ATF: Thoughts on Our Process

I enjoyed serving on the task force more than I should probably admit. Having steeled myself to make public comments at school board meetings a time or two, I can say that it is rewarding to have others actually respond to your comments and questions and to be able to participate throughout the meeting. I appreciated the opportunity to become acquainted with the other task force members and DE employees. It was also interesting to have an insider look at how things get done.

I am generally not a fan of trying to accomplish anything by committee. Too many people involved and it can be difficult to get things done, too few involved and you may miss out on hearing a variety of perspectives. Twenty-one members ended up working out pretty well in terms of ensuring representation of various groups while still giving everyone plenty of opportunity to voice their opinions; if we erred, it was always on the side of letting discussions run long rather than cutting things short before everyone had had their say.

In retrospect, I’d say that we spent far too much time drafting the screening rubric and might have better used that time collecting additional information and deliberating. We might also have benefitted from getting an earlier start drafting the report as it helped clarify what information we had or did not have about the assessments.

Other things that ended up working well:

  • Icebreaker introductions. I didn’t start out a fan of these, but they helped us get acquainted a bit and warmed up for discussion at the start of each meeting. I suppose once you have spoken up in front of a large group of people, it is easier to speak up again.
  • Using technology to share documents and work together. I have gained some additional 21st century skills.
  • Using subgroups and small groups to accomplish some of the work that would have been difficult to get done with twenty-one people all at once.

Other things that worked less well:

  • Receiving materials shortly before the meeting. Whether hundreds of pages of vendor materials or a twenty page article for discussion, I like to have plenty of time to read and think before discussion at the meetings.
  • Pair and share activities. They seem to be a waste of time when the group isn’t too large for a whole group discussion. Thankfully we didn’t use these often after the first few meetings.
  • The twelve hour meeting. Seriously. In September, we met for twelve hours. It ended up being a good meeting (thank goodness for endless refills of caffeinated beverages), but conference room chairs are not designed for that many hours of sitting and it was inevitable that we would end the meeting with both shouting and uncontrollable giggling. Five hour meetings are definitely preferable.
  • Absence of the press and the public.

In the end, I think we were working pretty smoothly as a group. Though after more than seventy hours of meetings over fourteen months, I don’t think any task force members are sorry to see our work come to an end.

Updated to add: Fist to five voting completely slipped my mind. It worked well during preliminary decision-making when we were still in the process of deliberating and consensus-building, but was cause for some confusion during final votes. It would be more clear to have simple yes/no final votes on motions and recommendations.

Decision-making rules also ended up working well. Creating a majority vote rule (rather than requiring unanimity) allowed us to make decisions and move on, rather than allowing one person to hold up everything or forcing people to withdraw their dissent to keep things moving.