The FSE Outreach Program was started as an experiment and, just over one year in, it felt advantageous to document thoughts around future outreach program models while I’m in the midst of building this current one. Plus, I love a good reason to reflect!
It’s important to note that I’ve struggled a bit in writing this post and realized it’s likely because I can feel gaps in knowledge/awareness as I write. This is where I miss in person WordCamps and meetup groups with lengthy discussions around important topics. While we can’t rely on that right now, consider this an invitation to dive into this post, share your thoughts, and make my thinking better.
TL;DR My Recommendation:
Based on the last year of leading the FSE Outreach program, I recommend the following when it comes to future outreach programs:
- They should continue to happen and an effort should be made to better define what qualifies as needing one to set expectations in the wider community (ie don’t want people expecting an outreach program for everything).
- They should likely be limited to 1 or 2 at a time to prevent saturation.
- They should be launched with more intentionality around the timing of feature releases (easier said than done).
- They should be tied more explicitly to current teams to ensure they remain high impact.
- They need at least one full time volunteer who is likely sponsored, ideally from different Five For the Future organizations.
- They should not only focus on feedback and should, from the start, have educational/awareness building pieces as that’s proven to be a major advantage.
Overall lessons learned
- A program will require a full time volunteer leading the charge. It’s simply too much work otherwise and could create more “cultural debt” than it removes if the experience is poor (ie: bad follow through or information).
- Depending on overall community engagement/capacity, likely cannot have more than 1-2 programs running at a time. There are factors that I think could change this.
- As one can, it’s best to shorten the time between kick off and launch. The Outreach Program launched in May 2020 but didn’t start officially until December 2020 leaving a long stretch of time without action, leaving us open to a large amount of risk to mitigate.
- Default to a public channel and do not do anything privately. This nearly caused a lot of resistance at the beginning and I feel lucky that some folks in the community helped course correct me very kindly.
- In order to get more proactive (helps make outcomes more impactful) and to make efforts more predictable (helps more people engage), it’s key to partner with teams and to stay very on top of the work being done, especially with design.
- Consistency results in trust and engagement, whether in the form of others amplifying the work you’re doing, advocating for what’s being done in places where you aren’t able to chime in, etc.
- Get predictable quickly with communication (both location + timing) so you can funnel everyone through the same process and retain an ability to stay focused.
- Stay flexible and only define foundational pieces early on (goal of program, focus, where to join, what to expect, what to discuss where, etc) in order to better adapt to inevitable product changes.
- Embrace being more than just a pathway for feedback as that’s what helps people both get engaged and then stay in the channel.
- Offer various ways to participate, including both async and synchronous options, to keep people from virtually loitering.
- Include Polyglot involvement early on to both get a broader spectrum of people involved in the work and easily expand the reach of the program. It’s important to not overly focus on English speaking audiences.
- Develop a network of educators as part of amplification since they will help force multiply in their own circles.
- Closing the feedback loop needs to happen both with product teams and with the outreach program. It’s not enough to just focus on one.
- The person leading a program like this can quickly and accidentally create a platform for themselves. This is something to be aware of and prepare for for anyone taking on an initiative like this in the future.
Open Discussion Questions
Feel free to share your thoughts on these questions as they are swirling around in my mind. I also welcome questions being asked in return that might be on your mind.
- Should we do outreach programs in the future?
- If yes, how should we best define when an outreach program should be started?
- What contributor teams are best positioned to “house” an outreach program?
- What role do we want outreach programs to play in the future? This still feels in flux currently.
Notes for the future
If this model is replicated in the future, the following should be kept in mind:
- What qualifies as needing an outreach program is an open question and it might be wise to begin thinking about sooner rather than later, particularly if it’s a model the community comes to appreciate/expect for big features. The lack of one could accidentally cause problems and risk. Ideally, this can be incorporated into feature project documentation.
- With the outreach model proven, the same pathways that are being used currently will be streamlined and more ready to go in the future (polyglot involvement, marketing amplification, WordPress news outlets covering it, educators made aware, etc) making it likely easier to spin up future programs.
- Work needs to be done to enable community members to be more involved. Whether due to the pandemic, the size of the feature, or some other factor, this has been difficult to do currently beyond the basics but feels imperative for future efforts.
- Multiple pathways for involvement need to be included, encouraged, and rewarded potentially with badges.
- Live streams and hallway hangouts should be here to stay as having programs dedicated to more than just feedback allows more people to advocate for the work being done. Education and awareness building is almost as important as feedback.
- It would be advantageous to have future programs better integrated with a more active team. The FSE Outreach Program landed in Make Test because it was an easy spot with room to make things happen but, going forward, I believe it’ll make more sense to have programs live more explicitly under active teams/more directly in line with active teams.
- Outreach Programs are ripe for experimental ideas and for getting ahead of concerns proactively (ex: FSE Answers work).
Risks to consider
The main risks in my mind in doing programs in the future comes down to the following factors:
- Lack of clarity around when a program is formed resulting in frustration when a perceived big feature doesn’t have the same level of outreach.
- Programs being led by the same Five For the Future organization could create feelings of mistrust, exclusion, etc.
- Programs being separated out from active teams resulting in more activity than achievement and a lack of a feedback loop being closed bidirectionally.
- Multiple programs being run at once causing muddied messaging and lack of engagement.
- Programs focused solely on feedback causing us to miss out on the power of having more people in the community empowered to speak about an upcoming area of WordPress.
I believe these each can be mitigate appropriately as long as they are planned for.
Time for you to share your thoughts! What do you think has gone well with the current program? Do you think there should be future programs? If yes, what would you like to see in additional programs? What concerns do you have? What about hopes?