(Thanks to Ana for the unlikely photo!)
Like hundreds of other events scheduled to convene in Washington, DC this week, our planned State Longitudinal Data Systems/Workforce Data Quality Initiative (SLDS/WDQI) Conference was canceled at the eleventh hour in an effort to avoid the wrath of Hurricane Sandy.
But many conference attendees from midwest, southwest, and west coast states were already en route when the cancellation notice was sent. By the time they arrived on Sunday, the airport was suspending flights, the DC metro system was closed, most buses had ceased, and the federal government had announced its intention to close the next day – possibly longer.
It was Sunday night – too late to cancel Monday breakfast – so emails were sent to those who had checked into the hotel inviting them to meet for morning coffee. By Sunday midnight, it was clear there were very few options for returning home any time before the monster storm was over – likely the end of the week.
An Impromptu Workforce and Education "Barcamp"
Monday morning, over fifty hearty souls had assembled in the Constitution Room of the Grand Hyatt (DC) between 8:00 and 8:30am. We chatted with colleagues, compared travel tales, and checked email. At last, one table raised the inevitable question: "What now?"
Andrea from Washington suggested that, having travelled all this way, she wouldn't mind spending some time with colleagues from other states to learn about what they are doing to bridge the education-workforce data divide. We ran for flip charts and markers, and by the time we returned, the Iowa team at the next table (Trudy, Connie & Letitia) had very nearly convinced the Texans (Ruben, Brian & Greg) to give an informal talk on what they'd learned after two decades of working to turn rivers of data into actionable intelligence for education and workforce agencies and university researchers.
A few minutes of coordination between Emily (DOE, NCES), Melissa (SPR) and their teams, and we were on our way to a full-day of learning and engagement–all peer-directed, peer-organized, and requiring the collaboration of nearly everyone who attended.
Our agenda follows (although, as in any unconference worthy of its name, the agenda shifted throughout the day).
The original SLDS conference, planned by the US Department of Education National Center for Educational Statistics with help from Social Policy Research Associates, was envisioned as an effort to share effective date collection, governance, and policy practices across education and workforce systems within and among states. Even among the small group of stranded travelers, both education and workforce data professionals were well represented.
Together – all of us – created a terrific day.
Five Key Ingredients Ingredients
Naturally (we are analysts...), we reviewed our own process and idenitfied five things we needed to transform a wayward group of travelers into an intelligence-sharing hive.
We're sharing there here so that others can also make lemonade out of similar circumstances.
- Markers & flipcharts. Some tools are undeniably essential. We'd nominate these.
- Coffee (& tea). Did we say it was barely 8:00am and most of the attendees were not east coasters? 3:00pm chocolate was also a treat, though perhaps not essential.
- Furniture movers. Big room, small crowd. Once we'd drafted an agenda, rearranging furniture seemed like a logical next step. Everyone grabbed a chair, a few relocated tables. In no time, we turned a giant, oddly lit, acoustically-challenged room into a learning environment that worked for both large and small group interactions. Brilliant.
- Technology crowdsourcers & facilitators. Some participants had slides but no computers, others had computers but no extension cords, and so one. But together, we managed to show (on two screens) slides, sites, examples, and tools–anything that could be projected. We even managed to take photos. Lots of different people made this happen. Thanks in particular to the scribers, note-takers, facilitators, and slide-forwarders who seemed to jump in precisely when they were needed.
- Awesome (and agile) information sharers including those listed here. These folks were just plain generous. They went above and beyond the call to make information accessible. They answered questions from any corner, veered off script when needed, and displayed a genuine willingness to help their colleagues learn.
- Ruben Garcia (TX)
- Brian Rawson (TX)
- Greg Cumpton (TX)
- Jake Walker (AK)
- Duane Whitfield (FL)
- Christina Tydeman (HI)
- Bill Huennekens (WA)
We're not sure whether it was the environment or mix of people, but we were duly impressed by the attentiveness everyone displayed to a shared mission – getting good data in to the hands of people so they can use it make better decisions. We catalyzed conversations about whether labor market imbalances are the result of skills mismatches or undesirable jobs to whether data sharing challenges have more to do with legal issues or culture. We asked each other repeatedly about the accessibility and "best use" of the data we are working with.
And we had a lot of fun.
The support team – Emily & Corey (DOE), Melissa, Ahmad & Kristin (SPR), Ana, Lynette & Bryan (AEM) – is looking forward to tomorrow and we hope our colleagues are too!
Sounds like WEadership to us.
We also wanted to acknowledge the many contributions of people not able to join us, including Kate Louton (Department of Labor), Jill Luefgen (SPR), and others, all the attendess who venture to airports only to be told flight were cancelled, and the friendly hotel staff (many of whom were also staying on site as they were also unable to return home).
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