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Buzz Brown

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Education, Municipal, Opinion

Etiquette and Other Best Practices for the New Normal

Perfecting the Two-Dimensional Meeting in the Age of Virtual Conferences

It’s been an unusual few months, getting used to Zoom and similar technologies. Users have had fun with virtual backgrounds, emojis and other gimmicks. Guess what? Summer is almost over, and the remote collaboration environment is here to stay for many. We are hearing a significant percent of the workforce will not return to the office in any foreseeable future. The two-dimensional meeting is here to stay, and it’s important to learn how to use it.

Create a Profile

Make sure you get a presence in each app you find yourself using. Whether it’s Zoom, Teams, or GoTo meeting, get an account (even if it’s free) and create your profile. Make sure you have a proper picture to display when your video is off. Consider including your organization’s name and job title. For example, stop to consider if your meeting environment deems it acceptable to have the Millennium Falcon as your background.

Plan Your Workspace

It was fun for a while hearing your colleagues’ dogs bark, the occasional cat on the keyboard, grandkids Zoom bombing, or critiquing home decor. As I said, summer is almost over. It’s back to work or school time. Plan to have a proper location, depending on the nature of your audience. Be careful of what’s in the background. I’m sure you may be passionate about your politics, religion or other endeavors. Be mindful of your audience. They may have conflicting views and get distracted from your input as they are focused on reading book titles on your shelf.

Avoid Joining with Links

Now that you have taken the time to create a profile in the app, do not lose it by joining meetings through links. Sometimes the link brings you in the meeting as a generic user. Launch your app first, logged in as you, and then join the meeting with the meeting ID.

Live Etiquette

When you are live in the meeting, make sure your tile includes your name and not some generic title like “Mom’s iPad”. How many times have you been in a meeting and wondered who someone was? This is your chance to always have your name and affiliation posted for all to read. Reading body language in a meeting is important but sometimes difficult sitting around a table. The two-dimensional tiles can make it easier, as long as the cameras are on. Similarly, if you are not going to pay attention to the presenter, turn your camera off. It’s obvious when you are doing something else.

Guest Speakers

There’s been a paradigm shift in two converging directions from which you can benefit. Attendees are much more willing to attend a virtual event now with a guest speaker, and guest speakers are much more willing to stay home. Nationally known speakers that would have cost in the five-digit neighborhood with travel expense are now willing to spend an hour on your call for $1,000 or less. Use this as an advantage to engage your audience and significantly enhance the quality of your material.

Camaraderie

Here you will need to be creative, but this part can be the most rewarding. Some of your attendees may have limited contact with other humans. New hires don’t have the option of chatting over the water cooler with colleagues in an office building. You need to create that human contact and build that team virtually.

We were a presenter at a recent association board meeting and the Board Chair always included a team event at her meetings. She wanted to continue that tradition virtually. We used a game show app with topical trivia questions to engage all attendees. Amazon gift cards were awarded for most points.

“MASFPS board members were able to enjoy a round of Kahoot with our friends from Munetrix during our summer leadership and learning academy,” says Sara Shriver, Executive Director with MASFPS. “This was a great way to engage all members during a virtual learning event! It was fun, competitive, and a unique way to build camaraderie as an organizational team!”

ADA Compliance

Lastly, remember and consider the hearing and visually impaired community when conducting meetings, to make sure you are staying compliant with ADA guidelines and requirements. The Center for Hearing and Communication has issued guidance on this matter, and Zoom itself offers its own disability compliance tools and disclosures. Check out Zoom’s library of resources and documentation here, but be sure to frequently check and update your policies and procedures, as both technology and regulations change frequently.

No one can state with certainty how “normal” this “new” reality will last. But we can all take measures now to make the best out of an imperfect working, learning and collaborating environment, until such a time that we all get back to the old normal.

Buzz Brown, Co-Founder, serves as Vice President of Customer Engagement and Chief Data Officer with Munetrix. He can be reached via email at buzz@munetrix.com or by phone at 248.499.8355.

Education

Can Michigan Teachers Afford to Live in the County Where They Work?

By: Buzz Brown

“Can Michigan teachers afford to live in the county where they work?” An interesting question and the answer is yes…and no.

First, some background. Following teacher walk-outs in West Virginia, (soon followed by Oklahoma and Arizona) last spring over low teacher salaries, a National Public Radio (NPR) story aired that asked a similar question, identifying Michigan as having the highest paid teacher salaries in the country. Needless to say, that claim raised a few eyebrows among those involved with teaching, school administration or providing advisory services to Michigan public school districts.

Education, Municipal, Opinion

The Talking Database: Giving Voice to Government Data

Munetrix Blog - The Talking Database

Advancements in data analysis technology can help school districts and local governments identify and thwart financial crises.

Government data tells a story that can only be read when it’s written in a language we all understand.

Transparency in government is an oft-used catch phrase that’s defined differently from one person to the next. States regulate what data must be provided to the public and sometimes how that data is displayed, but for the most part it is a free for all that results in communities posting fancy charts that average people — both residents and employees — have little time and inclination to understand. Reading lines on a chart or graph is one thing, but walking away with an understanding of the full picture and what it means down the road is another.

News

Six Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Budget from the Polar Vortex

Surprises.  We all hate them when it comes to budgets.

Most local units of government have been pulling themselves up by the bootstraps since the impacts of the Great Recession.  But the uncertainty of Mother Nature has thrown many for a frozen loop this year.

How do you budget for snowiest January ever?

Most local units have used 60-70 percent of their road salt half way through the winter, not to mention overtime hours, wear and tear on equipment, water main breaks, and potholes.

And the worst is not over.  Regardless of how much snow we will still get, and no matter how cold it stays, the eventual spring thaw will wreak havoc on the condition of the roads come April showers and May flowers.

So what’s an administrator to do?  Here are six best practices that might make your winter doldrums more palatable.

  1. Monitor your departmental budget monthly to actual expenses so there are no fiscal surprises.
  2. Develop budget recovery plans now, using up to a three-year outlook on where to pull the revenue from.
  3. Communicate with residents before the roads turn to mush.  Let them know that this will be a rough spring when it comes to road conditions, and to use as much caution as possible (and to be patient).
  4. Pool resources (collaborate) with neighboring communities to avoid any overlap in maintenance of lane miles.  If your trucks have to travel over a neighboring community’s road to reach a destination, consider working out a financial arrangement to be able to cover each other’s area and avoid duplication.
  5. If you are not already doing so, consider brine solutions to slow down the consumption of your salt.
  6. Develop an asset management plan so you know ahead of time which roads may be most problematic, and which water mains may be suspect due to age or materials.

At the end of the day, roads and infrastructure maintenance are one of those “must perform” services that any local government has to do regardless of the circumstances.

Munetrix can help you understand where you stand in relation to other local governments’ operating expenditures for your DPW expenditures.  If you see that a peer has a lower operating cost per capita, or other measure, consult with them to find out what they are doing that might help you dial in your services or costs to become more efficient.  We all need to learn from each other, and Munetrix is an enabler in that regard.

Also, use data to tell your story, and make sure you understand what your residents must have, would like to have and could care less about by conducting bi-yearly citizen surveys.  Munetrix can steer you to services that perform these surveys.

In any event, over-communicate and drive the story.

Why? Because nobody likes surprises.

Author: Bob Kittle
Bob Kittle is the President and Co-founder of Munetrix.com

News

Grading Schools: Letters, Colors or Numbers?

According to an Oakland Press’ editorial in the November 10, 2013 Open Forum, Michigan Republican state Rep, Lisa Posthumus Lyons is proposing legislature that would change the color-coded method Michigan currently uses to rate local schools to a single letter grade matching the report card formats used on K-12 education.

In today’s world of tablets and technology, visualization is an effective way to communicate performance management. Michigan’s Governor Snyder has instituted visual dashboard metrics into virtually every department within the state, municipalities and schools notwithstanding.  People understand red = bad and green = good, and gradients in between are somewhere between good and bad, so long as the scale is shown in context to the scoring system.

Munetrix, a fiscal measurement and grading transparency website for local governments and schools, uses this methodology quite effectively.  From a fiscal stability standpoint, the Munetrix scoring methodology translates complicated financial data into a simple, visual snapshot that anybody can understand – even using the “lime green” that Ms. Posthumus Lyons believes will confuse parents.

Grading SchoolsWe use this method because people easily understand simple color-based data representations and we would suggest, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the Michigan Legislature look at successful implementations of standardized metrics and work with data in the way people digest information today: with their eyes.

Besides, when kids go beyond the K-12 education system, letter grades go out the window and are replaced with a 4.0 scale.

Bob Kittle, President & CEO Munetrix

News

Four subjects we need to focus less on in school

Are we failing the youth of this nation?

No, this is not a POD song tribute… more of a commentary on the education system as a whole. It is my humble opinion that the attempts at making students more “well-rounded” have most definitely had the reverse effect.

The argument for the past 20 or 30 years is that introducing students to a greater variety of topics will increase their ability to get a better job, contribute to society, and/or possibly be a better person.  I do not necessarily disagree with this sentiment. The focus on it has become far too great, much to the detriment of those exposed to it.

Trust me, this isn’t a fun argument to have. You try telling people that their kid should learn LESS. Very few positive reactions, let me tell you. Even so, I believe it is a conversation worth having.

News

Don’t waste your internship

internshipI’m just going to let it all out and say that it is a hard life for a 20-something intern. We are anxious, broke, and usually lacking experience. We are struggling to find a balance between the stereotypical ‘party every weekend’, social network-addicted college life and that of a working professional.

Student loan payments are just around the corner as we try to pass those last few required courses, all while still trying to impress our bosses and get our mothers to do our laundry just this one last time.

Okay, maybe it’s not that difficult, but it can still present a challenge. For all you interns with piles of creative energy and ideas but no one to share it with, there is hope!

News

5 things we dislike about government but probably have to live with

A semi-serious take on local government, its shortcomings, and some reasoning behind them.

1) Automatic Call Answering Systems

Why we dislike them

Automatic Call Answering Systems

– The only reason I ever call a government office (or any office, for that matter) is if I can’t find certain information on their website. When I call and am read back information that “can be found on the website” for 2 minutes before being able to select an option, I want to repeatedly kick myself in the shins. Nails on a chalkboard are a sweeter sound than ten menu options.

– God help the employee I eventually speak to after I select the wrong option and have to call back.

News

Who cares about local government anymore?

Sunday, I watched the Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers baseball game from the stands. Yes, I am still upset about what happened in the 7th inning.

Still, attending a summer time ballgame is one of my favorite things to do, even when the mercury flirts with triple digits. I have two unwavering game day traditions:

1) eat a ton of delicious food beforehand, and

2) keep a scorecard

Slow’s BBQ

There were two people eating this, I promise

I will assume most of you understand the first tradition (I went to Slow’s BBQ and nearly had to be rolled into the stadium). For those that are unsure about the second, a scorecard is a way to keep track of important stats from an individual game. You record outs, hits, walks, RBI’s, etc. for each player/team. It is a fun way to keep your attention on the game and away from the pointless Instagram photos that you still browse through for some reason.

News

Economic Development 101

Economic Development 101Not everybody has the wherewithal to urbanize their community into a livable and walkable landscape – but there are other things that can be done to promote Economic Development. Making sure that people researching your area is one that offers the best ROI. It costs almost nothing to do – yet is the starting point for someone who may be looking at your community for relocation consideration.

What are people looking for when they zero in on potential place to move?

-Safe environment
-Good schools
-Great neighborhoods
-Open spaces
-Access to highways and airports
-Solid infrastructure
-Stable community with sound leadership

Make sure you position yourself in the best light possible and a good dashboard is a great way to start. If your having problems with nuisance crimes, show your plan to better that situation. If your school district is struggling, identify collaborations you are conducting with them to help them through the tough times. If your economic factors are showing declines, identify the targets you are setting to address the issues, develop a plan, measure progress and broadcast your successes. Finally, manage and use the media to your benefit – don’t let the media manage you.

Telling or selling your story helps focus the eye of the beholder – and using data is the best way to do that. Make sure you don’t turn off any potential investor prior to them reaching out to you. Streamline your processes; create a development friendly environment; find ways to say “yes” instead of “no” – or at least give alternatives.

You never know who may be researching your community on an flight in from another state or country. Be open, positive, consistent and proactive. Your brand is you, so make the best of it.

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