By Rick Hillenbrand, Communications chair
This is the second article about the new Commissioner Tools, and it is intended to provide an update and some additional details about the tools. To read the first article, please see the Winter 2014 issue of The Commissioner.
One of the unanimous decisions of the 16 volunteers and professionals who make up the focus group that developed the requirements for the Commissioner Tools is that the Commissioner Tools will not be launched on some predefined date if they are not ready—something agreed to by the nearly 70 volunteers who are testing the tools. Unfortunately, in going from requirements to an operating Web-based application, we encountered more delays than our schedule could absorb, which consequently has delayed the projected initial release date. This article is being written about four weeks prior to publication, and at this time it is going to go down to the wire whether we will be ready to fully launch the Commissioner Tools at the National Annual Meeting in May. Even if the Commissioner Tools are not ready for full release, you can stop by the exhibit hall at the National Annual Meeting and get a firsthand demonstration of a “preproduction” version of the tools.
Training to use the Commissioner Tools will be consistent with most state-of-the-art software programs, which means there will not be a phonebook-thick user’s manual that cannot be kept current. Instead, the tools are being designed to be intuitive and will have an online help manual and pop-up helps that can be accessed by right-clicking. Additionally, there will be a training video available at the National Annual Meeting, and in-person sessions at commissioner colleges, conferences, and area meetings will continue.
One of the most fundamental changes is that where we logged “visits” in UVTS, we will log “contacts” in the Commissioner Tools. This change allows us to recognize and log unit service that doesn’t always happen face to face. With the release of the Commissioner Tools, we will also provide a glossary of terms, which includes the following definition for “contact”:
A “meaningful” interaction between a commissioner and one or more members of a unit. Meaningful contacts can be “virtual,” such as a phone call or an email. Not all face-toface contacts are meaningful and should be logged, such as the following:
- Commissioner meets committee chair at shopping mall and discusses family matters. This is not a “meaningful” contact.
- Commissioner meets committee chair at shopping mall. After discussing family matters, they have a 20-minute discussion about how to conduct a troop annual program planning conference. The second part of this interaction IS a “meaningful” contact.
- The commissioner and committee chair have an email exchange that goes on for days about how to organize the pack’s blue and gold banquet. This is a “meaningful” contact.
After considerable deliberation, the focus group and the National Commissioner Support Staff decided that in addition to commissioners, field-serving professionals should have the ability to log contacts and use the Commissioner Tools. This was a logical conclusion because both share the wreath of service and work together as a team to serve Scouting through unit service. This will also help in situations where professionals assist volunteers in logging their unit contacts. (There is an ability to print a paper copy of a Commissioner Assessment Form for use without a computer.) Because adding the capability for professionals to make entries was not deemed critical and is a form of “scope growth” that could jeopardize the initial release of the Commissioner Tools, this functionality will be added post-Release 1. From a JTE perspective, it is important to remember that JTE item 14 for districts and councils measures commissioner unit visitations. Thus, when the change is made to allow professionals to log contacts, the Commissioner Tools dashboard will both display and differentiate between commissioner and professional contacts.
When creating the requirements for the perfect Commissioner Tools suite, the focus group anticipated that users may come up with additional good ideas, and the testers have already made several suggestions, some of which will be incorporated into the initial release and others that will have to wait until a subsequent release. On a related note, one of the conundrums of any software design team and program manager is recognizing when the product is ready to launch. In the case of most software programs, “better” can quickly become the enemy of “good enough.” Already, as a part of the focus group that developed the requirements for the Commissioner Tools, I know there are some things that will end up in the initial release that could be better—and hopefully will in subsequent releases. For example (and maybe this will be fixed in the official release), I found the contact entry “forms” to have too much white space.
Universally, the volunteers and professionals working on the Commissioner Tools have found this to be a very positive and collaborative experience, yet we know that when it is in use, you, the users, will come up with ideas and improvements that have not yet been considered. As a part of the Commissioner Tools, an email address has been established for you to submit your concerns, compliments, requests, and ideas: CommissionerTools@scouting.org.
For additional information, including a presentation with screen shots of the new Commissioner Tools, go to the Commissioners website.