2017 Year in Review

As the year draws to a close, I always like to take a few moments to reflect on all my experiences over the past 12 months. As with most years, 2017 will be remembered as a year of curve balls and unexpected surprises, but what would life be without occasional surprises and detours? Here’s my 2017 Year in Review. . . 

Amanda & Josh overlooking Honolulu
Overlooking Honolulu

Work

I just passed the two-year mark at the University of Kansas at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research, managing the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals project. The Institute officially launched our free, online learning platform on November 1st and things are going well. As the project continues through 2018, a career map feature will be added to the platform that will help guide users to trainings that will help them become proficient in a national set of core competencies that were developed by the project. The project involves a team of stakeholders from many different organizations, spread across four different states and most of the work is done virtually via video conferencing. You can learn more about the Institute and even sign up to take some of the courses yourself at www.InstituteFSP.org.  

 

My husband, Josh, spends his time working in content marketing and communications strategy for a Victoria, British Columbia-based marketing and consulting firm. He is the account lead for several Fortune 1000 clients and has spent some time this year writing about something he’s really interested in – blockchain and cryptocurrency.  You can find some of his writing at www.CoinCatalyst.com. The Bitcoin learning curve has been steep for me, but I feel much more educated in the world of cryptocurrency thanks to Josh’s devout research skills.  We even spent the drive back and forth to Central Kansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year listening to Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money on Audible.

 

Travel

We’ve continued traveling fairly extensively throughout 2017.

 

Hawaii

In May, we celebrated our 7th anniversary by flying to Honolulu, spending four days on the island of Oahu, followed by 12 days on a cruise ship visiting three additional islands for seven of those days and crossing the Pacific for the additional five. While in Hawaii, we stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore of Oahu, visited Pearl Harbor, did a driving tour of Oahu, had coffee in Kona, visited our first active volcano in Hilo, went mountain tubing at Kauai Backcountry Adventures through the irrigation canals of an old sugarcane plantation in Kauai, marveled at the beauty of Waimea Canyon, took a 6-person cruise along the Na Pali Coast with Na Pali Experience (seriously, if you ever get the opportunity to do this, DO IT!!!), did the entire loop on the Road to Hana, and visited art galleries in Lahaina.

Vancouver

After spending five days at sea, we disembarked the cruise ship in Vancouver and walked 25,000 steps the first day off the ship. Vancouver is one of our favorite cities in the world and we always appreciate the opportunity to explore our favorite places when we’re there. We even made the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.  They’re not kidding when they say the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.  It’s truly spectacular, and was made even better because of an app I stumbled upon when we were planning our time on Oahu.  If you’re ever traveling in the Hawaiian Islands or in British Columbia (and a few other locations), and you’ll have a car, I HIGHLY recommend looking into the GyPSy Guide.  The company has several tours of varying lengths for each of the Islands, as well as many tour options in British Columbia, and several popular National Park destinations in the United States.  We probably downloaded 6 or 7 of their tours for our trip and they were worth every single penny.  You download the tour and pair your phone with the car’s Bluetooth, then play the audio of the tour through your car speakers while you drive.  The tour is triggered by GPS signal, and the guide gives fantastic directions.  We saw things during those driving tours that you would never find in a guidebook or by just using trial and error.  I wish every destination had something similar.

Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

 

Family Health

When we returned from Vancouver, we found that my mom had become very ill while we were away. She’d lost a lot of weight and was very weak. Her liver specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital decided that it was time to talk about being placed on the liver transplant list and I spent three days working from the hospital while my mom went through the tests and evaluations that are required before being placed on the list. During this process, it was discovered that my mom was also in kidney failure and she was admitted to the hospital for about a week while the doctors worked on getting her healthy enough to be placed on the transplant list. The treatment she received while in the hospital helped her regain enough strength to officially receive approval to be placed on the liver transplant list on my 35th birthday. Her health continues to be stable and she will likely have to get much worse before she will be able to receive a transplant, but we’re fortunate that she’s on the list.

Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca
Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca

Through this process, I’ve learned more about the process of organ transplants than I ever knew existed and have started preaching the importance of registering to be an organ donor to anyone who will listen.  I even organized an organ donor drive for the Midwest Transplant Network at my office, in August.  If you’re not already registered to be an organ donor (not just with a sticker on your driver’s license, but through an actual registration process), please consider registering at www.OrganDonor.gov today.  Five minutes of your time could mean the difference between life and death for someone you know.

More Travel

Boston

In late September, Josh and I had the opportunity to visit Boston for 4 days for a marketing conference. Since both of us have a professional interest in marketing, it was a perfect opportunity to attend a conference together and get in a little sightseeing while there. Last year, we visited Boston on a cruise, but only had the chance to be in the city for a one day, so it was nice to get to spend more time there and actually get to explore a bit. We stayed in an Airbnb in Beacon Hill, right in the middle of everything. We even took Amtrak to New London, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, so we could check off a couple of additional states. It was a great, albeit short, trip.

Vancouver (again)

One day after returning from Boston, we flew back to Vancouver, BC for a few days ahead of another cruise. We woke up before dawn one morning and drove our rental car to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen to go to Victoria and visit Josh’s childhood friend, and his family for the day. We got to enjoy high tea in Butchart Gardens before walking around Downtown Victoria, and spending a few hours at their home before taking the ferry back to Vancouver that night. We also had the opportunity to take another GyPSy Guide tour and drive east out of Vancouver to Kamloops, BC. Someday, we want to take a trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Banff, etc.) and Kamloops is halfway between Vancouver and the Rockies. It was a beautiful drive and we’re eager to get back to the area.

West Coast

From Vancouver, we boarded the Ruby Princess and headed south. We stopped in Astoria, OR, to see Mount St. Helens, spent a day in San Francisco, where we visited Sausalito, sailed under, drove over, and walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, saw the Full House Painted Lady houses, and walked around Haight Ashbury. We spent the last day of our cruise in Santa Barbara on a food & drink walking tour (Eat This, Shoot That) of the “Funk Zone” which reminded us a lot of our own East Lawrence. The cruise ended in Los Angeles and we flew home that afternoon.

Staying Busy in the Community

After founding the Girlfriend’s Gala in 2014, I’m working with our planning committee to wrap up plans for our 4th annual event, on February 2nd. The Gala is an American Cancer Society fundraiser resembling a “prom” for ladies 21 and over and features a photo booth, snack bar, raffle, and bachelor auction. It’s an event that’s becoming really popular in Lawrence and I spend a lot of time each year preparing for it and soliciting donations.  It’s always a blast and it raises a lot of money for a good cause.

 

I also spend time as a member of the Board of Directors for Just Food, the food bank, here in Douglas County, Kansas.  I serve as a member of the fund development sub-committee and help with a lot of the plans for fundraising events throughout the year.  

 

This year, in my capacity as a Board member for the Social Media Club of Lawrence, I’ve helped to revamp the format for our 2018 meetings.  Since the club was founded, it has been meeting weekly, on Wednesday mornings at 7:30.  With many of the members starting families and having to drop kids off at school at exactly that time every morning, it was becoming difficult to get many members to attend meetings.  We’re excited to start hosting monthly lunch networking meetings and monthly evening meetings with presentations, starting in January.  For more information about attending or becoming involved with SMC Lawrence, visit our Facebook page.

 

Grad School

I’m so close to being done with grad school, I can smell it.  I’m officially half-way through my final year of a two-year Master’s program at the University of Kansas in Digital Content Strategy. I’ll walk down the hill at graduation on May 13th and finish my final class over the summer.  

 

Work Travel

I didn’t travel as much for work this year as I did in 2016, but still got out of Lawrence with colleagues a few times:

  • March – South By Southwest Education – Austin, TX
  • March – South By Southwest Interactive – Austin, TX
  • March – Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals Meeting – Harrisonburg, VA

 

2018 Plans

2018 will bring a trip to Texas and two trips to the Caribbean.

 

Texas

In January, we’re spending 4 days in Austin and San Antonio. Josh has never been to either city and I’m looking forward to getting back to Austin and visiting San Antonio for the first time. We’re staying in an Airbnb on Rainey Street, which is one of my favorite little pockets of Austin. We’re excited to get to see one of our friends and her family when we visit San Antonio.  We accidentally found out they would be there (visiting from southern Mississippi for a conference) the same weekend we would, so we’ll get to spend time with them both in January and in November.  

 

Eastern Caribbean

In May, we will be travelling back to the Eastern Caribbean on the same itinerary we sailed in 2016 (St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau, out of Miami).  We haven’t booked any tours yet, but if Josh has his way, we’ll be doing the same tours we did when we were in each location before.  Unfortunately, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda all took pretty direct hits from two hurricanes this fall, and we’re not sure how many of the tour operators are back to functioning 100% at this point.  We really enjoyed touring St. John and visiting the Baths at Virgin Gorda when we were there in 2016 and would love to get back to both again.

 

Western Caribbean for Josh’s 40th Birthday

In November, we will be sailing to the Western Caribbean with at least 25 friends and family members for Josh’s 40th birthday. We sail from New Orleans, which will be a lot of fun! You can see our itinerary and learn more about the cruise HERE. If you’d like to go with us, we’d love to have more in our group, so please let me know. There’s plenty of room for more people in our group and you get quite a few perks by being a part of a group, so make sure you book through us. Deposits are always fully refundable through the final payment for cruises, so there’s not a lot of risk involved in booking early.  

 

Wrap Up

2017 has been quite a year.  We’ve been a few new places, made some new friends, been involved in our community, and learned a lot.  What were your favorite parts of 2017?

 

 

 

 

 

Yes! Lawrence

Last week, a group of friends from across Lawrence, Kansas gathered in the Warehouse Arts District to talk about forming a new community organization dedicated to promote more “Yes!” across Lawrence.  Yes! Lawrence!

Yes! can come in many forms. . .

  • Yes! We are unapologetic urbanists who believe in the virtues of cities. More people living in close proximity to each other can improve their lives and the lives of those far beyond city limits.

  • Yes! We believe that affordable housing is sorely lacking in Lawrence and want to encourage the City to focus more on bringing the population of the urban core back to where it was 50-100 years ago.

  • Yes! We believe that the future of movement from place to place is pedestrian, cycling, and autonomous and believe that we should focus more on homes for humans than on homes for cars.

  • Yes! We believe that promoting mixed-use ideas in existing neighborhoods builds community and opportunity.

  • Yes! We believe that positive and sustainable growth and change is organic, incremental, and citizen-driven.  We favor many of smaller changes over large scale planning.

  • Yes! We believe that economic and environmental sustainability are intrinsically linked. Making smart environmental choices is a good investment.

  • Yes! We want to educate….There are many preconceived ideas about development based on minimal data. We seek to share available research with City officials and other stakeholders (KU, Haskell, school district, homeowners, neighborhood associations, etc.).

  • Yes! We believe that allowing homeowners to build accessory dwelling units or “Mother-in-Law” units on their property can enable people to stay in their homes longer and continue to afford to live in a neighborhood they love amid rising property taxes that may otherwise price them out of the neighborhood.

  • Yes! We believe in giving back to the Lawrence community making a difference in as many ways as possible.

We are forming Yes! Lawrence to create a community of people who want to make a positive impact but may not have the time, energy, or knowledge to make a difference on their own.  As a group, we hope to be able to call on individuals with useful connections and expertise when there is a cause within the community that could use our help.  We gather in the spirit of organizations across the country who believe in Strong Towns and proclaim “YIMBY” (Yes, in my back yard) recognizing the things that make Lawrence a unique and desirable place to live and realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be the answer.  We think multi-generationally, envisioning what our community could look like in 50 or 100 years and acknowledge that placing too many restrictions on neighborhoods, while seeming beneficial in the short-term, only further entrenches problems like gentrification and increasing our carbon footprint.

We are looking for interested individuals to join us on our quest to hear more Yes! in Lawrence.  Right now, we’re in the VERY early stages of planning.  We decided on the Yes! Lawrence organization name at our last meeting and are planning to craft a mission and vision at our next meeting, in January.  We’ve prepared a short questionnaire for those who are interested in getting involved or being updated about our progress. It asks questions about who you are, what you do, what organizations and people you’re connected with here in town, and what you’d like to see the organization strive toward.  Please take a couple of minutes to complete this form and share your thoughts!  We want to make this organization as inclusive as possible and bring a lot of Yes! to Lawrence, but we need your help to make that happen.

Don’t worry, you won’t be signing your life away by completing the form.  We don’t want this to be “just another meeting” and understand that the people who could have the biggest impact in our organization are also the people who have the busiest schedules and many other commitments.  We’re hoping to plan monthly meetings and meet with sub-groups, as necessary.  We don’t know all the answers yet, but, with your help, we’re hoping to begin developing some answers over the next several months.

If you or someone you know may be interested in Yes! Lawrence please sign up for our email list HERE.

We’re looking forward to hearing lots of Yes! all across Lawrence!

 

 

 

My Favorite Books of 2017

I LOVE to get book recommendations from friends! It wasn’t that many years ago when I found it difficult to find time to do any reading for pleasure.  I filled my time with other things and didn’t make slowing down to read a priority.  Then I found Audible. . . Combine my discovery of Audible with nearly 10 years of a 45 minute, one-way, daily commute and I was magically able to read for pleasure again.  Although I no longer have a commute, I’m still able to listen to audiobooks while I’m cooking dinner each night.  I complete books at a slower pace, but I’m still able to get in several each month.

I’m always looking for book recommendations that fit my varied interests and feel like the end of the year is as good a time as any to share my Top Ten reads of the last year.  I clearly don’t have a single style of book I enjoy.  I tend to get most of my recommendations from The Skimm or through random recommendations from friends. I’m including portions of the Goodreads descriptions from each book because they do a much better job of summing up the books than I could.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris - book recommendations
#10

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

 

The Dry by Jane Harper - book recommendations
#9

The Dry by Jane Harper

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

 

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - book recommendations
#8

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment – to oneself and to others.

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - book recommendations
#7

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Meet Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully time-tabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

 

 

 

The Child by Fiona Barton - book recommendations
#6

The Child by Fiona Barton

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

 

 

 


#5

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as The Child Finder, Naomi is their last hope.

 

 

The Nix by Nathan Hill - book recommendations
#4

The Nix by Nathan Hill

A hilarious and deeply touching debut novel about a son, the mother who left him as a child, and how his search to uncover the secrets of her life leads him to reclaim his own.

 

 

 

 

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - book recommendations
#3

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

 

 

 

 

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - book recommendations
#2

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden - book recommendations#1

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden

Promise Me, Dad chronicles the year that followed, which would be the most momentous and challenging in Joe Biden?s extraordinary life and career. Vice President Biden traveled more than a hundred thousand miles that year, across the world, dealing with crises in Ukraine, Central America, and Iraq. When a call came from New York, or Capitol Hill, or Kyiv, or Baghdad — Joe, I need your help — he responded. For twelve months, while Beau fought for and then lost his life, the vice president balanced the twin imperatives of living up to his responsibilities to his country and his responsibilities to his family. And never far away was the insistent and urgent question of whether he should seek the presidency in 2016.

 

 

What are your book recommendations for 2018?

 

 

 

 

 

Banning Airbnb in Lawrence, Kansas???

Tomorrow evening, the City Commission of Lawrence, Kansas will discuss short term rentals in the city.  I have some very strong feelings about the subject and made sure I completed the survey the city sent out several months ago.  My perspective is not one of someone who owns a short term rental or who has any plans to have one in the future, but instead, is that of someone who has a great deal of experience using services such as Airbnb when traveling both throughout the United States, and internationally.


Our Short Term Rental Experiences

My husband and I have been customers of Airbnb since 2013 when our first experience with the service was renting an apartment with my parents in Barcelona, Spain.  The apartment was located one block from Sagrada Familia and, from the balcony of the apartment, we had a spectacular view of the cathedral from an angle few tourists would ever have the opportunity to experience.  None of us spoke Spanish, but we were able to communicate with our host (who spoke no English) easily through the Airbnb platform.  The apartment was across the street from a grocery store and in the same block as many local restaurants.  Because we were able to get such a great deal on the apartment through Airbnb, we spent significantly more just being “tourists” in a city we fell in love with.

Since our trip to Barcelona, back in 2013, we have been completely sold on the sharing economy idea of Airbnb.  We do not travel anywhere for pleasure without looking for an Airbnb property to stay in.  In fact, since 2013, the only time I have stayed in a hotel was when I was traveling for work, and we have even started to shift business travel lodging to Airbnb when possible, because it allows for collaboration between colleagues in an environment that isn’t full of the hustle and bustle of a hotel lobby.  We can sit around a dining room table and debrief all the things we learned at a conference, or we can work on presentations while sitting comfortably on a couch in the living room.  It’s really a fantastic way to travel with colleagues.

Vancouver, BC Airbnb Short Term RentalsVancouver, BC
London, England Airbnb Short Term RentalsLondon, UK
Washington, DC Airbnb Short Term RentalsWashington, DCBoston, MA Airbnb Short Term RentalsBoston, MAAustin, TX Airbnb Short Term RentalsAustin, TX

My husband and I have stayed in Airbnb properties all across the US (Seattle, Downtown Kansas City (twice), Austin (twice), Denver, Washington, DC, the North Shore of Oahu, and Boston) and internationally in London (twice), Vancouver (in the same apartment on three separate trips), and Barcelona.  We feel like utilizing available short term rentals allows us to experience cities like locals do.  We eat at more neighborhood restaurants, shop at more locally-owned stores, spend more money, and really get to know each city we visit.  Because we’re able to experience the true nature of each city, we find ourselves much more connected to each place and much more likely to return for another trip.  Additionally, booking through services such as Airbnb has allowed us to stay in areas that are much closer to city centers and in much more popular areas for far less than we would have had to pay to stay in a hotel.  I can say, without a doubt, that we have been able to travel more and visit more destinations because we are booking with Airbnb rather than with a hotel.  Hotels in many of the destinations we have visited would have made the trip cost-prohibitive.

Lawrence is made for short term rentals

Lawrence is a city that’s primed to make people fall in love with it.  I’ve lived here my whole life and my love for this city is contagious.  Whenever I have friends coming into town, or even old high school friends coming home to visit for a holiday, I feel compelled to tell them about all of my favorite places in Lawrence and about all the new places that I’ve recently had the opportunity to love.  In my experience, Airbnb hosts are some of the very best ambassadors of the cities in which they have property.  They want the experience of their guests to be as positive as possible.  Hosts want those guests to come back.  They want people to love place they call home as much as they do.

I understand the purpose of regulating short term rentals, but I’ve encouraged our City Commission to do it in a way that will not suffocate their existence in Lawrence.  By keeping them around, we’re encouraging people who love the sharing economy to add Lawrence to their list of desired destinations.  I’m certain people staying in these properties are spending more money in town than those who are staying at a hotel.  My husband and I are those people in other communities and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

 

 

 

Managing a Multi-State Project with a Cadre of Technology Tools

When working intensely on a complex project with a group of people scattered across the country, completing even the smallest of tasks seems nearly impossible. Who hasn’t seen the infamous “A Conference Call In Real Life” parody video and seen all their own conference call experiences flash before their eyes? The ability to communicate effectively across the entire remote team is paramount to the success of many of the projects we have here at CPPR.

I have a personal love of technology and thrive on the process of finding and testing tools that might make the remote communication process smoother. The current project I coordinate has partners in four different states, spread across seven organizations, providing a great opportunity to do some of this testing. Over the last several months, my project team has utilized a cadre of tools (which some team members had never had the opportunity to use before) that are helping our remote team of partners build momentum and move us toward our end goal. An added benefit is that most of the tools we have settled on can be used for FREE**. Below, I will introduce you to the tools that we have had the most success with.

Using Google Docs for Grant Writing

Version control is a phrase that I hear like nails on a chalkboard. When you’re writing as a team, trying to keep track of who is making edits in a document at any point in time, making sure they’re editing the correct version, then making sure the correct version is passed along to the next editor. . . is all one big, complicated, and tedious job. With Google Docs, multiple writers from each of the partner organizations can have the document open at the same time, all contributing to the same final product at once. Without a doubt, this process saves our team many hours of time on edits and additions. Here’s a great video on how to use Google Docs to collaborate with your own teams.

Using Zoom Video Conferencing for Regular Calls

Another hiccup that can come up with remote teams is live communication. “When should we talk?” “How should we run our calls?” “Who should be on the calls?” These are all questions we asked ourselves when we started work on this project. Ultimately, we decided that we would need to have in-person meetings a few times per year. Our first meeting was held over three days, on the campus of James Madison University and, in July, the partners visited our team here at the University of Kansas for our second meeting.

For our biweekly meetings, we decided to try video conferencing, as we get our best work done when we can see one another. Video calls were going to be our best option since we’re spread so widely across the country and can’t justify the cost of in-person meetings more than a few times a year. While we tried several different video conferencing services, it wasn’t until the University of Kansas offered access to all staff earlier this year that we settled on Zoom as the tool we would use going forward. Zoom offers the ability to have device-based video and audio from all participants, a calling feature for times when someone can’t log in using a computer, and the ability to share screens — all very important features that make this tool work well for our needs.

To prepare for these regular calls, we use Google Docs to share an agenda ahead of time so that no one is surprised by what we’re talking about on any given week. Included in these agendas are links to relevant files so that people can review them prior to the call and access them easily while the call is happening. This also allows us to know when we need to move a topic to another week if the correct stakeholder will not be able to join us on that week’s call.

Additional Communication Tools

Slack. In addition to calls, we started using Slack to communicate between scheduled Zoom meetings. Slack is a relatively new communication tool for teams where you can have threaded conversations about any topic. Separate channels can be set up for discussion by subject, and people can subscribe to just the channels that are relevant to their work. Private channels can be set up for topics that don’t need full-team discussion. In addition to the channel feature, Slack includes a function allowing private, direct messages to be sent between team members, providing a quick option to reach someone for an immediate need or request, or just to share news. Slack also includes the ability to add files and images to your teams’ channels, which are easily searchable through the search feature. A lesser-known feature available is one-to-one video calling. While this option only exists in a one-to-one scenario in the free version of the tool, calls between up to 15 people are available in the paid version.

TrelloFor project management and tracking, we’re using Trello. Trello takes the Japanese Kanban technique of project management and puts it into an easy to use web-based tool. Teams use boards to create lists (for example, “To Do”, “In Progress”, and “Completed”). Within those lists, team members can create cards for each task that needs to be completed. Each card (task) can be assigned a due date, and be tasked to an individual or multiple individuals on the team. Checklists, files, photos, notes, and updates can also be attached to each card. When a card is complete, it can be archived, deleted, or moved to the “Completed” list for archival purposes. This process helps keep the team on task and informed about where everyone is on each of their assigned tasks within the project.

Conclusion

Moving into my job here at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research two years ago was a real leap of faith for me. Having spent nearly a decade in the corporate worlds of finance and insurance, I had no experience writing grants or even being involved in the grant-writing process. Using these tools has made the transition much smoother.

The work we do here at CPPR is life-changing, not just for the people whose programs we work with, but for our staff, as well.

We’re working every day to make a difference in the lives of families across the country, and hopefully, soon, across the globe. With a limited amount of funding available, it’s always important to be mindful of opportunities to make a project more cost-effective. Using free or relatively low-cost technology tools for collaboration and communication can take a large cost burden out of the management of projects. The tools I’ve mentioned here today are not only playing a large part in the success of my project, but in projects across CPPR.

Incorporating new technology into daily activities can be painful for some, but the temporary growing pains are worth the reward when working with remote teams. Being intentional about which tools you choose to incorporate is important. Introduce too many new tools at once, or without a solid use-case, and team members may become overwhelmed or reject them completely. However, when your team finds the right balance, tasks are completed with less confusion and delay, team members always know what they are responsible for and what their deadlines are, and the lines of communication stay open.

Dipping your toe in the ocean of organizational, communication, and project management tools available right now can be scary, and overdoing it is definitely a risk, but don’t let yourself be frightened of trying something new. Here at CPPR, we know that we can only be navigators of social change by taking risks, exploring innovative ideas, and encouraging our partners and colleagues to embrace the opportunity to find the right technology tool for the job.

Intro Videos for the tools mentioned here:
Google Docs
Zoom
Slack
Trello

**Zoom, Slack, and Trello have premium versions that are not free. Those versions have additional features that haven’t been necessary to use with my project, but may provide an added benefit to others. Each tool’s website clearly discloses their pricing structure for their premium product.