Balancing the decision of when I need face to face meetings and discussions instead of having those discussions online instead is just one of the multitude of new decisions I and others need to make in an increasingly online world. When I watched Evan Davis’s Mind The Gap programme recently I learned the term “agglomeration economics” which to my simple mind seemed to mean people like to meet people in person and by building personal relationships businesses thrive (or something similar).
So, coordinating a network of 3000 centres and 2000 access points, all with diverse ideas, needs, issues and opinions, how can I make sure I and the team spend as much time as possible talking and listening, learning, iterating and evolving?
Previously our network focus groups have taken place face-to-face, twice a year, and they’ve been invaluable. We’ve found out what’s happening for centres and learners, what they think of Tinder Foundation’s services, and what we can do to make things better. And centres have made friends, shared best practice, and gone away with new tips, contacts, and often new ideas and plans for their centre.
But, it’s only twice a year, we paid people’s travel costs but not for their time (including travel time which could be considerable), and this way of working inevitably excluded some people. So we’ve taken them digital!
Here at Tinder Foundation we’ve been running webinars for many years. For those not familiar with the term, it’s an online seminar, where you can see a presenter’s desktop, chat with peers and interact through speech, online chat, voting, messages and ratings. It’s been a great way for us to offer training to stretched UK online centres staff who can’t afford travel or time away from the coal face.
It’s very hard to replicate the type of informal networking and interaction you get over a cup of tea and a biscuit. But this week I think we did it – or took our first steps towards it.
I took the first session this week, and I frankly can’t wait until it’s my turn again. Participants came from all over the country – from Edinburgh to Exeter – and we’d made sure to prime people about how the session would work, and asked them to come prepared with questions, examples and ideas. It can be too easy to hide on a webinar, and be passive rather than active, which is why we put so much time in up front to make sure everyone was ready and waiting to contribute.
Our conversation was wide ranging, but one of the key things I’ve taken out of it is how important it is to our network that Tinder Foundation paves the way for local partnerships by acting on a national level. That includes work with organisations like Asda, McDonalds and even Jobcentres, who are national organisations with a local presence. With all of these partnerships there were pockets of fabulous practice, but also frustrations about local relationships.
Many centres are overwhelmed with referrals from JCPs, as they try and get clients up to speed on DWPs new online systems. But others felt they could be taking on more clients, and helping to triage job seekers more effectively. That’s something I think we can help with from a national level, and I’m going to take that back to our colleagues at DWP as soon as possible.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this new feedback cycle can work to make both UK online centres and Tinder Foundation more effective. I’ve learned all over again that it’s good to talk, but great to listen. And that technology can help all of us do more of both. But I’ll always still like meeting people with a cuppa and a biscuit too!