Thoughts On A State of the Chapter Statement (and Doing More)

This is a follow up to a thought I voiced on Twitter last week – the value of a once a year “state of the chapter” message from each chapter (or at least the Orlando ones!). Before we cover that, some background. I’ve never been terribly happy with how PASS measures Chapters. Around 2007-2009 the big emphasis was on the number of chapters and increasing them, very little emphasis on increasing attendance or quality. Since then we’ve seen the SIG’s morph to Virtual Chapters (good) and more of an emphasis on measuring “Training Hours Delivered” (THD) which while not a perfect metric is an interesting one that spans all PASS franchises. What’ve never had (or at least that I’ve seen) is a measure of health of the chapters. For example, here are some metrics I’d want to look at monthly/yearly:

  • Attendance each month and length/number of presentations (for the THD)
  • Virtual or in-person presentation
  • Changes in leadership/date since last change
  • Events held/supported in addition to regular chapter meetings
  • # of members that attended the most recent Summit
  • If the chapter leader attended the most recent Summit

That’s not perfect and surely there could be more, but the point is to see which chapters are growing (and ask why) and which one’s aren’t (and ask why). Lots of lessons to be learned and shared, if we had the information. I’m not clear on what information we gather today, I know we went through a period of none, and then one where we asked the regional mentors (RM)’s to gather it. This is the stuff that dashboards are made of. They can inspire healthy competition, help heal sick chapters, and when needed figure out when a chapter only exists on paper and needs a reboot or a shutdown. Worth doing, and maybe some of that happens now, but we don’t see much beyond the THD number at the Summit each year. That’s not enough detail.

So with all that in my head, I’ve also been thinking “do we do enough in Orlando”? That’s the royal we I guess, since I’m the occasional volunteer and Kendal and Shawn and Karla do the heavy lifting. Two chapters, I think probably averaging 9 or 10 meetings each year, a SQLSaturday for the past 8 years, and this year the Student to IT Pro seminar. Plus tacked on seminars over the years. This year we hosted a joint meeting with Mark Souza, something new. oPASS has been back up and running since mid 2006 or so, a pretty good run, and we’ve been lucky to transition leaders in that time from me to Jack Corbett to Shawn McGehee. Attendance has stayed steady for both chapters and while I would wish for more (because I always want more!), both are doing ok.

Do we do enough? We’ve kicked around running a mid year seminar about 6 months offset from SQLSaturday, a “big event” that wouldn’t be quite as big as SQLSaturday to manage. We’re going to try to build a better partnership with ONETUG (local .Net group) by building a SQL track at the next Code Camp that will be focused on developers. We don’t have a BI (or BAC) chapter here. We’ve talked a little about a “beginner” event that we think would be deeper than Student to IT Pro, basically all 100 level stuff. Kendal has experimented with study groups with (in my view) not great success. What else could we do? Or should do?

That brings me back, finally, to the state of the chapter. I think it would be useful to write a message to the members once a year and say “this is what we did”. Put some numbers in there. Put the things that went well and the things that didn’t. Talk about goals and dreams for the next year, something measurable and hopefully attainable. Come up with a few easy to maintain metrics that we can track year over year. I think it would help the leaders reflect on things done and not done, but it’s also telling the story to the members who rarely appreciate the effort it takes to book a speaker and a sponsor each month, or to find volunteers, or any of the other tasks that get one. I think it would help the members appreciate what a great resource the chapters are, and maybe encourage them to call out topics or areas that need more attention. Wouldn’t it be interesting to be able to include the ranking of where oPASS & MagicPASS stood globally? Compare THD compared to other chapters?

It’s not an easy question – do we do enough? There are things perhaps best done by colleges, by recruiters, by professional trainers, and perhaps things we want to do like study groups that just don’t generate enough good for the effort. Maybe all of that is wrong! We had 700 people register for SQLSaturday Orlando and we served about 450 of them on that Saturday. Of those 700, that may be the only time we see them each year. That’s certainly not the entire DBA/BI/whatever SQL population of Orlando, but it’s a decent chunk. What else could we do for them? My point isn’t to be critical, just to inspire, or perhaps dare, you/us to dream. It’s work to keep a chapter running and doing so is no small thing. Is that all though, or is there a way to do more in a way that serves the local community and doesn’t exhaust the chapter leader? What would make a big impact?

So here’s the challenge. If you lead a chapter, write up 300 or 400 words on what you did in 2014 and what you hope to do in 2015. Share a lesson learned or a pain point or two. Call out your volunteers for applause. Publish that – on your blog, on the PASS blog, send it to me if nothing else and I’ll post it here. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see 5 or 10 or 20 of those and see what can be learned? And then maybe we can see about that PASS level reporting that I mentioned way back in the first paragraph. And then in a year we can look back and see how we did. Doesn’t seem radical does it?

And one more thought. I’m a proponent of leverage. If I’m going to invest an hour, I like to make it count for as much as I can. If I can work smarter and get more attendees, that’s what I want to do. Yet…the beauty of volunteering is that we can do things that aren’t cost efficient in terms of time or money. Doing “more” can be framed a lot of ways, it’s not just about headcount or THD, something I’m reminded of when I think about the effort it took to do the Student to IT Pro seminar this year.

Wait, still one more thought! I’m not on the chapter leader mailing list so maybe I don’t see the ideas, but I wish I saw more ideas published. I know they exist, I’m just not sure they get shared, and even the ones that do – like the ones above – tend to get lost in the storm of posts and tweets. We need more thought leaders and we need more effort to aggregate those. Not sure who or how, but we need it.