Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mentors inspect, adapt Agile approach

"The Agile Mentor" introduced Project Management Institute Chicagoland Chapter members to the idea of using work teams as an opportunity for mentoring and growth.

The continuing-education session at DePaul University was part of a long-running chapter program to match project managers with students of the discipline. In this case, professionals adopted a scrum team's self-organizing principles to “lead without the title” and look for mentors in their own practice.

Corporate event planner Mark J. Carter opened the Saturday session. He said his contacts and clients all have mentors; people who've helped them solve problems.

"Everybody has some type of genius," Carter said. "You can learn from a 20 year old. People with no experience in project management may know someone with an answer."

Participants also shared their thoughts on mentoring. "What a great listener my mentor was," said Sana Mahmood. "It’s that level of attention we don’t get anymore."

Friday, January 16, 2015

A measured approach to youth programs

Once the program's over, leaders ask: What just happened?

Project managers call it monitoring and control. We gather data to measure progress toward our goals. Nonprofit funders may require it. When children are research subjects, sponsors may set ground rules. In any case, youth program leaders admit the challenges of collecting and presenting the data.

At the Hive Chicago Buzz hackathon, members of a data working group dubbed the Think Tank pledged to create a self-evaluation tool, plus professional development to help members conduct their own analysis or work with outside consultants. I'm a journalist fellow in a member group, The News Literacy Project.

We started by listing own data challenges: tracking the reach of our programs, surveying young participants and presenting the results. Many of us have similar goals – to teach critical thinking, raise engagement or encourage careers – so common benchmarks could help us compare outcomes. Not all of us have resources at hand to create or analyze a database.

Brainstorming sessions were led by Jeremy Dunn of the Chicago Public Library and Eve Gaus of the Field Museum. Stephanie Levi of Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative presented a starting point for self-evaluation, a checklist based on Harvard research on after-school programs. Tene Gray of Digital Youth Network advocated digital badges as way to demonstrate and track what students have accomplished.

During a lunch break, I chatted with with Christie Thomas of the University of Chicago about Lawrence Lessig's lectures on "institutional corruption." (For the news media, that means forces undermining their public-interest mission.) After that ethics appetizer, Thomas led the group in exploring the issues of working with children.

Research rules are well established, dating to the government's 1979 Belmont Report. But parents can find them intimidating when they're outlined on a consent form. Are students giving informed consent when blogging or posting their cellphone selfies, and are their parents on the same page? Does putting children in a control group deny them benefits? Would a program for high school students be more effective in middle schools?

The group wrapped up by documenting their thoughts on an evaluation toolbox for Hive members. Future training could cover survey construction and emerging standards for connected learning. Work will continue in monthly meetups at the Harold Washington Library Center.

This article also appears at Civic Artworks.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Facebook reflects on year in review

Facebook thought you'd celebrate the new year. Now it knows better.

It's apologized for upsetting users with its "year in review" feature. Members got a collection of photos in which they were tagged, plus more from their timeline. They were prompted to share the gallery, a popup page with New Year's themes. 

But not everyone had a great year. A product manager apologized to web designer Eric Meyer, whose gallery featured his daughter. She'd died of brain cancer, on her 6th birthday.

Many Facebook users didn't share their own galleries, and they're private by default. If you track yours down you'll see a choice of themes to use, some more somber than the New Year's party page. You decide whether you had a year worth sharing.

Actually, it was a good idea. Journalists need review features (here's one of mine) to get through a slow December. Why can't Facebook users get a boost for their feeds?

What was forgotten is that we use our pages to muse, not just celebrate. Friends rush to leave tributes on their friends' pages on on their passing. I've gone to Facebook friends' pages to cheer them in their illness, and returned sadly to toast a few in death.

Chicago author Larry Santoro, has an active page months after his July death. Perhaps that's fitting for a gothic fantasy writer. Critic Roger Ebert still has active personal and fan pages. Families maintain pages as memorials. Facebook easily could develop features to challenge obituary sites like and, if it paid more attention to these enduring connections.

Facebook made an adept about-face on its year in review, changing its default sharing message (“It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.”) and presenting more neutral graphics.

My year wasn't great. Challenging, yes. I tried new things, met new people and learned a lot about myself. Still, I wouldn't have chosen the circumstances.

But it's good to reflect, and Facebook's smart to encourage it. Many days, I look at my news feed and wish my Facebook friends could give their day a bit more thought.