Back in April, the committee of BCS Hertfordshire invited our members to participate in the first ever survey of the thoughts and opinions of our membership. We are grateful to everyone who spent a few minutes giving us feedback on how we are doing and crucially, in what areas you think that we could improve.We received over 140 responses.
As Deputy Chairman, I would like to share some of the key responses and articulate our plans for responding to your comments and feedback.
87% of our membership still consume news and information from us via e-mail. This is not surprising giving our long-term historic use of email, but it does represent a mixed blessing for the committee. There is always an ongoing debate about how much email is too much and we are aware that for most of or professional membership, email fatigue is a very real issue. Social media channels do present a way around this, as well as providing you with a vital line of reply back to us; something that we currently lack from our mailing list.
We would like to encourage more of our members to transition to our social media channels over the coming months and years. This will allow many of you to get us out of you inbox while opening up opportunities for us to have a two-way dialogue. Don’t worry though, the committee has no plans to stop sending emails to our membership for those who do not wish to use social media!
Worryingly, some 30% of our members indicated that they were unaware of our formally published events programme for 2019 – 2020; the programme is released shortly after the AGM each year. Similarly, 30% of you also indicated that they were not aware that they were allowed to bring guests, family members and non-members (including young adults) to our meetings. From this, it is clear that the core message about who we are is not getting out to our members.
To address this, we are very pleased to announce that we have appointed Ms. Kes Browne to the newly created role of Social Media and Communications Manager on our committee. Kes brings journalistic experience and passion along with a broader set of social media skills than the committee has historically enjoyed. Kes will also be taking over from Jeremy Withrington who, after 15 years service, will retire as our Webmaster and email coordinator in September. Please give her a warm welcome and expect to hear from her in the next few months.
Again, we would like to encourage you join/subscribe our social media channels using the links below. This will help us to communicate with you more frequently and with shorter messages in a manner that is easier for you to control what you receive from us. Your feedback means that you can help us to make your BCS Hertfordshire better.
Some 70% of respondents told us that they had been unable to attend a BCS Hertfordshire event in the last 12 months or more. This is obviously disappointing, as our success as a committee is based around our engagement with and relevance to our members.
Reasons for non-attendance
The reasons given for non-attendance at our events were quite varied as can be seen in Figure 1.
Many of the entries in the ‘Other’ category here reflected either that the member was retired and no-longer active in the society, or that they were new to the BCS/BCS Hertfordshire and had not yet had an opportunity to attend.
It is clear that there are multiple and varied reasons why they have not chosen/been unable to attend. Some we can address, while others we cannot.
Historically, the availability of committee members to travel to and to manage our meetings has been the main driver deciding both where and when we hold events. Over the last 15-20 years, most committee members have been based in and around the west of the county. This makes it difficult for us, in our current structure to readily host events for our members in the north or eastern sides of the county. Our venues in Hemel Hempstead (west Hertfordshire) and Hatfield (south central) are thus used because they are most convenient to ensure that committee members can be present. This issue is picked up later.
With the exception of the computing fair, our events have been held in the evening on Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s and Thursday’s. Wednesdays will always be the most convenient day for staff and students at the University of Hertfordshire (UH) due to it being a designated Student Union half-day; although we have reduced our exclusive use of UH on Wednesdays over the last couple of years. The committee has chosen to avoid Friday’s because many people have social or travel plans leading to a noticeable reduction in attendance. Finally, Monday’s used to be difficult for many members of the committee. We are considering reintroducing Monday events.
How can we improve attendance
When asked how we could make it more likely for you to attend our events, you gave us some very clear guidance over what you wanted from us as can be seen in Figure 2 below.
Digital Participation & Replay
The results show a very clear demand for BCS Hertfordshire to hold digital participation events, allowing attendance without travel. There is also a strong need to replay our events on demand; thus allowing you to watch them at your own convenience.
Although on our radar, Digital events have been brought to the fore as a consequence of the Covid-19 crisis. We had to cancel our remaining events programme as part of our response to the crisis. Some branches and special interest groups within BCS had to abandon their programmes altogether and have been unable to move to an electronic format. Others have been experimenting with differing digital solutions, such as Zoom, as a short-term way to maintain their events programme.
Although the BCS Hertfordshire Members Survey 2020 (planned in October 2019) took place during lock down, we are looking for a more flexible engagement with our members which will endure as a long-term solution and not just a short-term response to Covid 19. It also had to address the need to watch live as well as support on-demand playback. Equally, and critically for our committee of volunteers, it had to be something that was simple to adopt and not require time consuming video editing.
Considering these requirements and, after multiple trials, the committee has launched our digital events offering via YouTube Live. It will allow the widest possible audience and be convenient and flexible for your needs. Crucially, YouTube requires no special software to watch our events and does not come with any specific platform security concerns, device support issues or closed-platform ‘technology preference’. Being a technical organisation, we appreciate that system security and the choice of platform is an important consideration to many of our members, particularly those who are in IT security fields. Likewise, technology preference comes from those whose families or organisations have already committed financially to using one specific product over another (e.g. Teams users vs. Zoom vs. Jitsi Meet vs. Skype vs. WebEx etc.).
In our view, YouTube is accessible to everyone, is ubiquitous, does not require any software on the part of the viewer and does not require an account nor the sacrifice of personal information/your privacy in order to use it.
The committee therefore feels that we have a solution that works during the Covid crisis and we may continue to use once we return to hosting physical events. It is also a solution that we hope will pre-empt many of the concerns that learned members may express to us about using video conferencing platforms for digital events, while allowing for the participation of the widest possible audience.
I feel that it is important for me to re-iterate at this juncture, that is not the committees intention to abandon the hosting of events. Once the Covid-19 crisis is behind us, it remains our intention to return to hosting physical events with our aim being to supplement them with digital technologies.
Responses to how we might improve attendance at our non-digital events are shown in Figure 2 . There was no consensus on any one thing that you think we are doing wrong. Most of the feedback is a mix of expectations for a body with a membership of nearly 1400 having differing interests.
There is a consistent theme relating to content type. The committee uses its own networks to put together our events programmes. It should be noted that we get very little, if any support from the broader BCS organisationally in doing this. Consequently, finding new speakers can be difficult, especially when the committee consists of many long serving members who, after many years of service have exhausted their personal pool of potential presenters.
It is of course our desire to respond to your feedback and bring to you a broader range of topics, aimed at a wider set of backgrounds and areas of IT: but we need your help to do it.
- Do you have anyone in your network who has a passion for a topic or an interesting story to tell?
- Do you work for an IT company who would like to showcase what they do and how they do it? It doesn’t have to be you, it could be someone from your outreach or technology teams, or just someone who enjoys public speaking
- Are you a teacher or trainer or do you know a trainer who would be interested in doing taster sessions?
These are all things that we need your help and your ideas in order to make happen. You do not have to be a member of the committee to suggest a speaker – although we are always interested in hearing from anyone who does want to join the committee of BCS Hertfordshire. If you are worried that stepping forward to suggest a speaker will take up a lot of your time, please don’t. All it might need is an introduction with the right person and we can make the rest happen!
So to address these items, we will try our best to broaden the scope of the programme to cater to a wider audience, however your ideas and input over who would be a good speaker at our events are very much needed.
Locations, venues, days of the week and time of day
The majority of the remaining points outlined in Figure 2 relate to the ‘when and where’ aspects of our events.
In order for us to expand our presence into the north and east sides of Hertfordshire, we need committee members to join us who are situated in those areas. Until we have such volunteers who are willing and able to act as hosts for events on behalf of the wider committee, it is unlikely that we can broaden our venues. If, as a BCS member you are interested in helping us to widen our coverage, then please get in touch. We would love to hear from you.
If our digital live streaming and playback events prove to be a success, then in principal it should allow us to host events at other times – for example ‘lunch hour lectures’. At the very least, we hope that the ability to playback events, should satisfy some of the feedback about inconvenient choices of days and times for some members.
In response to your feedback, we intend to trial decentralising the committee along with de-formalising our programme. Historically, BCS Hertfordshire has always operated using a pre-announced, 5 – 10 event programme in every programme year. This rigidity fixes our speakers and venues well in advance and provides little scope for informal events or community activities to occur. For the 2020 – 2021 programme year, we are going to trial not releasing a formal programme card, but to release information to you about event opportunities through our social media and email feeds as we confirm them. This will allow us to slot things into the schedule and capitalise on opportunities that present themselves during the year.
In addition, the committee is very interested to hear from members who have ideas for local events that can be run on a ‘pop-up’ basis. These type of events can allow BCS Hertfordshire to support our members no matter where they are in the county outside the rigidity of a formal programme. We would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any ideas about the type of things that we can do. If there are good ideas, BCS Hertfordshire’s resources and budget can be applied to support them on a local level. Ideas do not have to be formal in nature, but could be social, training and learning opportunities, just aimed at encouraging young people into computer related fields or, as one responder to the survey put it simply a “opportunity to share old war stories”.
We believe that community outreach should be an important part of this idea. For example, the ability for members to meet once a month in Ware public library, share stories and support Hertfordshire Libraries with ‘bring us your IT problem’ open hours could feature just as much as a bi-monthly evening pub social in Royston or an enthusiasts meeting in Hitchin. These events would be in addition to hosting lectures and hands-on sessions as part of our more traditional outreach.
Again, none of these ideas can happen without the engagement and support of you, our membership. If you are retired, work part time, are a young person trying to get into the profession or are seeking opportunities to volunteer, then you may have the time and the ideas that can help us to deliver on what you have asked us to think about in the members survey. If so, we would encourage you to get in touch.
Running the members survey for the first time has given us a broad insight into how you think we are doing. You have given us valuable feedback on how we can better serve you in the future and a we have spent many months thinking about and debating how best to respond.
A key factor in these proposed responses is that we need you to continue to support us – be it in helping us directly to deliver our ideas, by subscribing to our new YouTube channel and engaging in the content that we post there, or by continuing to let us know how you think we are doing in the future.
If the YouTube channel is a success, then as we gain experience and continue to simplify the process, it is our hope that we will be able to make digital event participation, as well as on-demand event replay a permanent part of our programme. It may also open up opportunities to run events at other times of day, while still maximising views either from desk-based participants or the replay audience.
Finally, we understand that for many of you, the size of the county means that it is difficult, if not impossible for you to commute to our traditional locations. We have ideas about how we can resolve this, but we must challenge you to step forward to make them happen. If you are based in the north or east of the county, or are retired, a student or work part time or are seeking to volunteer and would like to get involved in bringing BCS Hertfordshire into your area, please get in touch with the committee via our chairman, Peter Klein at .
Deputy Chairman, BCS Hertfordshire
View: How the committee works
Last updated 19th September, 2020 at 2:06pm