Field staff…

There’s a movement afoot to replace the state/regional structure with “field workers” –

  • Field organizer — goes out into the field to help arrange events, recruit members, start new branches, bolster faltering branches, etc., etc.
  • Field coordinator — works out of a (home?) office to facilitate communication between the national organization and the grass roots

It’s clear that this has been discussed at the board level for about a year, and the August 2007 statement of the board’s priorities for implementation by 12/31/2007 includes:

  • Create a staff Field Coordinator position within the Membership Department to work with branches, identify and share best practices, etc.

Note, however, that the “field worker” position — from the membership/volunteers — is different from the staff position called for in this short term plan. From what I’ve heard, these are “quasi-staff” (e.g. some expenses reimbursed, but no salary or benefits). The prediction of our ability to recruit these folks is based somewhat on our success in recruiting folks to serve at the state and regional levels.

There’s a danger, I think, in holding the mental model that two people can accomplish what a dozen or more contribute to now in a successfully functioning state. Yes, of course, both of those roles are needed — but what’s the infrastructure look like to have them pull others in to get particular tasks accomplished? What’s the glue that holds that team together over the medium term — to take the lessons they learn from one project and pass it on to the next? to find the particular skills that individuals are willing to offer and  leverage those on more than one project.

I don’t want to get too Myers-Briggsy, while I honor the notion of field staff just “getting things done” (J), I’d hate to lose the capacity building/potential of the current “network-focused” structure (P).

So perhaps the OSG nugget that recommends the current “required” state/regional structure be pared back to “primary contact, communications contact, financial contact” could be morphed:

primary -> field organizer
communications -> field coordinator
finance -> ?? who *is* handling the local money in the field staff model? Do we need to care?

[It doesn’t look like those specifics made it into the final report — it just says updating what’s required and what’s optional in terms of offices.]

I’ve spent so much of my AAUW time focused on providing the infrastructure to allow the grass roots folks to find each other. I don’t see as much progress as I’d like from the national level to take over that role (though there is some, of course). My motivation for all this effort has come from  _Bowling_Alone_  — the importance of community groups in ensuring the health of communities in general.
So as this idea continues to be discussed, I do think we need to put some “network” around those “field workers” (and discuss how they link to resource pools at the national level) in order not to risk going down a Lone Ranger path.

Some of this may be obvious — but until it’s all hashed out and written up, I’m trying to capture thoughts here.

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