This article originally appeared on AssociationSuccess.org.
Before you dive into implementing a new technology at your organization, be sure to look at what’s going on in your day to day operations. Ask staff who work with volunteers or members: what issues are they facing? An easy way to track this is by logging the problems or issues raised from your member inbox. How are you collecting this type of data over time so when you do have a technology change, data on member pain points is readily available and you can pinpoint trends?
Use the data you already have in place, too. If there is a committee or a task force you work with on a regular basis for membership, use their knowledge to discuss member issues. If you have an annual meeting coming up, you can bring people together in person to discuss their views and needs. There doesn’t have to be an additional cost associated with getting folks together to have a conversation.
And if that data uncovers uncomfortable truths, it’s ultimately a positive thing for making data-driven decisions. Gathering up data from day-to-day operations will allow stakeholders to share in ways they may not always do. When we ask members their pain points directly, they talk about the first thing that comes to mind and we stop there, while there are many other levels of potential discussion we don’t reach.
This kind of user research has to happen before ideation. You should have some ideas to work through from your stakeholders by the time you come to the table to brainstorm ideas about what’s going to change. Technology can level the playing field, so embrace this phase and be open to new ideas. When you get to the ideation stage, include front-line staff since they will play a major role in communicating the change and answering questions. They will have valuable input and ideas as well.
One organization I worked with had money set aside for new technology and wanted to introduce Higher Logic communities. Based on years of experience with the group, the staff had an educated idea of how things should be set up for members to get the most value out of the platform, but the volunteers, members, and chapter leaders had other ideas we needed to consider. We had to find a way to get everyone enthused about the project and win over the Board of Directors to make the investment.
We spent the time and money to conduct a beta test over the course of three months, allowing volunteers and staff to experience the online community and give their feedback before committing to it full-time. This was our user research phase as we hosted trainings and feedback sessions while allowing volunteers and staff to work directly in the sandbox environment. When we brought the results of this to the board, they were happy with the engagement and more comfortable making a long-term investment.
As they say, “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.” Talk to your users. Knowing their views about whatever process you’re trying to streamline or automate will help you down the line, when you implement solutions and need ambassadors to get the whole association on board.