A distributed workforce in need of a new way to share content
Partners in School Innovation is a mission-driven organization with a track record of transforming urban schools and districts for over two decades. Their mostly remote staff work throughout California and the Midwest, and as Pol Stafford, their Director of IT explains it, a big part of his job is “helping Partners use technology to extend the reach of their Change Agents in the field.”
In an effort to support their distributed workforce, Partners decided to create a reference library. The goal was to make it easy for anyone on the team to access key documentation and utilize the methodologies contained within these files. This way, Partners could ensure that their organizational philosophies were being correctly applied in the schools they work with.
Cloud storage, wiki solutions can’t cut it
Unfortunately, there were a few pitfalls on the journey to reach a satisfactory solution. Their first attempt at creating a resource library relied heavily on a major cloud storage platform. Partners quickly realized that it wasn’t cut out to accommodate their needs. Their second attempt involved a wiki-based solution, which also broke down rather quickly. From Pol’s perspective “it was fine until people actually started using it, and then the search became unusable... and we were just lost.”
So Pol worked with Jesse Hinueber, the Senior Director of Program Support and Knowledge Systems, and Jess Williams, a Program Development and Support Associate, to hash out a new plan. Together they enlisted other staff members for feedback and ultimately mocked-up wireframes of what they wanted in a resource library. Partners even entertained the idea of building a homegrown solution. Jess joked that “we were very ambitious for about 30 seconds.”
Realizing that a custom-built application would require a significant investment of time and capital, they had another look at the plug-and-play solutions available to them. Thankfully, the third time was the charm. By combining two best-of-breed technologies, Partners ended up with an integrated solution that gave them everything they needed, without the drawbacks of a custom-built application.
A resource library to enhance their online collaboration infrastructure
Prior to implementing anything, they took a moment to reflect on the nature of their digital information. In doing so, Partners realized that they had two fundamentally different types of content within their organization:
- Core, vetted documents, which serve as the foundation for the coaching, consulting, and transformation services Partners offers. It was understood that this content needed to be inherently “findable”.
- Other content - such as agendas and presentations - that gets created by the staff within the flow of their day-to-day work. Partners wanted to help its staff create this content faster, and with greater accuracy, by making it easy for them to locate and iterate off-of their core documents.
Based on this understanding, Partners identified the need for two solutions. A document collaboration suite to house all of their work-in-process documents, and another solution to highlight the organization-approved best practice content that the staff should be referring to on a regular basis. In the end, Partners chose to use Google Drive and Shelf in tandem to address their needs.
Jesse describes the strides they’ve made using this approach to information management: “We now have an organizational hierarchy to our folder structure so everything lives in the same place. We have a set of permissions that are easy to manage as new people come in. And [Google Drive] is a good system for the ‘live, on-the-go’ stuff. But it doesn’t make it easy, searchable, and transparent to determine what the core set of vetted tools and resources are... the things we’ve found to be ‘The Greatest Hits’ at Partners”. And that’s where Shelf comes in.
Effortless roll-out and an enjoyable user experience
With this integrated solution in place, Partners has made Shelf the de facto go-to-place anytime a staff member needs to locate a core document. Thanks to Shelf’s powerful search capabilities, the Partners staff have an ability to find whatever they need in seconds. What’s more, they have the means to surface information that was otherwise buried in documents and images, via the in-document/in-image search functionality.
Having used it for over a year, Jesse was asked to reflect on the organization-wide perception of Shelf, “The general vibe about Shelf with the staff is ‘This is cool. We like it.’ It’s not at all like with our wiki, where the staff would always groan when asked about it.”
Pol Stafford adds, “We’ve deployed our entire reference library via Shelf. One of the ways that I gauge success in my job is that people STOP talking about the technology they’re using; in the way that people stop talking about their refrigerator. Because it works, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to do. They use it and don’t have to think about it.”