Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Pros and Cons of Desperation

Alright, let's just lay it on the line: I doubt there is any genealogical organization in the world who would jump up and down, waving their arm and begging, "Oh, pick me, pick me" when asked, "Who would like to volunteer to host their membership meetings online?" Cutting edge techie is just not our, ahem, sharper image.

Lately, though, we haven't had much of a choice. Right now, in the midst of a nearly worldwide quarantine, it's more like: cancel the meeting or move online. Desperation to try—anything—to keep our group together is nudging, no, shoving us into realms we never thought we'd need to try.

Being able to switch to a virtual meeting would solve a multitude of problems for our local genealogical society, first of which would have been to solve a sticky situation we had already been facing: where to move our meeting location. Our usual location—a branch of the local library system—was undergoing construction, and we had already sunk an entire week's work into relocating to a new, though temporary, home.

With the indisputable arrival of the coronavirus in our state, it didn't matter where we met now; no place would welcome us in, given the restrictions of our state's quarantine order. Meeting online would allow us to sidestep the entire issue—but how could we prepare a membership who were already reticent to delve further into this virtual reality?

When our local society faced up to that dilemma, we realized a few roadblocks stood between us and our next meeting. We already had to cancel our March meeting, and having to make decisions to radically shift our modus operandi before April made that month's timeframe shrink.

The benefits of being able to see an entire organization shift gears instantly, whenever the board of directors said "jump" would be optimal, but our society has been in existence for sixty eight years. We don't pivot that quickly. Engaging in a simple—though admittedly multi-step—process such as uploading their DNA data to GEDmatch, for instance, was for some of our members a stress-inducing assignment. Those of us who are totally immersed in the genealogy world online assume "everybody" uses online genealogical database management systems, or goes to webinars for their continuing education (or even reads a family history blog), but in reality, in the rest of the genealogy world, that is not always the case. We still have many members who would prefer to remain low-tech participants.

A second hurdle to online meetings was to confirm that the speaker we had previously engaged for our April meeting would be willing to present via online system rather than face-to-face in front of an audience. For some teachers, instruction is not only a means to deliver information, but is a platform for a performance of sorts; some speakers thrive when they have a live audience and fall flat when they play to an empty room.

Fortunately, even though our society's program director keeps our monthly events scheduled almost a year in advance, for our April meeting, she had scheduled a relatively new speaker who, in her other life, works as a teacher at a local high school. This speaker was quite willing to take up the challenge.

As for our members, our board reviewed the situation to assess how best to approach the challenge of convincing a good number of them to try out this new, online routine. At first, we talked about sending out a survey to our members to see how many thought they'd be game, but with time flying by, we didn't have that luxury, so we developed another approach to help our members get ready for the big meeting day.

This approach was a multi-step process—besides being totally experimental—but for our organization, it seemed to work. I'll review the steps we took, tomorrow. Perhaps this approach will work for your organization, as well. 

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