How we facilitate communication, build collaboration, and support with empathy.
Pictured above: The Bluebonnet Website's Embedded Portal
Bluebonnet Data is a remotely-connected, volunteer-powered organization. Our volunteers, or fellows, are at the heart of our mission, so our goal as a leadership team is to boost morale, build momentum, and facilitate communication amongst the volunteer teams. One of the ways in which we support our fellows is by providing them with the resources they need to learn from each other and communicate with their campaign teams.
We utilize a variety of digital platforms to enable efficient and effective team management, store data, and share code. In this post, we will share a breakdown of the current platforms we use and the workflow that we practice.
First, these are the traits that we use to evaluate team management platforms:
Financial feasibility. Free or proven to be of good value, i.e. it’s more effective to outsource the service rather than develop it ourselves.
Sustainability and ongoing support. Ideally, the tool comes with customer service support. If it is open source, we check for extent of its usage, frequency of updates, and proof of active membership over the last month. Additionally, the tool should also have a consistent and stable feature set. In the event that features do change, it should not hamper the existing workflow of a team.
Well-documented. The documentation or user service is clear, consistent, and easy to contribute to.
Portability and flexibility in data storage. We should be able to gather and manage data in the tool and port it to other systems.
Intuitive use. Does the system have a UI/UX that is easy for new users to pick up? The tool should be easy to navigate and not a hindrance to a user’s progress.
There are several layers of communication when working with remote volunteer teams for down-ballot campaigns. For us, a communication hub is a set of tools that facilitates team conversations, questions and answers, brainstorming, and more.
Slack is used to house short-term leadership and campaign team conversations, announcements, and organization-wide brainstorms.
The Bluebonnet Forum allows us to centralize long-term questions and answers across campaign teams and political cycles.
The Bluebonnet Website’s Embedded Portal for Fellows is a centralized page for members-only access to all resources utilized in the fellow community.
Especially when working remotely, it is essential to have a solid foundation of tools to enable collaboration among Bluebonnet fellows. We use the following to facilitate collaboration between teams, leadership, campaigns, and other members of our community.
Google Suite, a service familiar and intuitive to many of our volunteers, houses our Drive, where each campaign team has access to their own team folder as well as general fellow resources such as templates and training. We use Google Meet for all of our collaborative calls, as well as Google Calendar for our events and meetings.
GitLab is used for code versioning and project management. Similar to GitHub, GitLab is a code repository manager, but with an open source license. This tool includes project management features such as issue lists, boards, hierarchies of permissions, and other features inaccessible to users in the GitHub free tier. Additionally, GitHub’s open source roots help users hold the platform accountable to the listed offerings.
AirTable is used to not only store our team project tracker, active fellows and campaigns, and media content, but also for collaborative working sessions where we reach out to candidates, recruit new fellows, and more. Its API as well as integration with automation platforms (e.g. Integromat or Zapier) allow us to flexibly utilize AirTable features across our platform suite.
At the end of the day, the success of Bluebonnet rests on its volunteers. We select digital platforms to facilitate communication and build collaboration, but the bedrock underscoring it all is an empathetic understanding of the needs of the volunteers.
Remote work presents unique challenges to teams, so it is essential that leadership understands these challenges and adjusts the tools used to better meet the needs of the fellows. The process for selecting and transferring to a new tool begins with empathetic listening: what are the current pain points in our process? Where are people or tasks falling through the cracks? What can be automated or redesigned to remove burden from the volunteers?
When Bluebonnet was founded, much of the team management was handled via Google Sheets, Gmail, and Slack. While we still use those tools for many tasks, we have since found tools such as GitLab and AirTable to complement our existing infrastructure while propelling our ability to scale management. Extensive research and testing then goes into the trialing of each new tool, including the direct involvement of the Bluebonnet fellows who will eventually be working with these platforms. Once a tool is vetted, we push it to the entire organization, starting with conversations in the weekly team check-ins and Slack channels, and spreading organization-wide in the #general channel of our Slack or during the leadership’s public stand-up meetings.
At scale, these tools have allowed us to increase capacity for new volunteers to the organization, standardize code documentation, build training materials, and expand our reach to new campaigns. We hope that our breakdown of the platforms we use and the criteria by which we evaluate them is helpful not only to the volunteers within our organization, but also to our partners in the progressive ecosystem.