Sunday, November 26, 2017

My Learning from 'The Big Conversation'

Rachel Burnham writes: Way back in the Spring of 2017, I started to have a wild idea about hosting a public policy hackathon via social media.   I have to confess that at the time I wasn’t entirely sure what a ‘hackathon’ was or how you would run one, but I was pretty sure that somewhere in my PLN (personal learning network) there would be someone who did know! 

Aside from my work as an L&D Consultant, I volunteer with CIPD Manchester as a member of the branch committee and specifically as Public Policy Lead.  

I had been noticing for some time reference to increasing incidents of maternity discrimination in the workplace and this had been niggling at me, as an issue that needed exploration.   And I saw this as a topic where lots of HR people would have experience and might be interested in contributing their ideas about why this was happening and what could be done about it.  I speculated that there might be things to be addressed both at a public policy level and at an individual organisational level, so this could be a suitable topic for CIPD Manchester’s public policy work.  As I pondered on the topic, I began to wonder if this might be tackled through some kind of collaborative problem-solving approach ie hackathon.   And out of this the idea for ‘The Big Conversation about Families, Parents and the Workplace’ grew.

I should explain that CIPD Manchester has a five year successful history of public policy work, established by my predecessor as CIPD Manchester Public Policy Lead, Jacqui Woodhouse.   This work involves a panel of HR professionals who meet regularly to discuss and contribute to public policy issues that impact on HR and L&D work in organisations – by public policy we mean any actions of government or governmental bodies (national, local or international) that impact on HR, so changes in employment legislation, skills policy and funding arrangements are all things that we have looked at.  We contribute to consultations from government on such initiatives and have often acted as a focus group to inform policy making by CIPD nationally, Acas and to inform research undertaken by local universities.  Our meetings are sometimes speaker led, but often aren’t and instead are based around us sharing our practical and varying experience of the specific topic being explored.  I often joke that I am usually the person in the room who knows least about the topic in discussion – I see my role as bringing the right people together to talk and listen to each other – this is usually a mix of HR/L&D people and relevant subject matter experts/researchers.

And back in the spring, I was ready to try something different – I wanted us to reach out and involve a wider group of HR professionals, perhaps not just in the Greater Manchester area.  Over the previous year, I was aware that we had attracted participants to our meetings from West Yorkshire, Lancashire,  Merseyside and South Yorkshire, so I knew that there was some interest from wider afield.  I also felt that the time was right for us to initiate something from CIPD Manchester, rather than just respond to requests from CIPD or the other bodies that we are linked to.   We had done this a bit in the past, initiating meetings on the Northern Powerhouse and on the Apprenticeship Levy, but this was a step change.

This is a fairly long blog post, as I want to capture something of the process of how this came about, what was involved and most importantly, what I have learnt from doing it. 

Getting Started

So, I started talking to people about this idea – the branch committee, other public policy advisers based in other branches, HR people I met at other events, people in my PLN and so on.  Gradually the focus of this event widened out to not just focus on maternity discrimination, but childcare, shared parental leave, people with caring responsibilities other than children, flexible working and so on.   

Eventually, in mid-July I really started to focus on this initiative, scheduling some meetings with people who might be able to help.  A key meeting was with Gem Dale, @HR_Gem from The Work Consultancy to help me get my head around what a hackathon using social media might look like – we came up with the idea of a smorgasbord of ways of getting involved – a dedicated blog site, Twitter campaign using the hashtag #CIPDbigconvo, collaboration with any existing Twitter Chats, 24 hour online sprint conversations, with a face to face launch event.  As we were thinking about running this hackathon over an extended period, we decided on an initial campaign to build awareness using a unique visual identity and a series of commissioned blog posts – this would take place in September.  The face to face launch event would be held at the end of September, with the hackathon element taking place over 4 weeks in October.   We then had the good idea of using the CIPD ACE conference, which was taking place in Manchester in early November as a full stop to the initiative and had the idea to apply to run a fringe event at this event to report on ‘The Big Conversation’.

What happened?

We had about 6 weeks from those first detailed discussions in mid-July to early September when we planned to start the Twitter campaign.  I began by writing up a short proposal document to share with all the people who I wanted to get involved.  There was a lot to do, a lot of people to talk to and of course it was the key time for holidays.   I am so used to working in a very light touch way, as a freelancer and as a contributor to networks like L&D Connect, that it is hard to remember that some organisations work at a much slower pace.  Plus, there was paid work to fit into that time as well. 

Some elements went really well – our suggestion to Mark Hendy @markSWHRF for us to collaborate with the regular Twitter Chat (Thursdays 8-9pm) #HRHour met with an enthusiastic positive response and brought about the involvement of the S E Wales branch with ‘The Big Conversation’.  I was able to quickly delegate the formation of questions for that to Mike Shaw @MikeShawLD, a fellow Manchester CIPD member.  Gem Dale took on responsibility for setting up our dedicated blog and I set about commissioning blog articles from contacts in HR and relevant campaigning organisations.    I also took on responsibility for creating a visual image for the initiative, with support from Simon Heath @SimonHeath1, which meant getting my head around some basics in Photoshop.  I also contacted a number of CIPD branches that border Manchester to see if they would like to be involved.   This had a positive response and I offered a webinar briefing to support this involvement –  but on reflection the timing for doing this was poor, as it was right in the middle of the holiday season.  

We got the Twitter campaign launched, but a little later than intended and work started in earnest on planning the launch event for the end of September.   By then I was also handling the scheduling of Tweets and information on LinkedIn to promote the blog and was handling lots of enquiries, comments and offers of blog articles – I put some time into the intiative each day excepting Saturdays.  Ideally, this work would have been split between a number of people.  In the end we published 17 blog articles relating to different aspects of ‘The Big Conversation’ from 13 different authors – Gem and I each contributed a number of blogs.

The launch event took place on Wednesday 27th September and was hosted by Kenworthy’s Chambers.   The event included three short presentations to inform and stimulate conversation: Roz Hampson, from Maternity Action on ‘Pregnancy Discrimination’; Susan Raftery, from Acas on ‘Carers’; and Gem Dale on ‘Flexible working’.  We had about 28 people at the event from across the country – York to London, with good a mix of people from campaign organisations, researchers from universities and HR folk.  I would have liked more people from HR. During the discussions we worked in groups to identify four key themes to explore in the rest of the initiative:
·       Creating the cultures we need
·       Flexible ‘flexible working’ policies for all
·       Changing attitudes and challenging stigma
·       Supporting line managers to manage effectively

The very next night we took over #HRHour and had a very helpful and lively conversation with lots of participation from HR people.  The tweets were gathered together and put into a storify

Originally, we planned to have the Hackathon part of ‘The Big Conversation’ take place on Twitter, but we didn’t feel that we had got enough HR folk involved in the initial stages of the initiative, so we thought that we would try LinkedIn instead.  Our reasoning is that even if a person doesn’t do any other social media they will be on LinkedIn, so that this would be our best chance of involving more HR folk.  I posted the first of the themes and some initial questions into CIPD Manchester group and, but despite encouragement we only had a few contributions and a lot of tumbleweed.   So then, we tried posting the next week’s theme and questions openly on LinkedIn – this was a bit more successful, but by the fourth week even this had gone quiet.    So, the hackathon joint problem-solving element of ‘The Big Conversation’ really didn’t work and we are not sure why.   Perhaps LinkedIn wasn’t the right platform?  We didn’t seem able to generate sufficient momentum with comments and shares to get more people involved.  I noticed that even fellow CIPD Manchester branch committee members mostly didn’t add comments, though they did add likes – I wonder if people felt comfortable having this kind of a conversation in ‘public’ in written form? 

The final fringe event was fast coming up and I realised that we wouldn’t be reporting back, as we had originally planned.  So instead, I planned a 1 hour hackathon style event.  Again, this started with two Ignite presentations (5 mins each, 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide) from Gem Dale and Gary Cookson @Gary_Cookson, one of CIPD Manchester’s Ambassadors to inspire us and getting us thinking about parenthood and flexible working.  Then we moved into four groups, one for each of the themes identified in the launch event and worked through a series of questions over the course of 30 mins, each group working at their own pace.  Each group was facilitated and each group asked to make notes on post-it notes of key points.   The questions were:

  •      What is our ideal situation?
  •      What gets in the way of our progress now? 
  •      What works well today?
  •       What can we do to drive real change?

At the end of this time each group gave a 1 minute report back.   The points written up on the post-it notes were subsequently written up as blog posts and put on ‘The Big Conversation’ blog.  
We had over 30 participants in this event and everyone took part.  The discussions were very focused, with lots of contributions and helpful points raised.    And this was all possible in a session last only 60 minutes and starting at 8am in the morning!   I think it helped that we served breakfast!

Lessons Learnt
Here are some of my reflections on ‘The Big Conversation’:

11.  If I was to do it again, I would start planning earlier.   I think there is a balance to be struck between being fast & agile and involving more people.  Ideally, I would have liked to have had more involvement from more people from CIPD Manchester and other branches and to enable this to happen more time would be needed to allow for people to get involved in an earlier stage and to take things back to committees.   Having said that, a risk with doing this could be that such an initiative doesn’t take place – I know that I have limited time to spend of my voluntary activities and I have a low liking for spending that time in meetings – I have experience through networks such as L&D Connect and #LnDCoWork for making things happen in a light touch way and I know that this can be very effective.  But this may not work to involve more people.

 2.  If I was to do this again, it would be good to involve more people in shaping the initiative.   This links very closely to the time issue and particularly to attempting to set up the initiative over the summer holiday months.   The upside of being slightly less participatory is possibly a greater willingness to try something different out.  The downside is that the initiative would have benefited from having a few more people to share the workload.

 3. One of the challenges of this initiative was finding the people with the right skills (who also had time, were willing to be involved and ideally were NW based).   For example, when it came to splitting responsibilities, there was only one other person in the CIPD Manchester network, who I knew of that had the experience of setting questions and facilitating twitter chats, other than myself.  Fortunately, they said ‘yes’ when asked to take this on.   There were a few more people who had experience of setting up blogs, writing blogs and scheduling tweets, but still there were a very limited number to draw on in this project.   I wonder if we want CIPD branches to work in different ways and take on innovative projects, whether we have the skills capacity in the branch network to do this or whether this is something which needs developing?  It is interesting that many of the skills I drew on for this project were developed outside of the CIPD ‘world’.

  4. It worked well in this initiative to collaborate with other organisations eg Acas, Maternity Action, individual bloggers and existing Twitter Chats eg #HRHour.   We do a lot of collaborative work in CIPD Manchester, which meant I was able to draw on some existing relationships and I think this is a very helpful way of working. 

  5. This initiative was definitely not an event.  It was good to try out something different as a branch.  It is a bit hard to know quite what to call this  – perhaps it was most like a ‘campaign’.   It was really helpful to have created a distinctive visual identity that united all the disparate elements of ‘The Big Conversation’.   

   6. Where we did have events – the launch and the breakfast fringe event at ACE, they weren’t traditional speaker led events.  Whilst we did have speakers at each event, in each case most of the event was highly participatory and got everyone involved and contributing.
   7. It is OK to try something out and it not work.   To my mind, we only partially succeeded at what we intended with ‘The Big Conversation’ – we raised some attention for these issues, we got some HR people involved, we built some partnerships, but we weren’t able to identify many practical examples of what is currently working nor did we really identify the key public policy issues.  We did try out some different approaches to CIPD membership engagement.   Some elements of how we addressed this worked very well.  Some fell flat.   Some elements metamorphed into something a bit different.   This is OK.  Glorious failures, which you learn lots from are a good thing in my book.

So, what next?

I thought that ‘The Big Conversation’ would just be a short term project, but I think that there will be some spin offs.  I know that there are likely to be some further actions as a result of some of the partnerships built – watch this space!

CIPD  announced at the Fringe Event we ran, that they would be running a campaign next year, focusing on ‘Flexible working for all’ which was a key issue that came out both of the launch event and also the #HRHour twitter chat.  So, look out for that and get involved.

And I have a few new wild ideas that I want to try out for CIPD Manchester next year – hold onto your hats!

Thank you
‘The Big Conversation about Families, Parents and the Workplace’ involved lots of people in making it work – thank you to all the people who got involved as bloggers, speakers, stewards, collaborators, tweeters, facilitators, advisers & suggesters.  I particularly want to thank Gem Dale for all her work throughout and without whom this would not have been possible. 

Rachel Burnham

26 November 2017

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

No comments:

Post a Comment