, to create that space for them. Maybe it’s considering what will be readable to people who are color blind or who have issues with low-contrast when you’re choosing the colors on your website, or writing detailed descriptions for your images in your blog posts. I remember a friend of mine (who is a quadriplegic) once telling me a story about talking to bar owner about how changing the doorknobs on the bathroom door to lever door handles would make it so much easier for him to get in and out of the bathroom. To which the owner responded, “Oh, that’s it? I could do that.” At a previous organization that only had about 20 staff, they didn’t have space/need for a dedicated nursing mothers’ room, but they installed a lock on the conference room door so it could be used as such.

When we have the opportunities to do the big overhauls, that’s wonderful. But more important is that we try to improve our defaults. Like what if, instead of waiting for people to ask for a raise, we evaluated everybody’s compensation every 6 months, and within our capacity, gave everyone raises who deserved one regardless of whether they had asked? Or asked everyone about professional development they were interested in rather than just saying yes to people who asked about it? What if we simply got rid of urinals? What if the form you filled out to get your event added to the calendar or your business added to a review site asked whether or not the space was wheelchair accessible? If job websites required employers to post jobs with a salary range, rather than employers requiring it of applicants, and to post their policies around family leave rather than requiring candidates to ask? At my husband’s company, it is expected that, if the company pays for you to attend a training or a conference, you will share what you’ve learned with the rest of the team afterwards. I don’t know if that’s policy or just a cultural thing, but that make sense. Whereas I heard another attendee comment on going back to the office and their boss telling them to go back to work and stop bothering them with all of these ideas. Why waste everyone’s time leading someone on if they won’t be able to get into the restaurant, if the highest salary you can offer will not meet the minimum of what they are seeking, if you’re sending them to a training for the sake of checking a box rather than using professional development to enhance capacity, if the contribution people make to the organization have nothing to do with how you compensate them? In addition to being disrespectful and not inclusive, it is simply inefficient. It doesn’t make any sense.

We’re bleeding opportunity cost, and we’re usually not even aware of it.

I’m sure there are plenty of things I’ve not mentioned, and pitfalls with some of the things I have. I’m not perfect and plenty of my defaults could use improvement. I had the awesome opportunity to present at the conference, and I talked about flipping the switch with change-resistors: what do we risk by not doing X?

I’ve always struggled with that because quantifying output or input is easy. We spend a lot of money on education, for example, and money in and of itself is not an answer, but neither is not spending that money. What is the cost of an under-educated citizen? Of a person who ends up in prison instead of in a job? Not just the cost of running the prison or feeding inmates, but the cost of that person’s potential had they not ended up there in the first place? I’m willing to bet it is greater than the cost of providing certain services or programs. Not all of them. But probably a significant number. If someone figures out a good way to calculate that, let me know. I don’t know that the data would prove this theory, but I don’t know that it would disprove it either.

I could keep going, but I’ll end on this note:

What are our defaults? What are the inherent assumptions? How might we make our defaults better?

Equal Pay

If you are a man (or at least a man who might want to make a home with a woman someday) who is still not sure why equal pay isn’t a woman’s issue, consider this: Let’s say you found out that many of your co-workers in the same role, and peers at other companies, were making more than you.  Let’s narrow the comps further to exclude people with a lot more experience or degrees or whatever is the currency of your chosen field.  Note that this still leaves people who may have less experience, qualifications, etc.  Maybe let’s filter out people who produce significantly more, if that can be measured objectively (which it can’t always).  Now let’s add on that, compared to most of these peers, many tasks that are non-billable and yet truly move the work and the team forward fall to you.  Maybe you are asked, maybe it’s because you’re just so good at this collaboration/communication/teamwork stuff that your counterparts simply aren’t able to handle.  Or maybe nobody else will do it but you know it’s needed to make the project successful (a.k.a. leadership).  Then you go home and the situation is mostly similar.  Or you have to pass up opportunities that would help you get ahead because you don’t have a wife at home.* So you try to look for a new job, perhaps.  Every time you try to look for another job, rather than paying based on your skills and experience and new role, they ask for your salary history–so you’re still stuck behind everyone who had a head start.

Now imagine that person is your partner, is the other half of your household.  Even if you don’t have joint bank accounts….

*It still sticks in my head, hearing about a friend’s mom getting passed up for promotions because she had to take days off when the kids were sick, or because she needed a flexible schedule to pick up the kids from school, or basically to do the things required of being a parent because–unlike her male colleagues–she didn’t have a wife at home.  She had a husband.

Volume control

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.  But should it?  I’ve written before about amplifying or making a space for the quiet voices, the unheard voices.  A little while ago, I had a conversation with a friend and we were wondering together how one turns the volume down on all the really loud voices so that we can hear the others better, or more equally, or basically not only listen to the loudest voices.

I was recently reminded of my default during a discussion about parents in sports.  I made some thoughtless comment and a colleague (a father himself) quickly reminded me that the parents making the headlines for starting fights with coaches and screaming at referees were only a tiny fraction of the parents at games–most of the other parents who are being respectful and cheering on their kids also wish they could throw these juvenile grown ups out of the game.  And he was right.  It’s not unlike how some people are terrified of flying but get into cars without hesitation even though our chances of dying in a car accident are significantly higher.

There are some sharp (and painfully funny) tweets about the #WomanCard, and one recurring theme is how women get paid less than men in the same positions.  There are multiple factors, but one big one is that men are much more likely to ask for higher pay to start and/or to ask for a raise.  Can you imagine if we applied this to education and only gave kids the opportunity to go to school if they explicitly told us that they wanted to go to school?  Or only didn’t discriminate against people if they asked us specifically not to be denied housing, healthcare rights, education, voting rights, the right to have their family legally recognized, the right to informed consent, use of the restroom without assault–oh, wait.

How do you create volume control?

Maybe it’s making sure you’re hearing from a diversity of voices.  Maybe it’s amplifying the quiet voices, like those Steve Hartman stories capping off the evening news by reminding us that there are still good people out there.  Maybe it’s making sure we balance our media intake with primary sources.  Though it’s not all media; this happens with people as well.  There are some friends, some colleagues, some people whose voices carry more weight with us, for whatever reason.  Or maybe some who simply speak up more.  Maybe it’s pausing to consider the source and what their motivations might be.  Maybe it’s pausing to consider who isn’t in the room.  Maybe it’s remembering what you value and trying to block out all the other voices.  Giving due based on contribution/content rather than on the volume (auditory or otherwise).  Maintaining all your wheels instead of ignoring them until you hear a squeak.

Maybe it’s all or none of these things.

Any ideas?  How do you create volume control in your life?

Prison and prisons

We have got to do this better.

We know that solitary confinement is torture, that it does nothing but push broken people to their breaking points–and how does that make society or any of us safer?  We know this and yet we keep doing it, even if President Obama recently banned solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prison (though I’m unsure of what this means for young people in state prisons or local detention).  Not only do we keep doing it, but when we run out of space we don’t look for alternatives, we simply double up people (including people with a history of violence or known to have a mental illness) in the same small, confined space we already know to cause healthy people to lose their minds.

Not to mention that “the three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities in the country are jails: Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City and Cook County Jail in Illinois“–institutions that at best are ill equipped for mental health treatment, and at worst can be fatal.  These are preventable deaths.  We moved towards deinstitutionalization for a reason, and for very good ones, but we still haven’t quite figured out what to do instead, and how.

Even those who come out don’t come out unscathed.  Kids learn to become criminals, and I’m not sure what we expect people with criminal records to do if they can’t get or keep a job after they get out.

Not that there isn’t a need or a place for corrections, but when we fail to remember that the purpose is supposed to be making it safer for all of us, when we fail to take the long view…  We asked for a cheap (at first), quick bandage and that’s what we got.  I don’t know what the answers are but we better do something differently because this is death by a thousand cuts, times a thousand, times a thousand…

Accommodations and Defaults

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 10.41.43 PM

Saw this today. It’s not a secret but something wonderful that was handed private to a customer by a barista at a Starbucks in Leesburg, Va.” – comment on the PostSecret postcard above

There are policies about accessibility–and they are important, there is a place and a need for them.  There are technological solutions–in fact, you can order online and go pick up your order without really having to talk to anyone (which appears to be what this customer had done prior to being handed this note).  And those too, have their uses.

But this is so much better.  Instead of asking a person who has, I’m guessing, either a hearing or speech-impairment to accommodate everyone who does not speak sign language, this barista is making an effort to speak this customer’s language.

There is no reason that those of us with fully functioning legs could not walk up and down a ramp.  That those of us without arthritis could not use a lever door handle.  That children without disabilities could not play on a playground with features that make it safe and playable for all children.  There are plenty of cases where other factors may come into play, but the times when it’s a matter of choosing this or that type of door handle–why is inclusion not the default?  And if it is a little more effort to design something a certain way or takes a little more space or–why is it that we make people who have struggled their entire lives in a world not built for them, to work even harder to accommodate the rest of us?


Introducing new technology and processes to staff/volunteers: A case study

This is adapted from a class assignment and the story told is from a several years ago (there’s an app for this now!).  However, the inherent principles still apply.  And it had been a while since I’ve posted so I thought I’d share…

We were working in the dark

Our organization had a very large event, with approximately 800-900 attendees. When attendees arrived, they would need to check in to get their materials for the event and to find out their assigned table. Since not everyone would receive the same materials, and table assignments often changed up until the last minute, making sure everyone received the right materials and was sent to the right table was challenging. The previous method was essentially a spreadsheet printed out on paper, with volunteers checking off names manually. Any updates or corrections also had to be done manually on every single copy—which is a lot of fun when you have 12 copies of a 20-page list and people are starting to line up at the door! Plus, after the event we had to compile all the lists of checked off names so that we could follow up appropriately based on whether they had actually attended or not. One year, someone didn’t realize we would need to know that information afterwards and tossed the checked off lists at the end of the night!

Then a light appeared from the front lines

In the post-event debrief, one of the volunteers suggested using Google Docs as a way to have multiple people working off the same list and to be able to make updates in real time on a single file. She had used this with her friends while planning a group trip and thought that it might also be useful for this event. It sounded great, but…

We had so many questions

  • Would we have the technological capacity and infrastructure needed? (e.g. internet, laptops, electrical outlets, Google accounts)
  • How might we need to adjust the standard physical set-up?
  • What kind of adjustments might be needed when working directly in the spreadsheet?
    • Previously, we had created the list on a large spreadsheet to track all of the information we needed but hid certain columns when printing so that volunteers would only see the information they needed. We had also printed out multiple versions of the list (e.g. alphabetical by last name, by group, groups only, presenters only) depending on how guests might present or information might be requested by staff.
  • What changes would we need to make to the check in process, from when a guest first steps up to the desk, to when they’re going off on their way?
  • Is information visually ordered/formatted to support the new process?
  • How might we need to adjust the volunteer training?
  • What would happen if someone accidentally typed over data or made a mistake during data entry?
  • What types of changes to the data would volunteers be empowered to make on their own, and what types of changes would need to go through the registration manager? (In this case, I was both the person managing registration volunteers at the event and the one who managed the data before and after the event.)

Another question, in hindsight, would be:

  • If the point was to streamline the process and make things simpler for both the data managers and volunteers, could we do this without volunteers having to learn so many new things that it negated the benefits of saving time and increasing accuracy?

This did not end up being an issue in this particular case, but in general, it is worth asking as it will be difficult to get staff or volunteers to learn a new system or implement a new process if they are taking on the costs (training time, frustration in troubleshooting, etc.) without seeing the benefits (i.e. it doesn’t save them any time or make things easier for people in their roles).

It is always important to remember why you were trying to do this in the first place and determine whether the benefits outweigh the costs (time, resources, etc.). Once you dig a little deeper, you may discover that the benefits don’t outweigh the costs for anyone. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

How we answered some of those questions

  • We worked with the venue to make sure we would be set up in a space with internet connection and electrical outlets. We asked all the volunteers about access to laptops and Google accounts and made arrangements ahead of time for those who would not. And we sent everyone a calendar appointment to remind them to bring their laptops on the day of the event!
  • We decided that we would ask volunteers to use the Find function and provide training on how to use this to find the information needed among all the other data in the spreadsheet.
  • We updated the check-in process, and updated the color coding and visual formatting of the spreadsheet accordingly to call out or differentiate key information.
  • For the volunteer training, we decided to bring a couple laptops and have them go through the entire process.
  • We came up with specific guidelines about the changes volunteers could make to the spreadsheet; anything beyond those would be directed to the registration manager.
  • After testing, we felt comfortable that most of the volunteers would be able to learn the new process, especially since they’d all worked in similar programs like Excel before.

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3

  • We built a prototype of the spreadsheet in Google Docs using the previous year’s event information.
  • We wrote up a new process.
  • We drafted some of our most seasoned volunteers (who had seen the widest range of situations) to put the new process and Google Docs spreadsheet through the wringer.
  • We adjusted the spreadsheet and the process.
  • We tested again.
  • We made the final adjustments and prepared to train the volunteers.

Training volunteers

  • After the basic event overview, we explained why we were making the change in order to answer the question of “so what?” for returning volunteers. In addition to providing more accurate and up-to-date information, we explained that the new process/system should make the process faster and easier for everyone—from staff/volunteers to guests.
  • Our graphic designer (also the volunteer assigned to event registration who suggested this in the first place) created a flow chart/decision-tree to keep it simple and help volunteers visualize the new process and how to handle different situations.
  • We walked through the new process verbally.
  • Then it was time to practice! We created a mock registration spreadsheet in Google Docs using the information from the previous year. We scripted various scenarios and had volunteers take turns role playing to get comfortable with the technology and the process, and to get a sense of the different ways a guest might present and how to handle those.
  • To make the training fun, we also took advantage of the inherent awkwardness of role playing and came up with some ridiculous scenarios involving celebrity couples and TV characters. Some people decided to show off their various accents as well…
  • Some volunteers were fine with the flow chart/decision tree and the verbal walk-through. Some practiced with extra scenarios. Volunteers needed varying levels of support during the event. One volunteer tried it out that year and then asked for a different assignment in the future. Everyone learns differently and sometimes, in spite of everyone’s best attempts, not everyone is necessarily a good fit or comfortable with the new system.

Last minute hiccups, a.k.a. The Murphy’s Law of events and anything tech-related

  • We learned that the wireless internet would be shut down during the event and would need to hardwire the internet connection for each laptop.
    • We talked to the venue to ensure this was possible. Then we asked everybody who was providing a laptop whether they had an Ethernet cable. And then we searched every cabinet in the office.
  • A few hours before the event, I discovered that the final spreadsheet file was too large to import into Google Docs.
    • After trying to reformat the file, panicking, and sheer banging my head into the same wall multiple times, I finally resorted to copying and pasting the spreadsheet in chunks (the technical term, I’m sure) of about a hundred rows at a time. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked! (Back to that point about Occam’s Razor and the simplest solution…)
  • During the event, Google Docs appeared to freeze or act up for some of the volunteers.
    • We discussed this during the post-event debrief and realized that certain browsers were not fully compatible and that, in the future, we would need to ensure that every laptop used for the event had a compatible browser.

Lessons learned, re-learned, and still being learned

  • Try as many ways as you can to “break” the technology, system, or process, in field conditions, and preferably with whoever is in the field or has that experience. There will always be something unexpected, but you can probably test out most common situations and come up with contingencies.
  • Don’t be afraid to tear it all down and start from scratch. Sometimes it can be easier (and less confusing) to build a comprehensive process incorporating all the new (and relevant existing) pieces than to try to shoehorn the old process into a new system or vice versa.
  • The best way to learn is by doing. It can be a scary moment of truth, but better that you discover any kinks during training than when rolling out a new technology or system live!
  • Frontline feedback is crucial! In this case, it brought about a change that was a significant improvement, and it was helpful in figuring out what worked or did not work the first time and making things easier for the next event.
  • The more you empower frontline staff, the easier it will be for everyone involved. There will always be some decisions that need to be made centrally or with consideration for factors beyond what frontline staff can see, but if you’re clear about the parameters, you might be surprised at the solutions people come up with on their own.
  • Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. It can be tempting to think that just because technology can do something, that it is the best way to do something in this particular situation. For many smaller and less complex events, pen and paper is still the easiest and quickest way to handle registration.

Well, enough from me. What has worked well or not worked well for you when rolling out new technologies, systems, or processes?


What’s black and white and red all over?

A few weeks ago, a British teenager’s tweet went viral as he asked how Muslims were supposed to stop ISIS when he couldn’t even get the girl he liked to text him back. Every time someone who is visibly a member of this or that broad group (Muslims, police officers, et al.) commits a terrible act, anything other than an immediate condemnation is seen as condoning that act. If you’re not with us, you’re against us.

What’s black and white and red all over? If we refuse to see anything but black and white, then we all will have bloody hands.

Let’s get the facts right. More importantly, let’s get the truth right. Taking one’s time to get it right is not the same thing as covering something up or dragging your feet to delay the inevitable. If we were the accused, we would also hope that our friends and family who knew us well would give us the benefit of the doubt. Would at least not immediately believe the things others accused us of without proof. But if the proof showed I did wrong then, to make excuses and to act as if better cannot be expected of me is just as offensive. To act as if others are less than just because they’re “other” or just because you know me is just as wrong. Respect and believe in me enough also to hold me accountable.

For every time we ask not to be painted in broad strokes, to be presumed guilty or treated as anything other than a human being who may be part of broader groups but is also an individual capable of his or her own thoughts, values, beliefs, actions—

It goes both ways. It has to, or it doesn’t at all. Somebody needs to be brave enough to go first.


Every time some college students dress in blackface for Halloween or someone reignites the call for the name change of the DC football team or any other sports team named after a group of people, people get so quick to draw on both sides that we lose an opportunity to understand the history and why it hurts, to learn how to be respectful instead of simply trying to be inoffensive. I’m not sure what’s a good way to go about that, but I am certain that we’re generally missing the mark.

And so it was refreshing to read about the way in which the Seminole tribe works together with Florida State to celebrate its history, to keep it alive.  The “hey, don’t assume we’ll be offended or not.  Don’t speak on our behalf.  We will speak for ourselves.  We can work together so that you don’t misrepresent us.”  The exact approach won’t work for every instance, but what makes the difference here is that the Seminole tribe plays an active role in how the name is used and how the story is told.

So often it is not about who uses what words or or names tells whose stories so much as doing it without the history, without the context, without understanding or even attempting to understand.  Because we also lose when we let some stories be untold out of fear.  Because a censored history can be just as bad as an incorrect one.