By Emma Cabrera-Aragon, Toronto professional network
Run jointly by National Engineering Month Ontario, the Toronto Public Library and the Toronto Professional Chapter of Engineers Without Borders, the Water for the World workshop program raises student awareness of access to clean drinking water worldwide and the ways that engineering and technology can create systemic change to combat water-access issues.
As a member of last year’s Water for the World program and co-lead of its 2016 edition, I look forward to steering clear of the mistakes of 2015, when our team failed to leverage the knowledge of past chapter members.
As a volunteer chapter, we experience a lot of turnover every year. Our wonderful, dedicated members put a lot of time and effort into their work, but, when they leave the chapter, the knowledge they accumulated often leaves with them—or at least gets lost in long email threads, unread reports and notes, and the unorganized files on our shared storage drive. As a member of the team, I failed to take the time to carefully revise these documents—a simple act that could have saved my team time and effort. Those lost lessons included:
- the need to confirm a list of host libraries before recruiting volunteers;
- best practices and contacts for recruiting volunteers;
- the importance of an online FAQ for volunteers (to prevent wasting time answering emails);
- the need to budget ample time to review and update teacher resource packages;
- the importance of checking in with libraries and teachers to confirm the receipt of those resources (to avoid last minute confusion and cancellations).
The full list of lost lessons would fill this screen. Because we didn’t learn them beforehand, our team spent time we didn’t have replicating the mistakes—and amends—of past teams. By the end, we were all needlessly sleep-deprived from putting out small fires; we held training days on less than two hours of rest and failed to spend more time recruiting volunteers.
Our team is now committed to ensuring knowledge gets transferred properly. We are producing a year-end report to pass along our lessons and aiming to recruit our team earlier so that there is overlap between old and new members; that way, the new group can learn from outgoing teammates. In addition, we are producing a how-to manual for other EWB chapters that might want to host a Water for the World program themselves. We failed to learn from our predecessors, but we want to make sure no one fails to learn from us.