An article about the pitfalls of subscribing to so-called best practices. An alternative is offered in the form of Honest Practice: a narrative approach to evaluation that contests the copy-and-paste mentality that plagues our field.
Written by Howie Fisher with illustrations and design by Billy Brown
Jules has been a superb VISTA Leader during his past year with the Transmission Project. Jules is innovative and he engages outside knowledge and experts to solve problems and bring in more diverse viewpoints and experience.
In his role as VISTA Leader, Jules managed an effective team of 26 VISTA members: he has encouraged group cooperation and participation and has consistently facilitated effective resource and knowledge sharing. During the year, he has moderated conference calls and worked one-on-one with VISTA members to ensure that their service is meaningful and effective. He has greatly expanded our library of IVSTA-created resources and has acted as an effective resource-librarian when members have voiced needs or challenges.
Beyond his VISTA Leader responsibilities, Jules has accepted broad responsibility for helping to build the capacity of the CTC VISTA Project. In this role, he took the lead in further developing our training and member development curriculum. In addition to the 12-part training series he designed and oversaw, he sought out 5 external trainers and facilitators to deliver training, Jules has been instrumental in enlarging the knowledge an ability of our VISTA members and will be leaving behind him a solid training foundation upon which to build for future years.
Jules has brought great skills, experience and understanding to the Transmission Project. We have greatly benefited by his service.
Dan Schackman joined the CTC VISTA Project management team as one of two VISTA Leaders, after serving for two years as a CTC VISTA at CTCNet. In addition to VISTA Leader duties, Dan has served as Assistant Editor of the Community Technology Review journal and as Associate Producer of the Commonwealth Broadband Collaborative.
As VISTA Leader, Dan
• Helped coordinate CTC VISTA PSO held in Boston August 30-Sept. 1;
• Developed a plan for VISTA Leaders and the Resource Specialist to facilitate monthly regional group conference calls and individual check-in calls with CTC VISTAs serving outside of the Boston area, replicating the MA CTC VISTA monthly in-person meeting, and implemented for his assigned groups in the Midwest and South;
• Redeveloped quarterly CTC VISTA News, the Project’s newsletter for the VISTAs, edited and published in the fall and winter;
• Participated in monthly MA CTC VISTA meetings;
• Provided feedback on various Project office communications and support systems: CTC VISTA Project web site relaunch, CTC VISTA Project blog and individual CTC VISTA Project blogs, Fall “care package” to VISTAs, various memos and resource sharing via email lists.
Notable challenges include: Making sure as many VISTAs, if not all, participate in the check-in calls and blogs, and dealing with VISTAs having particular difficulties at their site and/or in their lives, requiring a lot of time, patience, and tact.
As Assistant Editor, Community Technology Review,
• Developed new features for the journal, including expanded Resources section and Perspective endpiece column with guest writers.
• Did outreach for writers and resource contributors for Winter 2004-05 issue.
• Coordinated and helped edit Winter issue, sections and individual articles.
• Produced web site version of the Winter issue.
• Developed editorial plan for Spring 2005 issue.
• Developing ideas for redesigning web site, and developing advertising opportunities.
As Associate Producer, Commonwealth Broadband Collaborative
• Participated in planning meetings and discussions for future of CBC.
• Developed relationship with The September Project, a community remembrance and civil liberties awareness project focused on September 11 event.
Saul was the VISTA Leader for the 2004 - 2005 Program year and worked to manage, motivated, and connect all the Digital Arts Service Corps members out in the field. Saul also worked to redesign the DASC website and implement a better system for VISTAs to record and share their experiences online.
VISTAs have not had an easy time keeping in touch with each other, both during and after service. In some cases certain personal information wasn’t even kept on file, such as a home telephone number. I created a global addressbook last year and incorporated it into the redesigned VISTA website this year. Alumni and current VISTAs now have a simple facility on the Project website to share their information as well as access other VISTAs’ information. In enhancing VISTA alumni resources and communications the VISTA Leaders wrote a form letter to all past alumni announcing the creation of a new CTC VISTA alumni connections mailing list (January), which also served to connect alumni to the great CTC VISTA directory networking resource. We plan to use this addressbook to periodically send a newsletter to alumni and hold reunions.
Assistant Director Paul Hansen and I worked collaboratively to re-launch the VISTA website (http://www.cpcs.umb.edu/vista/), creating a mock-up on a development server before going live with the re-design. In addition to migrating the directory pages off the development server, I replaced the static roster listings (current VISTAs, alumni, all VISTAs, and organizations) with dynamic database- backed pages, laying the groundwork for a recruiting system in which potential supervisors can add and edit VISTA job descriptions directly on the website. (The rosters do not at present list who is a second- or third-year VISTA, and it does not indicate any special titles for people, like VISTA Leader, for example).
Developed enhanced VISTA resources. One of the biggest challenges any group of short-term workers faces is the loss of knowledge when the staff turns over. In an effort to combat the lack of knowledge retention between VISTA “classes,” Dan
Schackman and I erected a resource wiki on the Project website. A wiki is “a website that allows users to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content” (WikiPedia.org). The wiki technology is widely deployed across the Internet and was chosen for its ability to cater to both novice and advanced Internet users. Dan and I created a modest framework though which VISTAs and non-VISTAs alike can contribute to and maintain a database of resources exclusively targeted to CTC VISTAs. Dan and I fleshed it out with resources provided by VISTAs David Johnson and Michelle Rogers. I feel the wiki will serve as an effective tool enabling VISTAS to have greater participation
The Community Technology Review website (www.comtechreview.org) was beefed up and migrated from an obsolete web server to a server which hosts all other CPCS website properties (CPCS, VISTA, CBC, etc.). Of note are the new comment approval system and the PayPal order page. The comment page will ease the approval process for user-submitted comments, and the order page will streamline CTR hardcopy purchases which can now be handled with a credit card. I also trained Dan Schackman to use the administration interface and made some minor code changes for the Winter 2005 issue.
Finally, I became savvy with Final Cut Pro and edited a couple of small VISTA project videos for distribution on the web (http://www.cpcs.umb.edu/vista/video/). I massaged the swearing in footage for the 2004-05 crop of VISTAs originally shot on September 1 by former VISTA Leader James Fishwick, featuring US Representative Barney Frank and UMass/Boston Chancellor Keith Motley. A couple more projects have been added to the archives, including a Liz Cavano’s half-hour “What’s a VISTA” (2001) and Scott Hillier’s “CTC VISTAs: A Day in the Life” (2003).
The past few months haven’t been spent exclusively glued to a keyboard and monitor. I spoke at Faneuil Hall in October on AmeriCorps Opening Day, an ambassador of the CTC VISTA Project. A number of situations arose with a few VISTAs, some of whom I tried to help with varying degrees of success. For my part I served as a liaison with a VISTA in Minnesota, who ended up leaving the program after transferring from her first assignment and failing to make her second assignment work; I supported two VISTAs in Massachusetts, one in California, and one in North Carolina who had some conflicts with their supervisors and another experiencing some serious interpersonal conflicts with one of her co-workers. These situations have been very time and energy intensive, requiring frequent and detailed communication with VISTA support staff and the involved parties.
On a related front of Project responsibility, I assumed coordinating responsibilities for the monthly meetings among the Boston VISTAs, ensuring an agenda, chairperson, and minute-taker for every meeting as well as editing and posting the minutes
During the 05-06 project year, Saul’s supervisor said the following:
Saul has continued to lend his considerable technical skills to a number of projects– some to the benefit of the college others to the benefit of the Project. The addition of the reporting system to the Project’s ‘online application system’ has been an enormous help and was pulled-off pretty much without a hitch. Reports were submitted by participating organizations largely on-time! This was unheard of in the past and represents a huge leap forward in efficency. He continues to work on the application system. Currently he is revising it so that organizations can have and access more than one application– for multi-year projects. This revision is proceeding slowly however. In the role of VISTA Leader (and as the Leader of the other Leaders) Saul has performed well. Communication between the Leaders could be better (more frequent perhaps) but the improvement over previous years has been considerable largely due to his coordinating efforts which began well before the August 2005 PSO. Saul also plays a vital role as the person whom I bounce my ideas off of. As I often have bad ideas, the value of this cannot be underestimated.
Documents that corps member Scott Reed uses to train, organize, and conduct outreach with volunteers.
In the tradition of PRPD Conferences past, this year’s gathering will also inspire. You will hear prominent public radio voices and those outside our industry not just explain where we are as an industry but where we are going and how to get there despite – or because of – the troubled economy.
This year’s program includes sessions designed to help PDs and content professionals not just survive but thrive in these changing times. Attend, and you will return to your station armed with new knowledge about:
programming on multiple platforms
1. Powerful People Make Good Decisions Even When they Consciously Think
Is it the way you think that is affecting your decision-making or your power position?
Delivering impact: Improving nonprofit effectiveness