I am an Organizational Development Consultant and I work with a lot of AmeriCorps programs and State Commissions. In my own pursuit of learning, I took a free course last year called Intro to Human-Centered Design, led by Acumen. If you’ve never seen Acumen’s course catalog, I really recommend that you check it out. They have free courses as well as some low-cost courses. The content is really high quality and the course I took was team-based and you were encouraged to meet and collaborate with other course participants all over the world.
So for the course, we were challenged to pick a design problem and define it in the form of a question we wanted to explore.
I picked the problem of effective Life After AmeriCorps support and I started researching two questions:
1) “How might we help Program Directors support AmeriCorps members transition to Life After AmeriCorps?”
2) “How might we design a better way to teach AmeriCorps members how to transition out of AmeriCorps?”
The course then guided me through many different forms of research. In addition to online research and conversations, I conducted 10 interviews of Program Managers, AmeriCorps Alumni, and State Training officers. Interviewing is one of the core features of a design thinking approach. The idea is that you want to fully understand the problem you are trying to solve from the perspective of the people who are actually experiencing it.
I really appreciated taking this approach. As a small business owner, I’m often working on service and product design alone. It is easy for me to sit in my home office and think that I have a great idea that could help someone. I can spend a bunch of time creating something without ever talking to the people who are going to use what I create. Not great, if the design doesn’t address the actual problem in the way the people may actually need or use it.
From my interviews, I felt that I got a clearer understanding of the problem and the gaps in what was currently available to solve the problem.
- AmeriCorps members get the most out of personalized support and Program Managers know this, but struggle with having the time to give each member the attention and support they need. Also, Program Managers do not always have the connections in their network for each member’s desired career or educational pathway.
- When I spoke to them in the fall of 2020, most programs or state offices expected to be able to go back to in-person training and in-person events by late Spring 2021 when they usually host Life After AmeriCorps. However, now that we are in Spring 2021, we are seeing that that is not actually the case for almost all states.
- Programs and State Training Officers are concerned about how to give members the type of experiential learning they know will be necessary for them to learn skills such as how to prepare for an interview. They are especially concerned if training events are not allowed to be in person.
- Program Managers spoke passionately about the potential benefits of bolstering Life After AmeriCorps. They see it as very important for improving member retention and improving member recruitment.
- Almost no one I spoke to is currently measuring outcomes related to Life After AmeriCorps.
The federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps, CNCS / AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Alums used to provide training resources related to Life After AmeriCorps but those have not been updated in years. They feel especially irrelevant during the pandemic since the suggestions and language are all about life pre-pandemic.
Based on the research that I did, I decided to design three new services to address the problem at three different levels. I felt like these services would also be the best fit to fill the gap between other available services.
1) Life After AmeriCorps in a Box for Program Managers and State Service Training Officers
- This is the DIY option that will allow programs and commissions who already had Life After AmeriCorps programming from the past transition that are programming to a virtual or hybrid format. They can supplement their existing content and get guidance on digital facilitation.
- In addition to the content that I created, I also purchased content from AmeriCorps Alum, Tanya Burgess, author of the Healed and Refreshed blog related to budgeting and personal finance as well as career pathing. These include worksheets that Program Managers can use with members now and forever into the future.
- This also includes weekly optional Q&A calls with me between next week and late May to support you as you work to adapt the materials and guidance to fit your programs’ needs.
2) A Life After AmeriCorps live virtual workshop series with a diverse group of presenters with experience in the sector and the specific topic.
- This is the “done for you” option for programs that don’t have time to pivot to virtual and just need something they can send their members to that is high quality and touches on some of the key topics members say they want to know more about.
3) Personalized Member Support — the kind of one on one support you wish you could give each member, taking advantage of the large network of alumni and National Service connections.
- This is really the most innovative solution that is the most directly tied to the research I conducted. This flexible option allows programs to enroll members on a rolling basis and each member gets the one-on-one attention they need. They also get access to a much larger network that includes alumni and career professionals from all over the United States. I’m really trying to put the network effect into practice with this one.
I’m offering live demos of the Life After AmeriCorps in a Box and you can also reserve time to chat about any of these options. You can reserve time on my calendar: https://calendly.com/sharontb/30min.
All in all, taking the Human-Centered Design course was incredibly helpful and eye-opening. I plan to use the lessons I learned in future product design. Next up will be updating my Virtual Orientation in a Box and adapting it to be flexible for programs who are moving back to hybrid approaches to AmeriCorps member orientation.