EWB in 2016


Breaking Down the Divide

“I don’t know everything”

By Brett McMillan, Community Engagement Coordinator

This summer I was working as the Podio Support Contractor with Engineers Without Borders. I was tasked with taking Podio, the community’s monitoring and evaluation system, to the next level – both exploring new uses and updating existing functions. Podio is the website chapter members use to share their events with National Office and other chapters, for reporting purposes and sharing knowledge in the community.

A part of my work was reaching out to leaders in the organization at the National Office in Toronto to help them connect with the platform and get as much information out of it as they could. Because I was working remotely from Edmonton, this involved many email chains and virtual meetings. Not seeing people face to face was likely part of why I failed to recognize a knowledge gap around what Podio is, how it works and what it’s for.

The Failure

I assumed that the National Office staff all knew exactly what I’d been working on – in reality I had been working in a silo. The virtual meetings were meant to be a collaborative space where we all had the same baseline of understanding, but instead I spent the majority of meetings simply downloading information about Podio to update staff on the work I’d been doing. It would have worked better if I had held a series of big group meetings, like lunch and learns, or simply sent out documents staff could review in advance of the meetings to improve their knowledge around Podio. If I had made these resources available before we jumped into these “cooperative” virtual meetings, everyone would have been on the same page and the meetings would have been more productive.

The root of this failure was in my perspective on my role in the organization. I was meeting with people from National Office whom I respected—as far as I could tell, they knew everything there was to know in the organization, and so knew everything about Podio. I felt like a chapter member with everything to learn and nothing to share. I walked in with the bias that they were better informed than they were because of my perceived lesser role in the organization. Due to this bias, I did little to communicate my work and represent Podio in the Office.

The Learning & Application

My shifting role in the organization has helped me change this flawed perspective.I now recognize that members of National Office have as much to gain from chapter members’ knowledge as vice versa. Recognition of this gap is important to keep from limiting yourself in collaborative spaces between chapter members and national office staff, new members and executive members, young and old… Each member of a discussion brings a unique viewpoint and should feel as such.

On a personal level, I need to be open and describe my work before I ask for input. Feedback and collaboration are important but a crucial first step is onboarding and educating those who are new to the process with the knowledge they need to make informed assessments, brainstorm, and give critical feedback. It should not be taken for granted that members of the discussion will have the same engrained knowledge as you, regardless of their perceived stature. We’re all learning, and we all need to work together to be on the same page.


Brett McMillan was involved at the University of Alberta Engineers Without Borders Chapter member for 5 years, taking on multiple executive positions and working with different distributed teams. He worked as a part time contractor on Podio for the summer of 2016, and has been the Chapter Engagement Coordinator on the Community Team since August 2016.

RonanOBreaking Down the Divide
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