Monday, March 28, 2016

What is Information-Based Problem Solving?

While many of the articles I've written since 2005 use maps and visualizations they are all intend to influence what people do to help make well-organized, non-school, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs available in the lives of K-12 youth living in high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago and other cities.

If you do a Google search for many leading advocates for mentoring, then look at the images page, you'll see photos of youth and adults, which provide an emotional appeal for people to become involved as tutors and mentors.

If you search for the words "tutor mentor" my web sites will be on the first page. If you look at the images page, you'll see maps and graphics like the one shown at the right. which represent strategies that make great programs available in more places, and help you define what "great" means. You can find this graphic explained in this article

It shows that if we want kids in high poverty neighborhoods of big cities like Chicago to connect with adult mentors and experiences not common in their own neighborhoods, we need to help well-organized programs operate in these neighborhoods.  If we want well organized programs we need to help build strong leadership teams that stay in place for multiple years and are constantly trying to improve their organization, based on what they learn from their own performance, and what they learn from others doing similar work. 

For this to happen we need to influence what resource providers do, so talent, dollars and ideas flow more consistently to every program, in every neighborhood.

For that to happen we need more people looking beyond the images and logos and at other information, with maps and visualizations.

We're in a presidential campaign right now. How many voters are visiting campaign web sites to read position papers? How many of these web sites include maps and graphics like you see on this blog?  Yet, just about every hour of every day someone is doing something that encourages us to pay attention to the campaign based on what candidates are doing or saying and what others are writing.

How much of this is drawing people together to learn ways they can support needed k-12 learning and mentoring programs in one or more high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago and other cities?

How many millions of dollars in advertising, public relations and media attention are being devoted to these campaigns? How much of this actually translates to manpower at well organized tutor/mentor programs helping kids in poverty areas move through school and into jobs?

I've been writing these articles in one format or another for over 20 years. In every article I include hyperlinks, pointing to other articles that I've created or to articles hosted in the Tutor/Mentor web library, with over 2000 links to ideas of other people and organizations.

I don't have dollars to advertise so I depend on other people to give the articles attention and to forward them to people in their own network.   If more people look at these ideas daily, more people will eventually do what's needed to provide operating resources to youth programs in more places.

At least, that's the goal.

So the article, or the idea, represents a "carrot". The presentation below illustrates how good ideas can be given attention in ways that they influence what others do to copy those ideas and apply them in other places.

I started building my web library almost 40 years ago, as ideas I was using to support my own involvement as a tutor/mentor working with a 4th grade boy in Chicago's Cabrini-Green neighborhood. When I was tapped to be the leader of that program in 1975, I used the library as a source of ideas to help me sustain and grow the program.  

By 1990 I was beginning to share this information with others, to help other tutor/mentor programs grow in Chicago. Ultimately that's what led to the formation of the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993, then the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in 2011.

Over the years since 1993 I've come to understand my role as an "information intermediary". The ideas I collect and share can be used by anyone else in Chicago or other cities to locate individual tutor/mentor programs (see list of Chicago programs) which they can support with time, talent and/or dollars. The can also be used to build new programs in areas where none now exists, or where specific age groups are not being served with existing programs. (Read more about knowledge management.)

Since 1993 others have entered this space, doing similar work. In many cases that has resulted in fewer resources to help me in my own efforts.  I created the map below so others could find other intermediaries in Chicago and learn what they are doing. In many ways this is intended to help the intermediaries connect with each other, and with my own efforts. 

In 2010 a team of Net Impact volunteers did a short survey, comparing what the Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago was offering, to what mentoring partnerships in other cities were offering. They created this report after 3 months of work, recognizing that this report was only a beginning, or an on-going effort that should be updated every year.  

I've not had the resources to do that, but I don't know of anyone who is trying to create this type of  information, intended to help intermediaries compare what they do with what others are doing, so that all of them could constantly improve.

In the years since this report was completed, some of the mentoring partnerships, such as the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota, have added many new mapping, public awareness and training features to their web sites. You can find a list of Mentoring partners here. If someone is looking at the various sites and creating a comparison report, similar to that started in 2010, please share this information. 

One of the things to look for when you look at these organizations, or the intermediaries in Chicago, is how they point to each other from their web sites, and whether or not they point to an in-depth web library like the one I host.  Do they show an on-going calendar of events, intended to draw attention and resources to the individual organizations in their network.

Look at the Donate page on most of these web sites, and it says donate to them, without any feature that encourages donors to support all the members of their networks.  

A second thing to look at is what strategies are in place to motivate a growing number of people to look at this information, so that more people are providing time, talent and dollars to help well-organized programs grow in more places.

As we head toward the end of this school year, we all need to be looking forward to the start of the next school  year in August/September and to what we'll do to help kids and volunteers connect for the following nine months. 
We can learn from each other. We need to find ways to motivate more people to dig into this information and to form study groups so others are also using the ideas to help great, constantly improving youth programs, grow in more places.

Over the past six years I've had very limited resources, yet I've continued to share ideas that could be used by individual organizations, and by intermediaries. While anyone can borrow these ideas, I keep hoping a few will find ways to help me develop them and apply them in more places. 

This concept map shows what I've been building, what I'm trying to maintain, and what needs to be built to support the growth of tutor/mentor programs in cities like Chicago.

Here's a page where you can make a contribution to support my own efforts. If you'd like a tour of the web library I've created, or talk about this concept map,  just introduce yourself via Twitter, Facebook, or Linked in or the comment section of this blog.

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