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Colleagues of the Week: The Dev team

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A big round of applause, please, for the Dev team – or, to give them their proper title, the Braver Angels Workshop Development team.

They comprise the well-oiled piece of the Braver Angels machinery whose goal is to ensure that workshops are great experiences, with great outcomes, for workshop participants and crucially, for all those who create, organize, and deliver workshops.

Helmed by John Schwenkler and Jeff Thiemann, this team of a dozen – Reds and Blues together – acts as the conduit for making newly designed workshops widely available to alliances and other groups across the country.

That is an absolutely crucial contribution. With polarization so entrenched in America, Braver Angels is in something of a race against time. Reinventing the wheel with implementation of events squanders that time, slows things down, causes frustration. The more that processes can be standardized and automated, the more easily they can scale up across the country. “Replicability” is the term that John uses.

Adds Jeff: “For a volunteer-run organization like Braver Angels, the glue holding volunteers together is clarity – around processes and tools and support for them. We’re equipping literally thousands of people, making the most productive use of a volunteer workforce. They can make a contribution and feel like they’re contributing.”

The Dev team was established in the spring of 2020 by Randy Lioz to take four in-person workshops and convert them to Zoom. John was a founding member, along with Stan Levine; Jeff signed on soon after. All three come from deep IT backgrounds. The team’s job is not to conceive of or design new Braver Angels events – that’s what Bill Doherty and his incubation team do. The Dev team has created many of the e-learning videos needed for hybrid workshops – a project that expanded to help launch four brand-new online workshops.

A marker of how the Dev team is doing is the increasingly positive feedback received during implementation of events – together with the appreciation they get from the Braver Angels responsible for creating event content.

One of the team’s key contributions to date has been to help create and promulgate the event request form (ERF) – an easily accessed form that standardizes the implementation of Braver Angels events.

The initiative generates an online event folder with a complete set of files that can be customized by the delivery team for each unique event and tracked by an assigned identifier. The ERF is integrated with the Eventbrite calendaring app and with the Braver Angels calendar; it ties in with the evaluation form and helps request and track the use of valuable resources such as moderators. “As a moderator, I have really appreciated the ERF,” says Cameron Swallow, who helps drive the Dev team’s workstreams for Depolarizing Within and Skills for Bridging the Divide workshops.

The team isn’t resting on its laurels. “I’m hoping we can streamline the Eventbrite process, in addition to making it more repeatable,” says Dan Scavezze, the team member who has been driving that initiative.

Next up: at the start of 2022, the Dev team was asked to lead the effort to maintain sets of files for both in-person and online/hybrid events. The intent is also to wrap up some workshops that Bill and his group developed toward the end of last year. In all, John and Jeff want to convert 10 workshops to in-person this year as the pandemic recedes – a big advance on what was available two years ago.

But there’s one Dev team initiative that may significantly augment Braver Angels’ overall impact– particularly as the mid-term elections loom. John describes it: “The icing on top is to accommodate Braver Politics workshops as they come out of incubation. It’s very much exploratory right now, but we want to make them into official, replicable workshops.”

It will come as no surprise that the Dev team itself is highly structured; each member’s roles and responsibilities are crystal-clear. Says Jeff: “We really have our act together in terms of how we’re organized. John has done a great job of putting a new structure in place. On this team, you really feel productive right away. It’s a great place to volunteer.”

His colleagues couldn’t agree more. “I wish I had more time to devote to this team,” says Erika Jackson, who co-manages development of the Skills for Bridging the Divide workshop. Adds Laura Pascal, who drives Depolarizing Within development: “I love being a part of a team working on making these workshops the best experience for the Zoom Event Management team and the participants, all for the greater good of healing divisions.”

Here’s the line-up of the whole team:

Anna Floyd              Dev Owner for Red/Blue 2 workshop    

Cameron Swallow   Dev Co-Owner for Depolarizing Within and Skills for Bridging the Divide

Dan Scavezze         Eventbrite integration with the event registration form

Don Bender             Braver Politics liaison

Erika Jackson         Dev Owner Skills for Bridging the Divide

Janet Kennedy        Apprentice Dev owner for Being Red in a Blue Environment and liaison to the National Organizer team

Jeff Thiemann         Dev Owner for Families and Politics and Being Red in a Blue Environment

John Schwenkler    Dev Owner for Common Ground, Braver Politics Town Hall, Depolarizing Conversations About Race, and Content Owner for Being Red in a Blue Environment

Laura Pascal           Dev Owner for Depolarizing Within

Lucy Gerold             Collaborating with Jeff on Families and Politics

Stan Levine             Dev Owner for Red/Blue 1 and Red/Blue1 for Elected Officials

Steve Saltwick        Dev Owner for Online Skills for Social Media and Content Owner for Red/Blue, Families and Politics, and Being Red in a Blue Environment

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