Friday, September 24, 2021

Building knowledge-based ecosystem

I'm fascinated by their potential for bringing people together in ways that's not possible face-to-face. I've wanted to build this capacity into the Tutor/Mentor Connection for more than 25 years. 

I and six other volunteers created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to "gather and organize all that is known about successful non-school tutoring/mentoring programs and apply that knowledge to expand the availability and enhance the effectiveness of these services to children throughout the Chicago region."

It's 2021. I'm still leading that effort, via the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC

1998 Crain's Chicago Business

I'd been leading a tutor/mentor program in Chicago since 1975 when we formed the T/MC. So I already had an extensive database of other programs in Chicago, as well as of foundations, businesses, volunteers and media. We did our research and planning, and developed a 4-part strategy in 1993. Then, we launched our first Chicago tutor/mentor program survey in January 1994 to systematically learn who else was offering non-school tutor and/or mentor services.

As we started reaching out to learn about programs we began sharing what we were learning with other programs, and with resource providers and other stakeholders, via printed newsletters. We began drawing stakeholders together to share and learn from each other via organized conferences in May 1994 and started organizing an annual Aug/Sept Chicagoland Tutor/Mentor Volunteer Recruitment Campaign in 1995.  You can view the goals of the conference here. See recruitment campaign history here.

We began sharing our list of Chicago tutor/mentor programs in a printed directory in 1994, but never circulated more than 500 copies a year. As we put our library on line in 1998, we also put our list of programs on line.

In 2004 we were able to launch an on-line portal where people could search for information about Chicago area tutor and mentor programs by zip code, type of program and age group served. In 2008 we launched a map based version of this.

With the maps we could show all the places where programs were needed, as well as what places already had service from existing programs.  Thus, our conversations were focused on a) helping existing programs get a more consistent flow of resources needed to constantly improve, while b) helping new program start where more are needed, borrowing ideas from existing programs, rather than starting from scratch.

The conferences and annual recruiting events we organized helped us generate a flow of print news stories, drawing attention to tutor/mentor programs throughout Chicago, not just to our own program (which I led until mid 2011). While we stopped our printed newsletter in 2002 we've been sending email newsletters every month since 2000. With our maps we crated map-stories following negative news, in an effort to draw more attention and resources to neighborhoods where help was needed.

I created this concept map many years ago to visualize how we were building a library of information that anyone can use to a) build and sustain volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in high poverty areas; and b) understand root causes that created a need for tutor/mentor programs and placed challenges that made it more difficult to move safely from birth to work; so (c) more people who first became involved as tutors or mentors would become involved in building solutions that reduced, or removed, these systemic barriers.

Below I'm showing some elements of this concept map.

When I first created this chart I only included information that people could use to build and sustain volunteer-based tutor and mentor programs. (#1) on the graphic.  I updated that with the set of green boxes (#2) showing that the Tutor/Mentor library includes a much wider range of information about poverty, racism, inequality, challenges of funding, ideas for learning, and ideas for collaboration, knowledge management, etc.

Just getting a youth into a tutor/mentor program is often not a powerful enough influence to assure a successful  journey from birth-to-work. In high poverty areas there a many systemic barriers that need to be reduced, or removed.  Getting more people personally involved in the work needed to understand, then remove the barriers, can be one by-product of getting more  people involved as tutors/mentor and leaders in organized youth programs.  My own 40 year journey is an example of that.

The right side of the concept map shows two forms of learning, one formal, and the other informal.  Each are intended to support volunteer involvement that leads to a better understanding of the information in the library and the growth of more and better tutor/mentor programs in places where they are most needed.  

It also results in more people working to create systemic changes where those are needed.

Now look at the line across the top of the concept map.

Building the library is an on-going process, but it's only the first step in our 4-part strategy.  Getting people to look at the information in the library is an advertising and public awareness effort.  

Thus we published our list of programs in a printed directory from 1994-2002, then in an on-line map based directory through 2018. It's now available in an on-line list and a Chicago programs map.  I've used newsletters, blogs, social media, along with conferences and media events to draw attention to the library.

We began to use GIS maps in 1993 to show where tutor/mentor programs were most needed and where existing site-based programs were located.  We also started a "rest-of-the-story" strategy using maps to show where media stories focused on incidents of violence, or locations of poorly-performing schools.  We used these to who what assets (business, university, hospital, etc.) were in the area where the incident took  place, who could help tutor/mentor programs grow. This was part of our effort to draw greater attention to programs throughout the city.

We (#3) then organized May and November conferences to draw programs together to learn from each other and to provide information to help support volunteers and students in every program. This information was part of on-going formal and informal learning.  We organized annual August/September Chicagoland Tutor/Mentor Volunteer Recruitment campaigns to help programs find volunteer talent.  

Finally, we repeated this for 20 consecutive years.  

At the top right of the concept map I show events that we created in August, November and May to draw programs together and draw attention and resources directly to programs.  The May and November conferences were held every six months for 20 years. The Volunteer Recruitment campaign was a multiple-site event every year from 1995 to 2003 and has been an on-line activity, drawing attention to our on-line lists of Chicago area programs continually since 2003.

Ultimately my goal is that people from different sectors and different places are forming study and learning groups which draw from information libraries they find on line. While these groups engage in on-going face-to-face learning, they also engage in on-line conversations, with each other, and with people in other groups, expanding their  understanding of problems and solutions and building relationships with people who who might help...

....all with the goal of filling high poverty areas with needed programs and services that help kids move safely through school and into adult lives, jobs and careers  (see strategy map).

If you've read this far, thank you! I hope you'll visit some of the links and build your own understanding of the strategy I've piloted.  I hope you understand how this supports my own on-going learning and efforts to do "better today than I was able to do yesterday". 

While there are many intermediary  organizations in Chicago and around the country who focus on youth well-being and do some of the things the Tutor/Mentor Connection/Institute, LLC, have piloted, I don't yet see anyone including all of these steps, supported by a library with as much information as is included in the Tutor/Mentor Library.

Nor do I find anyone using concept maps as extensively as I have since 2005 to visualize strategy, process and information available.  

Yesterday the Ryan Family made a $480 million commitment to Northwestern University.  I dream of someone making a $100 million commitment to build a Tutor/Mentor Connection in every major city, supported by student/alumni teams from a local university.

That needs to happen soon so I can pass on all of my archives and enable people to build from what I've started, rather than start from scratch.  

If you'd like to help make such a community a reality, let's connect.

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