Learnings and reflections on helping to shape Agencies for Good over the past three months.
Hi friend, it’s Shanice again, and I’m back to run you through everything that’s been happening with Agencies for Good (AfG) over the last three months. We’ve had so many successes, including the expansion of AfG’s Working Group (WG), some really valuable events, both virtual and in-person, and a second round of the Peer Pairing Project. That’s not to say that we haven’t also had challenges to contend with. For example, I’ve been busying myself with finding out what our community members are looking for, and expecting from AfG. This has involved some research into the kind of conversations they want to see in this space, how to write community guidelines that align with the specific values of both our members and working group, as well as some consideration of what other features/initiatives could be implemented.
We have learned and achieved so much over the course of 2021. This blog post will provide us space to take stock and consider what the first weeks of 2022 might look like for AfG.
Recruiting new Working Group members
As you may already be aware, AfG is managed by a WG that is made up of myself; Ellie Hale, Producer at Catalyst; James Gadsby Peet, Director of Digital at William Joseph; Gemma Hampson, Managing Director of Hactar; Molly Gavriel, Partnerships Manager at The Developer Society and Noam Sohachevsky, Founder, Designer and No-Coder at SIDE Labs. While all of our WG members bring different insights and strengths to the table, some enjoy organising events and others contribute by updating our website or creating links to other networks, we found ourselves experiencing a skills gap. We were able to identify said gap through our earlier decision to assign each WG member with specific tasks that they felt comfortable fulfilling, either as the lead or support. This has been really helpful in keeping us all focused and motivated, as well as allowing us to spend the time we dedicate to AfG wisely. The various tasks are recorded in this doc.
Off the back of this new approach to developing and maintaining AfG, we decided to recruit two new WG members. We were initially only going to recruit one but found that these two individuals’ skill sets not only made that of the WG as a whole more comprehensive, but also complemented each other very nicely. It’s important to us that our team covers all required bases in order to keep the community running smoothly, in a way that fulfils community members’ expectations. We recognise that this requires a certain level of adaptability and flexibility and will be applying rolling membership in future, meaning that we will frequently examine whether current WG members have sufficient time, energy and space for this community and act accordingly.
We also really appreciate hearing different perspectives so if you would be interested in helping this community to grow then get involved on the Agencies for Good #community-development channel and share any feedback you might have there or through DM, look out for opportunities to join the WG too!
Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Erica Neve, who will be helping me with community building, and Janinah Mckenzie, whose focus will be blogging:
‘Hi, I’m Erica and I co-create and design solutions that drive impact for clients, usually involving leading transformational learning programmes and designing learning products that help us address the climate emergency and become sustainable. Through a mixture of creative design thinking and establishing what motivates humans — I’ll co-create the right solution for an individual, a client, a brand or a sector. I enable individuals to gain the skills to continue to be successful and for businesses to address business challenges and talent gaps.’
‘Hi, I’m Janinah, a Branding & Business Strategist, currently working for a local council, whilst running a business consultancy on the side. I come from a fairly mixed background that covers tech, charities and local government. However, I’ve always been entrepreneurial and so, since 2016, I’ve enjoyed creating business and digital strategies for a range of small business owners across the West Midlands, as well as working several contracted roles in Marketing & Project management.’
The past three months of my work as AfG’s Community Manager have involved figuring out how best to lay a foundation that the community can build on. My two biggest achievements here have definitely been the Peer Pairing Project, which is currently on its third round, and the Question of the Week. Members of AfG have begun to consistently engage with both of these initiatives, allowing me to take a step back from the facilitative role I once held. I am hoping to reduce the part myself and the WG play in selecting the Question of the Week by encouraging community members to send in questions they would like to see featured. This is the ultimate goal as it will mean that we are centring their voices, rather than ours. If you’re a part of AfG and have any burning questions, I’m all ears.
In my mission to implement a new initiative, the first move I made was determining the type of conversation in which AfG’s members were most interested. Most Slack communities have channels where general, off-topic chat can unfold so I thought that it would be useful to know whether the same would be welcomed within AfG. I conducted this research by posting a poll in #general and reaching out to various people via DM. The overwhelming consensus was that the WG should not prioritise creating space for non-work related chat, often because community members perceive AfG as a catalyst for networking and developing their knowledge around tech for good. Others were happy for AfG to enable more personal connections to grow but expressed that they would have limited time (or interest) to engage themselves. The discomfort that can arise when sharing more personal information with people you only know virtually was also highlighted. There were, however, some people who felt that non-work related conversation could be a fun addition to the group. I won’t be pursuing this further for now, but never say never. My current priority is finding ways to encourage a more informal approach to the work chat, particularly because it is a topic community members enjoy discussing and one around which they can build relationships.
Research, Outcomes and Collaboration
Other work that will be informing any upcoming decisions that I make on behalf of AfG includes the research I conducted on diversity and inclusion, and the Outcomes mapping that Ellie and I completed, facilitated by evaluation expert Tom Keyte from inFocus. The fact that we are at the beginning of a new year makes me feel that anything is possible. Now is the time to really establish what we value here at AfG. I will therefore be reflecting on how to improve our onboarding process, as well as writing some community guidelines and working to ensure that every single member feels equally included and welcomed. I am very much looking forward to not only ticking off some of our short term goals but also paving the way to some of the longer term ones.
I also recently joined the Catalyst Collaborative Network circle and have really enjoyed connecting with organisers behind other initiatives. Collaboration plays a crucial role in keeping me motivated and productive. I always enjoy bouncing ideas around and learning from others. These meetings allow me to do just that and I am certain that they will help me to be the very best Community Manager I can be.
We have been conducting some experiments with events over the past couple of months. We know that we want to offer a space for our community members to connect but we are unsure what format might be the most effective.
When James suggested that we do a retro, I jumped at the idea. In James’ words: ‘Retros are a great way to easily get lots of people to build trust, by sharing their experiences. They are also useful for helping co-create ideas or solutions to common problems — so there are short term and long term benefits for people.’ This is exactly what we are hoping to build here and, more importantly, the positive response (15 people attended and a grand total of 27 were interested) indicates that this is what our community members are expecting from this space too.
The retro served as a tangible example of the power of connection and I really enjoyed hearing about what those who attended had achieved, as well as the challenges they had faced. This reflection is echoed in the feedback that I collected from attendees who said that ‘it was lovely to have space to reflect on the last year, to know that I’m not alone in the challenges I face, to get practical tips from peers and to be inspired by some amazing people!’ and also felt that ‘the retro allowed us to talk about our challenges openly in what felt like a safe space for sharing…’ This is very encouraging given that this was our first time organising a retro (plus it was only our second ever event!) and I therefore intend to run quarterly retros in 2022. I think this would be the ideal frequency for this type of event as it would help to encourage active participation (if they were more frequent people may run out of things to say and stop attending), and ensure their continued value to the community.
After noticing a thread on Slack in which multiple AfG members expressed an interest in collaborating with one another, we decided it might be useful to organise a call to further discuss what might be possible. I asked those who posted on the thread whether that would be of interest to them and received a very enthusiastic response in return. I then created a doodle poll with some proposed dates and times, managing to find a slot that worked for 10 community members (plus myself and Ellie as facilitators).
One of our main goals within the AfG WG is to encourage community members to build relationships, exchange ideas and collaborate, this call seemed like the perfect way to get the ball rolling. I would say that while it was successful in bringing people together, we still have a way to go. Feedback received from participants highlights a few issues that warrant further consideration. For example, one community member concluded that ‘it became clear that people have overlapping interests so we need to think perhaps about working groups next year.’ Another realised that ‘there was no real hierarchy [in this community] and it’s almost flat and it was really nice to see how inviting everyone was in the Zoom call’ and also communicated their wish for ‘some kind of lingo-buster or existing ‘specialist terms for dummies’. Someone on the Slack channel mentioned: 'when I was in the Zoom call I was confused by a lot of words and had to google them and couldn’t participate as much…’
As a result, I will be honing AfG’s onboarding process by better communicating our community’s tone and vibe, as well as compiling a document of jargon-busting resources. I will also be working to gain further insight into each community members’ priorities, so that relationships might be developed with complementary organisations, in 2022.
At the beginning of December, we also hosted an in-person meet-up in London to better connect with our community members. We thought it would be a great way to commemorate the upcoming winter break. It was such a relaxed atmosphere and I really enjoyed meeting some of the faces behind the messages. We decided to choose a pub in Finsbury Park as the location, which may not be ideal for everyone but, as Ab Brightman (community member and guest) pointed out, did allow the AfG WG to circulate and chat to everyone who came along.
In future, we would love to open things up and organise events in various different settings and locations. We want our events to serve all of our community members, not just a select few. We would therefore love for events to eventually become a collaborative effort between the WG and AfG community members.
If you are interested in running your own in-person event or meet-up, our very own Molly has very kindly written an event guide to help you do just that. Check it out, and feel free to make any suggestions around how it might be improved.
Sharing the love
I am so very proud of the ways in which AfG has grown over the past six months. We are truly on the way to developing a community that is both unique and valuable to all members. A massive thank you to you all for engaging with my questions and initiatives, your insight is vital to every bit of work I do as community manager. It is always wonderful to hear your thoughtful feedback, and I thought I’d close by sharing a small selection below:
‘… I’ve joined a number of Slack groups over the last two years and this is by far the most active and, importantly, productive and that’s very clearly down to your leadership so thank you!’ - Jo Johnson of Jellymould
‘YOU being around since the start to include me actively has been one of the main reason this isn’t just another Slack group I’m inactive in. You’re really helping me settle + be active in this collective so thank you.’ - Maria Than of Ricebox Studio
Please do reach out if you ever have a comment of your own, I’m here to listen and learn. Thank you for taking the time to read my latest updates, see you next time!
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