The study group has been running for a few months now, and it’s about time to make some adaptations based on what we’ve learned.
For the most part, it’s been a success. Since its inception the group has created 9 summaries, 4 mind maps, 12 lecture scripts and 4 paper presentation recordings. It’s already a rich store of material to draw from.
But it’s also been a source of headache to keep it going. I subscribe to the idea that good management sets things up to need little maintenance, so we must be doing something wrong.
Specifically, we have been suffering from high turnover. Turnover is a crucial variable in assessing the quality of a community, business or project. It’s the rate at which people come and go.
Right now, there are 37 people in the study group chat, but only about 6 or 7 show up every session. The rest of them fell prey to entropy at some point, being swept by more urgent demands and opportunity costs.
As Wikipedia states:
“High turnover may be harmful to a company’s productivity if skilled workers are often leaving and the worker population contains a high percentage of novices.”
Not to mention the considerable overhead of continuously onboarding new members and giving them a fitting task, and dealing with sizable uncertainty in deciding what to do next.
Part of this cannot be prevented, for it’s in the nature of working with volunteers. There is only a weak accountability mechanism, and it’s only fair that volunteers are free to not show up without being frowned upon.
But part of it is about managing expectations, and managing roles. Compare the following scenarios:
– Volunteers can click a button, and they automatically get enrolled it the group chat. The schedule of the group is written in a pinned document. There is no personal welcoming: people can just get to work. The manager quickly jots down a few words to explain the current state of the group, and tells the newcomer they can get to work with the next session.
– Volunteers fill in an extensive form, where they are asked about motivation, how much slack they have, what prerequisites they have, etc. After a few days, they receive an email from the manager, to schedule a one-on-one onboarding appointment. The appointment is a 30-minute conversation to get to know the volunteer. If the manager decides to enroll the volunteer, their name and picture are added to the website, under the heading “content development team”. They’re invited to the next meeting where the volunteers discuss what to do next in a plenary setting. If the volunteer doesn’t show up to a meeting, they’re asked why.
I’m not saying the second is ceteris paribus more effective, but there is something about our needs, our nature, that makes us want to stay and work hard in the second scenario, and not in the first. It has something to do with personhood.
That’s why we’d like to forge the next step on our ladder of engagement. It’s the content development team.
The study group will continue to exist mostly the way it does now. I think it’s good to have a place for people to test the waters of volunteering (and AIS), with a low bar. Those that (intend to) show up with high consistency will be invited to another weekly session, added to the website, and included in decision making on what to do next. Of course, this solicits some commitment.
Adding to that, we are raising funds to open the paid position of “head content development”. The task is to oversee the content development process, guarantee the quality of scripts, and be available to answer Robert’s questions. It will be 2-5 days a week, depending on funding.
The initial makeup of the team has already been largely decided. Invitations are due next week. But if you’re motivated to make a contribution, you can always fill in the form on the website. Alternatively, you can email us.
More will follow on both the position and the fundraising. We will keep you posted!
Best regards, Toon

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