I’m realizing more and more that this project with YAB does not entail an intervention-style strategy of helping them build a foundation that can simply be handed over to them; it requires, rather, a more gradual process of independence-building. (Given everything I have learned about nations transitioning to democracy, it’s a bit embarrassing that i didn’t understand this from the start!) Here is a cautionary tale that will hopefully have a happy ending:
As part of my effort to strengthen the organizational structure of NYFC‘s Youth Advisory Board (YAB), I set up a group page for them on Kohort, a relatively new social networking site that is built specifically with the needs of groups in mind. The idea was to get everyone signed on to a platform that would give them more functionality than their current Google Group—something that would enable members to interact with each other (and, eventually, outside supporters, partners, and beneficiaries of their efforts) with ease outside of their monthly meetings. A couple of weeks ago I sent out a general invitation to all YAB members, but was disappointed when only a couple of them joined the Kohort group. In retrospect, my misstep was failing to get their buy-in before advertising the new group page. To remedy the situation, I scheduled a a Kohort training session for YAB’s elected officers. My new tactic was to get them excited about having a Kohort page and then to enlist their help in signing on the rest of the members.
So we opened the training session with a brief discussion on how social networking could be a tool for community-building and organizational administration. We then talked about how the current iteration of Kohort is useful to YAB, and how its coming features (e.g., event ticketing) could support YAB’s activities. There were definitely mixed reactions to Kohort, partly because it’s always a challenge getting people to be excited about yet another social networking site, and partly because Kohort still needs to work out some bugs and kinks on their platform. But the YAB officers were also extremely excited about the possibility of handling a lot of the group’s affairs online. If anything, their enthusiasm exceeded the capabilities of a site still in beta (“Can you post JPEGs?” “Can you contact other groups as a group?”). And I was further struck by the savvy of the officers regarding their online privacy: Many of them chose to bypass the easy sign-up through their Facebook account because they were concerned about sharing too much information.
During the training, all the officers joined the Kohort group and learned to navigate the basic features of the site. They each agreed to take on the task of getting at least three other members active on the group’s discussion board (vetting their commitment to YAB in the process), and to shoulder the responsibility of monitoring the group page one day a week. This is just a temporary measure until the members all get comfortable on the platform and perhaps one of the co-VPs takes on the role of online community manager.
I’ve begun posting discussion questions to provoke more thought on their group mission statement, but they are already champing at the bit to define membership requirements and expectations. I’m looking forward to drafting a group constitution with them over the next few weeks!