Sunday, October 29, 2023

Information-based problem solving

I've used concept maps since 2005 to visualize ideas and resources that I've been aggregating and sharing since forming the Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago in 1993 (and the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in 2011). 

Open the one below and look at all the challenges facing kids and families in high poverty areas.  Most of these affect all of us, but more affluent people have greater resources to cope with these challenges. 

When I first became a volunteer tutor/mentor in 1973 I knew little about what I was supposed to do. However, I began to look for ideas that inspired my weekly connections with a 4th grade boy named Leo.  In 1975, when I became the volunteer leader of the tutor/mentor program hosted at the Montgomery Ward headquarters in Chicago, I expanded this process of learning, to find other tutor/mentor programs who I could borrow ideas from.

When we formed the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 we developed a 4-part strategy, shown on the concept map below.

Step #1 focuses on collecting and sharing information that others can use.  Step #2 focuses on increasing public awareness so more people use the information we collect and Step #3 focuses on helping people find and use the information collected in Step #1.   Step #4 is motivating people to use that information and their own resources to help organized tutor, mentor and learning programs reach more K-12 kids in high poverty areas with on-going support that helps them move through school and into adult lives.

Below are a few concept maps that show how to apply this information in on-going, information-based problem solving.  

At the center of the concept map below is a graphic showing use of information to fight the war on poverty. 

At the far right my graphic focuses on building "great programs in each neighborhood" and the need to "organize and train" volunteers, donors and leaders.   At the far left are graphics that show a need to build "public commitment" and to "influence" resource providers, not just non-profit leaders, youth and volunteers.  At the bottom of these nodes are links to other articles and other maps.  

Below is another concept map that focuses on the on-going planning and action cycle.

Follow this from left to right.  Planning starts with choosing a "place" where a problem (or opportunity) exists that you want to focus on.  Then draw people together and begin to look at information available that builds a deeper understanding of the issue and shows how other people in different places area already trying to address this issue.  The whole idea is to "not reinvent the wheel, or start from scratch" but to learn from others and innovate your own solutions based on what you learn, and what your own experiences are.

As you put together a plan, and try to implement it, build in tools to collect information that shows what works, what does not work, why, and how you might make it work better.  As you end one cycle you are already starting a new one, adding what you have learned from your own efforts and what you are constantly learning from others.

Visualize your goals, what success looks like, and steps to get from where you are now, to where you want to be in the future.  I created the graphic below to emphasize this process. View in this article.

I actually added the STEMM annotation last year to emphasize how this graphic applies to STEMM 2050 goals, and included it in this article.  

While I focus my efforts on helping kids in high poverty areas, the challenges I point to applied to people throughout the world, rich, and poor. 

The 4-part strategy that we piloted since 1993 can be applied in any place, to any issue.

Below is another concept map, which points to a section of my library that ANYONE can use to try to solve complex problems.

The nodes on this concept map point to collaboration, process improvement, knowledge management, innovation, mapping and visualization sub-categories in the Tutor/Mentor library.  These are ideas from around the world, from business, universities, non-profits, and others that give tips on solving problems.  Make it a regular resource.

I started this blog in 2005 and have posted more than 1000 articles since then.  If you're in a university you could create a graduate level curriculum just using this blog and the links I point to.  I've you're a donor like MacKenzie Scott, I wish you'd provide funding to incent one or more universities to take this role.  

It really does not matter what your formal role is. You can bookmark this site and return to it often, just like faith leaders return to their scripture, to build a deeper, and deeper, understanding of these ideas.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find this useful.  And thank you to those who have visited my Fund T/MI page and sent a contribution to help me do this work.

I share links to these posts on many social media platforms and find new ideas that I add to the library.  I hope you'll connect with me and share my posts with your own network.  

Friday, October 20, 2023

Network Building - A Process

I've been building the Tutor/Mentor library since 1993 when I formed the Tutor/Mentor Connection. 

The mission of the Tutor/Mentor Institute (T/MI) is 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.

My daily journey through the Internet uncovers many resources that I add to the library. I draw attention to these by my e-mail newsletter, my blogs, my posts on social media, and my website.

Last Friday, and again today, I participated in a ZOOM call hosted by the Strategic Doing community, which I've followed on LinkedIn for many years. Below is a screenshot from last week's presentation, which you can view at this link.

If you view the mission statement of the Tutor/Mentor Connection you'll see that I've been trying to build a knowledge network, or ecosystem, of people, organizations and ideas that anyone can use to help kids from birth-to-work.

In today's ZOOM call the topic was "how universities solve complex problems".  Below is one of  many visualizations I've created to show long-term support kids need to move from birth-to-work.

I think universities could play a much greater role in helping kids in high poverty areas move through school, and college, into jobs, and then spend a lifetime helping others and working to solve complex social, economic and global problems.  

The challenge has always been to find someone in the university who would devote their career to building such a support system, involving others from the university, as well as alumni, business and community assets.

The graphic above is from this page on the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC website, showing eLearning goals that I first began to share back in the early 2000s.   

I organized Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conferences in Chicago every six months from May 1994 to May 2015 to bring parts of this ecosystem together.  The eLearning goals were developed as IUPUI helped us host our first (and only) on-line conference in 2004. My work on social media is a continuation of this effort.

The graphic below was created by students from Indiana University, and shows participation of organizations from throughout the USA in these conferences.

You can view the map in this article, and see universities that hosted conferences in this article.  

Below is a graphic showing work interns from different universities did between 2005 and 2015 to help me communicate ideas and strategies. 

These show what's possible from university engagement, but also share my frustration for never have been able to find a long-term partner at any of these universities who would apply their own time, talent and dollars to the strategies I've shared in many articles on this blog.

This has been made even more difficult as platforms where I connected with people have constantly changed over the past 20 years.  Even the site that was my primary resource from 1998 to 2018 is no longer available.

Since 2013 Twitter has been a growing source of network building and idea sharing. But recent changes in ownership are making that site much less reliable. So I've launched myself on new platforms.

Mastodon is one place where I can now be found.  It is a decentralized network of meeting places.  I've actually set up accounts on three, and am not yet close to the number of followers I have on Twitter.

Bluesky is another where I've recently began to build a network.  As with Mastodon, I'm not yet close to the following I have on Twitter. 
I have a page on the Tutor/Mentor website with links to these platforms and others where I'm trying to connect.  That's where you can also find my monthly newsletter. 

I've a section in the Tutor/Mentor library focused on collaboration and community building.  It has more than 50 links, including one to the Strategic Doing website.

One of the many challenges we face in solving complex problems is "drawing people to engage with each other,  on OUR platform.  I've spent 30 years building a body of knowledge on MY platform and on some of my social media networks.  Going into a platform hosted by someone else, and building a network is a huge challenge. It takes time. That's time I (and others) need to be spending drawing people to our platforms, and maintaining the quality of their content.

This is one reason there are so many silos, of people and organizations not connecting strategically with each other.  

In today's ZOOM call I asked the speaker if he had done any network analysis to know who was participating in his planning groups, and who was missing.  I had in mind the network analysis maps done by an intern working for me in 2010, which you can see in this blog article.  And, in this series of blog articles. 

One way I try to connect people is by putting them in my library and sharing their links via concept maps like the one below.  

This shows intermediaries in Chicago who focus on the well-being of youth.

If you look at the map you'll see a yellow text box in the lower right corner with the heading "Help Update This".  It asks "are there other Chicago area intermediary groups that can be added to this map? And it says "I need research help to know what businesses,  universities, philanthropy orgs, etc. support volunteer based tutor/mentor programs in Chicago."

If someone is hosting that information on their website I can add them to my library and my maps and help them connect those organizations to each other.  

This is work students at any high school or university could be help me update my Chicago area information, and to build similar maps and libraries for other communities.

One of the comments on today's Strategic Doing call came from someone in the business community who talked of how there is a need to achieve results through short term involvement. That's one of the problems.  Look at the graphic below, which you can view in this article.

This visualizes a goal of pulling youth through school and into adult lives, with support starting as early as preschool and lasting each year for 20-30 year....for each youth! Just building a network of stakeholders who understand and support this goal would take several years. Building such a network at many universities would take even longer.  Getting agreement on goals and setting up programs that engage students, faculty, alumni and community would take even longer. Then comes the year-to-year work, evaluation and constant improvement that improves what the university community does, and fills high poverty areas surrounding a university with a pipeline of birth-to-college-to-work programs.

Note that the far right part of this graphic focuses on helping some students graduate and take life-time careers in direct service programs while others graduate who make life-long commitments to support these alumni with time, talent and dollars.

Show me a university with a visualization that communicates this goal.  Or that is connecting the ecosystem of the university in efforts to achieve the goal.

There's no way I can communicate this with an introduction on a new platform, or a social media post, or a comment during a ZOOM call.  I need to motivate people to read my blog articles and study the information on my website, then share what they are learning via their own blogs and videos, just as interns did between 2005 and 2015.

However, this needs to be a multi-year learning process, perhaps part of a Masters or PhD program, not a short term internship.

Who can help make that happen?  

Thanks for reading. And thank you to those who visit this page and send contributions to help me do this work.  

Monday, October 16, 2023

Just Don't Forget

Almost every day I'm on social media or working on a letter to supporters and include the message "Read my blog!".  I say "Visit and dig through the archives to see what I've been writing for the past 18 years (since I started the blog in 2005)".

Today I took my own advice. I looked at a couple of articles I wrote in 2005 and saw messages that I wish leaders had been seeing and responding to in the years since then.

In October 2005 I wrote an article with this headline: "As charities vie for donations, how can we help donors navigate the choices?" 

---- text from Oct 2005 article ---- Last Wednesday the Chicago Tribune had a front page/back page story devoted to Breast Cancer Month. The goal of the article was to help donors choose which charity to support. It was a great article, and great exposure for Breast Cancer charities.

Among the suggestions to donors was one that said this: Pick a goal. It might be research toward a cure, or advocacy, or patient support services. Then pick a charity that serves that goal and stick with it.

The article quoted Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator who said "We tell donors, if they want to change something in the world, they need to develop a relationship with the charity. Continue to support them over time, so they can keep their costs down and track whether they do what they claim to be doing."

That applies to funding youth tutor/mentor programs, too.

In May, I posted an article showing how difficult it is for non profits to sustain their work because of the inconsistent flow of dollars caused by a system that does not support flexible, long-term problem solving very well.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection focuses on connecting workplace volunteers with inner city kids in long term programs that result in the kids starting jobs/careers by age 25, with the volunteers still connected and helping to set up job interviews.

If a youth joins a program at age 10 it takes 15 years to achieve this goal. Unless donors chose charities that offer this service and stick with them for most of these 15 years, it's not likely that the program will survive long enough to still be a meeting place for a youth and adult at a time when the youth might be looking for help finding a job.

---- end October 2005 article ----

Then I looked at this article posted just before Memorial Day, May 2005. It's very relevant, as the nation is ramping up for the 2024 general election.  

--- text from May 2005 article---

This weekend is going to provide a visible opportunity for those who are elected leaders, and those who want to be elected leaders, to use the memory of those who died to preserve democracy to once again show what hypocrites they all are. 

Why do I believe this? Because while public figures and media honor those who fought and died in traditional wars, few encourage this same degree of personal sacrifice in the war on poverty, racism, and inequality in America.

Why do I believe this? Because few will use their daily visibility to encourage citizens and corporations to be involved in community service. The volunteer button and donate button on the web sites of most politicians points to a place where you can learn how to help them get elected or stay elected, not to a place where your time, talent and dollars help a youth born in poverty have a pipeline of adult and business support that assures that he will be in a job/career by age 25.

On Monday evening, almost every TV station in America will have a few video clips of local parades and local celebrities who march in these parades. Yet few will point to a place on their own web site where citizens are encouraged to learn about the issues of poverty, or where they can become a volunteer, leader, donor or business partner with a community organization working to help a young person move to a career.

Yet, during the year there will be many occasions where newspapers, TV and/or radio, write stories with headlines like:

These are our children, By JOSEPH R. WALL

Locked Out at a Young Age, By BOB HERBERT, New York Times

Seldom do these stories include web site address where you can read research posted on the Internet by organizations like Chapin Hall Center for Children, Public/Private Ventures or Voices 4 Illinois Kids.

Why we should get involved, only leads to questions of where?, and to how?.

Poverty is not something that ends with a sound byte. It takes 25 years for a youth born in poverty today to reach age 25. Statistics show that many inner city kids won't be alive then, many will be in jail, and too many will have dropped out of school and have little hope for a positive future...all because too few leaders today and in the past have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to create a system that reaches these kids and sustains consistent support until they are out of poverty and in careers.

You can read some of these statistics on the web site of the Alternative Schools Network of Chicago (

Thus, we need to also point to web sites where complex ideas are being discussed and broken down to components, like job responsibilities are broken down among thousands of contractors who will be building the new Trump Tower in Chicago. The engineers building the Trump Tower know that first you need a vision, second you need a plan, third you need financing (maybe this comes second), fourth you need a blueprint, and fifth, you start at the foundation, then build the project a floor at a time.

In raising kids or ending poverty, the nation has no vision, no plan, no financing, no blueprint, and we're starting all over the place and wondering why we're not being successful.

Random acts of kindness don't build a building and don't raise a child. Change will only occur when people learn to get involved and stay involved, often repeating the same actions over and over for many years.

For instance, giving money to a tutor/mentor program is an action that needs to repeat from year to year. Foundations that provide seed money then expect someone else to sustain the project are wasting money when no donors come forward to build the next stages of the project.

Corporations who want better educated workers, or a more diverse workforce, need to fund the pipeline, from preschool all the way to employment. Focusing workplace payroll deduction fund raising on tutor/mentor programs would be one way to provide a consistent flow of dollars into youth serving organizations.

What does this mean to the leaders walking in Monday's parades, or to the media covering them? (or those campaigning for 2024 elections?)

It means we need to find ways to draw attention to this work every day of the year, not just one day of the year. And we need to use the Internet as a place to host information and connect those who want to help with places where they can be reinforcements. We need to teach reporters, editors, columnist to put web links at the end of each story, so that each story leads to a path of involvement. 

 In October 1992 when six other volunteers and I created Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, a little boy named Dantrell Davis had just been shot and killed while walking to school in Cabrini Green. This led to public outrage and full-page stories in Chicago's major newspapers.

On the front page of the October 15, 1992 Chicago Sun-Times, the headline was "THE KILLING GROUND". The sub head was "7-Year-Old's Death at Cabrini Requires Action" In this front page editorial, the Editor of the Sun-Times wrote, "This isn't something you can let the other guy be indignant over. It's past time for you to take responsibility for solving the problems of Chicago. Please don't let this be someone else's problem. It's yours. It's mine. Let's retake our city and begin working to solve the horribly destructive problems of poverty, hopelessness and racism."

I have this front page posted on the wall outside of my office so that myself and everyone in our organization is reminded of this responsibility every day. Once a year I send this to the Sun-Times to encourage them not to forget.

Yet, I'm disappointed that our media and so few of our leaders are using Memorial Day and other public occasions to keep this memory and this challenge alive. I'm disappointed that our leaders and celebrities are not yet using the potential of the Internet to connect those who can help with information that shows why they are needed, where they are needed, how long they need to stay involved, and ways they can contribute time, talent, dollars, to win the war on poverty.

I want to think that at some parade in the future, some of the heroes that we remember on Memorial Day will be people who dedicated their lives to winning the war on poverty in America and in the world. Maybe if we do that we won't have to have so many young men and women fighting and dying in wars that have their roots in poverty, racism and hopelessness.

--- end May 2005 article ---

This is a timeless message. I've embedded that SunTimes image in many article on this blog.  Yet, too few are listening.

That's why I've posted this article today.  I started out saying "read my blog" and I'm finishing by saying "read my blog". 

Then, share it with others using the many communications tools that are available to you.  Do this at least once a month. More often, if you can.

Thanks for reading.

You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Mastodon, Bluesky and many other places. Please connect. Share these ideas. Carry them forward for the next 20 years.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Join the October Write-Out

I saw the post below by my friend Kevin Hodgson about the October Write-Out which is starting this week.
The link to the post is here, and the link to the Write-Out prompts is here

Kevin is part of the #clmooc group of educators that I have been networking with since 2013.  I've pointed to his blog often from my articles because of how he shares ideas that educators as well as non-school tutor, mentor and learning program staff, students and volunteers can use.

Here's a link to the stories he has posted this year, and in past years about the National Write-Out which is a partnership with the National Park Service. 

Since many volunteers have just been introduced to the students they will work with for the coming school year, this writing activity is a great way for them to get to know each others.  It's not too late to join the activities.  Furthermore, the archives will always be available for use throughout the year. 

I led a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program from 1975 to 2011 and several former volunteers have made donations over the past 12 years to help fund the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC.  I received a generous gift today from Kathy Cheevers, who was a volunteer in the 1980s!  Thank you.

For those who want to help, here is the link to my FundT/MI page. 

Monday, October 02, 2023

Skills Youth Need

One of the groups I follow on LinkedIn and host in my library is the World Economic Forum (WEF).  Today I saw this video showing "what skills will be key in years to come".   I encourage you to look at it.

You can dig deeper by going to this page on the WEF website.

Ideally these would be skills that are being taught in every single school in Chicago and across the world. In reality, kids in more affluent areas, with better resourced schools, and more people modeling these skills in their family, and community, have greater access.

That's why I am so passionate about volunteer-based tutor, mentor and learning programs that operate in non-school hours, reaching K-12 kids in high poverty areas of Chicago and other places.

Below is a graphic I've used often to show how volunteers from different work/career backgrounds can bring creative learning opportunities to youth, even if they are not being taught in their local school.

I used this in a visual essay titled "Virtual Corporate Office" which you can view here.  

Why non-school programs?  No bureaucracy.  No one who says "You can't do that."  If a non-school program has a space where youth and volunteers can meet regularly, that space can be places where volunteers share their own skills and offer learning opportunities that may not be available in the local school.

In the tutor/mentor program I led at the Montgomery Ward Headquarters in Chicago, in the 1980s, volunteers set up a computer lab and each week helped students use computers in learning.

That continued in the 1990s when volunteers from Microsoft set up a computer lab at our new Cabrini Connections space on Huron Street.

These volunteers held full-time jobs. They would  not be available to the local school, during he school day, on a weekly basis. Yet, because we operated after 5pm, they and many others, were able and willing to volunteer.  

Unfortunately, as a small non-profit, we constantly struggled to find the money needed to operate, which made it more difficult to sustain our volunteer-based projects.  Furthermore, while we might have had a computer lab, a video creation club, a writing club and an art club for our students (in addition to one-on-one tutor/mentoring), there are too few youth programs in Chicago who do the same.  

That's just based on my looking at websites of more than 100 youth tutor/mentor programs over the past 25 years.  While we did surveys to determine if an organization offered on-going, volunteer-based tutoring and mentoring, and shared that information via printed directories and a searchable database (from 2004 to 2018), we never were able to add questions about other types of learning available at each program.

That's still a need.  So is a campaign, led by corporate CEOs of big and small companies, to encourage employees to volunteer and to provide annual operating dollars.  

Which is what I've campaigned for since launching the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993, and the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in 2011.

I've aggregated a huge library of ideas and resources over the past 30 years. I've found creative ways to share these, but too few people have ever seen them since I never had advertising dollars or high profile advocates. 

So, now as I share information like the WEF video I'm also seeking institutions and leaders who want to adopt the work I've been doing and carry it forward into the next 20 years.  

You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Mastodon. (see links here). Please connect. Please share my posts. Please help me find new leaders.

As you do this, please consider a contribution to help me continue this work in 2024 and beyond. Click here if you want to help.