Suggestions for PASS: Transparency & Communication

Earlier this week I posted How To Improve The PASS Connector in response to a general request for feedback about the Connector on Twitter. I had been accruing some notes based on my initial efforts on the PASSWatch blog and I used some of that as the source of the Connector suggestions, but I have some remaining and thought I’d post those today.

  1. PASS Blog/News. One of the things that I’ve noticed during my weekly scan is that what I consider useful events such as the posting of minutes to the governance page aren’t accompanied by a post on the PASS blog. The latest budget did get a post (good), the latest Board Q&A did not. Some might merit a full post (release of the budget is a good example), some might go into a ‘this week’ type of post, but either way it’s something that would make for a better experience by the member interested in keeping up with PASS but not willing to go check separate pages on the site to see if they were updated. It would be a win for PASS as well. As it is the effort expended to create and post things like the minutes often goes unnoticed. Packaging and volume are fair considerations. What I want is a member is a way to reasonably monitor what PASS is accomplishing or thinking about. That can be one feed, or several, as long as it’s easy to discover those sources. Right now it feels like the blog plus the separate press release (for “official” stuff for other news organizations to consume) is good enough, it’s just the blog is under used. Share the stories.
  2. Twitter. PASS is reasonably active on Twitter and there are often good threads on the #sqlpass hash tag. That’s good, but it’s easy to forget that not all members are on Twitter and not all check #sqlpass on a regular basis. It would be worth reviewing the Twitter stream once a week to see if there is anything that should go on the blog and perhaps even in the Connector, ranging from a screenshot to a post that goes into more detail than can be done on Twitter. That might in return drive a few more people to monitor the Twitter stream. That said, it does take effort. [Note: I’ve looked at the stream for PASSWatch to try to figure out if I should post it entirely as an archive, or try to find the top two or three tweets, and I think I’ll go with the archive approach soon]
  3. Summit Locations. PASS has currently decided the location for the Summit quite a few years in advance (required to secure the space) and that’s recorded in the minutes, but it’s not published anywhere else that would be easily found by a member. I see no harm in having a location on the web site that lists the location (and dates, if known) for future events. Back when I served on the Board there was a concern that members might elect to skip a year if they location for the next year was going to be closer to them. I think that’s an overblown concern, but more than that, why not let our members make good financial decisions by telling them what we know (and have decided, and published, if obscurely)?
  4. Financial Reserves. Similar to the comment on Summit locations, I’d like a place where I can see the balance and activity for the reserves over the past five years or so. I don’t want to hunt through minutes and budgets to figure it out.
  5. Budget Summary and Planned vs Actual. The PASS Board puts a lot of effort into creating a budget each year and publishes that budget with a fair amount of detail. I don’t want to lose the detail, but I’d really like to understand what changed in the budget from this year vs the previous year at a department/portfolio level, or a bit lower down the hierarchy. Changes in allocation represent a change in interest/commitment. Such changes are necessary, but very hard to parse out right now. Right now PASS creates a full budget and a very high level post about the budget for the new fiscal year. I’m asking that we also get a mid level change summary to be added, either as a separate document or as part of either of the two that are currently created. Planned vs Actual is something we’ve never had to my knowledge. Budgets aren’t set in stone. They can flex up or down based on changes in revenues as well as due to responses to problems or opportunities. Without seeing the final spend we cannot determine if the funds are being used as we were told they would be. That is not meant to imply any sort of unethical activity as we can see some of the changes via votes on budget exceptions, but again we’d have to dig through the minutes to find them and still not get the entire picture. The work has to be done internally anyway, there is no reason to not publish a planned vs actual summary along with any commentary that seems appropriate.
  6. Board Q&A. Right now the Board holds one Q&A each year, at the annual PASS Summit. That only allows a very small number of people to participate as it’s limited to those members attending the Summit and of those, the ones that are willing to give up an hour of learning to participate. I don’t want to see that eliminated, but clearly one hour a year is not enough to address questions and concerns from members. The issue of more than one Board Q&A each year was mentioned at the 2014 Board Q&A as possible for 2015) and I hope that happens, with at least one being accessible online in real time. I think the Q&A has value to the Board as well, it’s the only time they deal with members as a group at the same time and that helps them build a shared understanding of concerns presented in a way that reading an email thread can never do.
  7. Committee Notes/Minutes. Right now there are almost no committee notes being posted. I’ve always found it invaluable to capture notes during meetings and circulate them for review. We did this for the first SQLRally, and they used to do it for the Program Committee as well. I get that some discussions need to be confidential (much of the NomCom meetings for example), but right now we can’t even tell if and when the committees are meeting.

To that list I’ll add this; telling the story is important. It’s a lesson we all learn eventually as employees, that our boss/client doesn’t always know what we’ve done unless we tell them. PASS volunteers do a ton of work at all levels and it’s important to share that. It’s also important to understand that telling the story as you go takes them with you on the journey and it’s a chance for in-flight course corrections if someone reads what you’re doing and has suggestions (or complaints!). Publishing minutes (the Board minutes are good quality, I’d score them a ‘B’) isn’t the same as telling the story. It’s part of it, but it’s not all of it. Said differently, being transparent isn’t the same as communicating.

There is the risk with every single thing that gets published that it will be taken badly or misinterpreted. That will happen, and it’s not a reason to stop publishing. It can be reduced by looking at the news/decision from other perspectives, or asking those with other perspectives to review it with a critical eye before it goes out.

Finally, here’s a question I’d ask Board members to think about – do the members know what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished? If not, why not? If you don’t like to write, find a writer. If you don’t have time, you’ve got (in my opinion) your priorities wrong – tell us about the work, even if means you do an hour or two less of “real” PASS work. Don’t wait until the next election, tell us as you go. We’ll understand what you’re doing or trying to do, and it helps to prepare the next generation of leaders as you model both transparency and the work of serving the members. I can tell you from person
al experience that doing so makes the entire effort a lot more fun.

2 thoughts on “Suggestions for PASS: Transparency & Communication

  1. Andy,
    Thank you for your commentary.
    As a Board member, I’ve been writing my personal blog for some time, and I have a dedicated ‘corner’ which shows what I have been doing. Admittedly, it does not show everything because I am extremely busy for SQLFamily but here is a flavour of what I do:
    – I spoke in a continent that’s not my own – twice, in the same month
    – this year so far, I have spoken in other European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, and various times around the UK)
    – I spearhead Business Analytics Conference, which means I work a second business day because as you wake up at 9am, that’s 5pm my time, so I’m working in a timezone which is eight hours behind mine. I can log anywhere between two and eight hours a week on BAC calls during the past months, which, given the timezone difference, is a real commitment.
    – running SQLSaturday Edinburgh Business Intelligence edition
    – helping Microsoft with various things in the UK such as Data culture events
    – trying to keep my Chapter going
    – speaking at other Chapters to keep them going
    – trying to kick off the Data Science Virtual Chapter
    – oh, and other Board activities 🙂 such as meetings and other things i’m involved in. I was at a Board meeting in January, and I’m going to another soon. This will be my fourth visit to the US this year for SQLFamily and, for those of us who travel, you’ll know what a sacrifice that is.

    Although I blog about these things, the truth is, I don’t see as much readership of these items as my other blogs. I get good readership of other articles that I write, and I do see that these articles get read less. I’m not sure what to do about that; I do evangelise, and I have 7.5K twitter followers. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong to engage, but I think that, with all of the work I clearly put in, plus blogging, plus tweeting about it, I am putting in a *huge* effort for SQLFamily. My Twitter hours are tumbleweed. I’m not sure what I am doing wrong.

    There is a real difference between talking and doing, and I do like to see that I am a ‘doer’ person. I think people can see what I do, even if the dots are not always joined up. I don’t talk myself up because I am a Brit and we don’t blow out own trumpets – the facts are there and on my blog.

    Here is my blog over at jenstirrup.com if anyone is interested in taking a look. I’m happy to write more, but I have other things to write about that get more ‘hits’ and that leads me to think that the engagement is low when I do talk about what I’m doing. I’m a person outside of the PASS Board – a SQL Server MVP in my own right, one of only ten in the UK and one out of only three females in Europe who are SQL Server MVPs – and people aren’t always interested in my Board activities. Content is King, as always.

    I hope that helps and I look forward to your feedback.

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    1. Jen, thanks for taking time to post the comment. I take your point on the lower number of hits and I want to write more about it, because I can see why it’s a disincentive to write, I just think there are other benefits beyond the # of reads. Let me ask you this – how would I know you were taking BAC calls at 5pm your time if you didn’t write about it? Time zones are a real challenge for PASS and our international growth, it’s valid and important to talk about that kind of stuff. Or if you can think back to your days as an employee, did you think your boss saw everything you did, or did you take a list of accomplishments to the annual review? We – the PASS audience – only tune in here and there and we don’t see anything behind the curtain unless you tell us. Doing isn’t enough, and I know that’s a tough statement to absorb, but it’s true.

      As I’ve looked at what you’ve written so far I consider it good. You’re trying to share, trying to promote PASS, and doing things like office hours on Twitter is very good. I wouldn’t tell you to do more, or to do less when it comes to communicating. If you can only do Twitter or blog, then blog. Don’t think the low views is a problem with you or your writing, it’s not. It’s a combination of low interest and low visibility (the latter is one of the reasons I’m experimenting with PASSWatch). But the ones who do read it are the influencers and that’s the ones you want to reach, the ones who care about PASS.

      Andy

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