As part of my work plan as Visiting Scholar at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, I have the pleasure of working with networks of grantees to design and facilitate peer learning exchanges on networked nonprofit practices and using social media effectively over the past five years. One of the networks I’ve been supporting for three years is Friending the Finish Line strategy. This peer learning exchange is designed to help state-based groups to be more effective in engaging their networks toward covering uninsured children. Just like message consistency, storytelling, and interviewing skills, proficiency with social media like Facebook and Twitter increases their capacity to make change happen for children in their state.
I’m working in partnership with Spitfire Strategies. The project supports a cohort of children’s health care insurance advocates with monthly peer calls, a face-to-face annual workshop, and expert one-on-one coaching from SpitFire coaches. I’ve been working program and instructional design, facilitation of peer calls and workshops – in collaboration with the fantastic team at Spitfire. This technical assistance design is a balance of expert support with peer learning and an intentional strategy for building the network’s capacity to share ideas, content, and collaboration.
This week was the third face-to-face meeting I’ve helped design and facilitate. We covered strategy topics and how to integrate social for: ladder of engagement, content and engagement, and using champions and influencers. We also included some practical topics and hands learning about simple ways to create visual content. When I look back three years to when this group started to work on social media, I am amazed to see their progress from crawling to walking to running – and learning and supporting each other. Since not every person in the cohort could travel to Washington, DC, we had virtual participants who joined us via phone and the webinar software.
I love peer learning models because they provide richer learning and support than expert only. As one of the participants said during the end of the day reflection, “The experience of working together with my peers on brainstorming ideas for our September editorial calendar – makes the work more fun, efficient, and sustainable – than working alone.”
We kicked off the half-day training with a fun icebreaker. Ahead of time,participants were asked to share a screen capture of their most engaging or best performing content on social channels and include some reflections based on sharing the metrics against goals. This information was used to create some cards that participants could pick up and review. We did a series of share pairs where they explored the cards together and shared insights. We wanted an icebreaker that allowed participants to draw from what they already learned and share with a peer – this helps set up peer learning.
The first module was focused on defining and showing examples of social media integration when developing a “Ladder of Engagement,” based on chapter 6 of my book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit. Participants then used a workshop to think through the steps and calls to actions for their own ladders – and created posters with sticky notes (you know how I love facilitating with sticky notes – here’s another method).
We had them work in small groups and focusing on different objectives and audience segments. We did a rapid report out. I used a digital stop watch and each group had three minutes to present their ladder. All of them did it in less than the half time provided. I’ve found that adding this constraint to group report outs avoids getting bogged down with long report outs.
This session kicked off with pointers on values-based messaging and how to integrate that as part of your content and engagement strategy. We created giant sized cork boards using a modified version of the LightBox Collaborative editorial calendar. We divided them into three small groups, all to brainstorm content for the month of September while thinking about ladder of engagement, calls to action, audience, and objectives. Since ladder in the day we were going to focus on visual content, we had them generate specific ideas for infographics or text overlay images that we would workshop latter in the day.
The report out was a competition. I used a decimeter app and the group with the loudest applause won a copy of my book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit. The exercise was very practical because we can take the combined ideas and put them into an online editorial calendar and when participants go to plan and implement September content and engagement, they have a lot of work in place. For me, this is the beginning of the working as a network – sharing and co-creating content.
We ended the day with a hands-on session to create some visual content and a closure exercise where participants commit to a next action step for a “show and tell” on our next peer phone call.
Peer Learning can be designed and delivered in many creative ways, but ultimately success means seeing some transformation of individual practice, impact on the organization, and reaching outcomes collectively. Peer learning may be just be a prelude to collective action in a network.