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Associations on the Frontline: The Council

The coronavirus pandemic has caused global fear, uncertainty, and darkness. Yet throughout it all, the world has seen everyday heroes work relentlessly, put others before themselves, and help in any way they can.
These frontline workers can't do it alone. Behind the scenes are associations ensuring their constituents have the right resources, tools, and communities to be successful. Brightfind recognizes these associations’ staff as heroes themselves.
One such frontline organization is the New York State Council of School Superintendents (The Council). The Council provides K-12 district superintendents with professional development opportunities, publications, and personal services while advocating for public education and the superintendency.

We’re All The Membership Department

At the start of the pandemic, The Council recognized the need to pivot in order to better serve its constituents. Every department became the membership department. Theresa Wutzer Moore, CMP, Associate Director of The Council explained, “Staff members were on call to assist, guide, support, and inform our members as they grappled with school closures and our Governor’s directives as they relate to educating and feeding students in our state.”
Coincidentally, The Council’s annual conference was held in March 2020. Discussions of the coronavirus filled hallways, breakout rooms, and networking events. The Council even decided to add a last-minute Department of Health COVID-19 presentation. On the heels of the conference’s conclusion Governor Cuomo signed an executive order to close schools as well as non-essential businesses, and put the entire state on pause. 
Typically after large annual events, staff can take a few days to rest and recharge. Not this year. The Council’s staff saw their professional workloads continue to double, even triple, while simultaneously trying to adjust to working remotely and personally adapting to the "new normal".

Deciding to Move Forward

Despite all of this change and chaos, The Council is forging ahead with its web design and development project. Moore stated, “We had two choices—put the website project on hold or continue with the project, albeit a modified schedule.”

She continued, “Moving forward was the best choice for us for several reasons. We had committed to the new website project during the summer of 2019. We wanted to honor that pledge. Plus, the project gave our staff a creative outlet and something positive to focus on during the pandemic. And quite frankly, we had invested financial resources and staff time to the project to date. It only made sense to continue."

Finding Time for a Major Project

The Council began working with Brightfind on the design and implementation of the new website, in the fall of 2019. Moore admits, “Although we could have finished the project within a short period of time, we chose to roll the various aspects of the website build into existing events and timelines.” 

In September, Brightfind attended The Council’s staff retreat to conduct stakeholder meetings, designed to ensure all strategic priorities are voiced, documented, and aligned.
To accommodate the small staff’s calendars, web project meetings were incorporated into the already scheduled all-hands meetings. This provided the perfect opportunity for creative discussions and project updates. It also enabled all to participate in the cross-divisional staff exercises, designed to break through the divisional silos that often drive content architectures.

Learning What Constituents Want

To better understand the website behaviors and motivations of their end-users, constituents were asked to participate in a website survey. A few months later at the annual meeting, attendees and strategic partners, were invited to participate in focus groups. These in-depth conversations allowed Brightfind to dig into the whys behind the survey results. Conference attendees were also encouraged to take part in a card sort, a process for end-users to provide valuable insight into how they expect to find content organized and labeled on the website.
Moore said, “Even with all the unknowns due to the pandemic, we did know a few things. Because Brightfind conducted user research we understood how our members and strategic partners wanted to connect to us via a new website.”

People, Processes, and Technology

Between March and June 2020, The Council met with Brightfind online. Moore said, “We spent time reviewing, discussing, and approving our sitemap, wireframes, stylescapes, and prototypes. We also learned how to navigate new technology like Trello, Mavenlink, and InVision. Brightfind team members showed our staff how we could effectively work as a team at home.” (Side note: Brightfind went completely virtual in 2018. Check out our teleworking tips.) 
Staying on top of a major website redesign and CMS implementation may seem intimidating. Staying on top of it during a pandemic, when your constituent base is on the front lines, may seem impossible. That wasn’t the case for The Council. Project management and taking it one step at a time allowed The Council to be successful.
Moore explained, “Brightfind kept us on track using an in-depth project schedule that was modified by our project manager when needed. Creating small chunks of key information for our staff to digest, so that we did not get overwhelmed was also a key to our success during this timeframe. Finally, our weekly Zoom meetings with Brightfind provided a consistent schedule—and a bit of consistency is something we craved during the worst part of the pandemic.” 

On Target for Launch

The Council is still on target to meet the website launch goals. “We are now in the process of building our site and will be adding content toward the latter part of the summer,” Moore stated. “Our goal is to launch the new site this fall. It will allow us to engage with our members in a new way, something that we believe will be more important than ever during the next few years.
Lauren Janik

Topics: News

Written by Lauren Janik