Communications -- Solutions/Ideas

Its pretty clear that many people are not “in the loop” when it comes to the decision-making process and outputs of the FIRST in Michigan group.

So, please post your solutions and ideas for improving this situation. Feel free to identify a problem, but remember to focus on solutions.

Problem: There is a perception that FIRST in Michigan decisions and decision-making process is not open enough.

Ideas for solution: The members of FIRST in Michigan could identify themselves and their affiliations so people could see just who is involved. Who is a core member making decisions, who is a member that is involved, and who is getting the information produced by this group?

FIRST in Michigan members (other than Jim and Dan who are already doing it) could participate more in the discussions on this forum, which would help people know that FiM people are listening.

FIRST in Michigan could start some form of newsletter or website to communicate what is going on. Also, some email communication could be started to provide updated information to teams in Michigan (we know the email list works because we got that letter from Dean).

I agree that they need to come forward.

Why not create an elected group of FIRSTers who a team can go to wth their ideas, there could be one from every district. Everyone would have to be given their information, kind of like the regional cordinators in FLL. This could also be useful in finding more local sponsorships for events and new teams. Also for a local source of help for rookie teams and struggleing teams.

Another idea would simply poll all the teams to get their imput regarding the problems that they see and even solutions for them.

A third idea would be to have a meeting and invite all the teams, or a few differant ones due to the long distances, where teams can ask FiM “corespondents” questions and suggest solution to some of the problems that they see.

I pulled this off of the main thread and put it into the communications thread.

This is in regards to FIRST as a Democracy.

FRC is a Not-for profit. It relies on donations (more so than registration fees). Several mentioned everyone should get a vote. What structure would you propose? Each registered FRC member gets a vote (small teams will have an issue with this)? Each Team gets a vote (large teams can sight that they are investing more towards STEM promotion than the small teams)? Or do you weigh the votes off of Dollars going to FIRST (i know most of us would have issues with that)? I would imagine though that if a proposal got passed that didn’t allow sponsors to get recognition (I have heard many FIRSTers get upset by corporate speeches, banners…) the money would dry up quickly.

I haven’t heard of a successful democratic process used at a corporation or large not-for-profit. I am not saying they don’t exist, I just haven’t heard of them. Examples of good functioning large Not-for-Profits would be fantastic. Believe me I wish the big bosses at my company would have done a couple things differently.

As far as elected representatives go. Anybody have a good plan for that? The only elected representatives I get to vote for don’t match my views over 50% of the time, and I pay their salary even when they aren’t the person I vote for!

Rant Warning
I love this country and I think it has a great government structure, but don’t kid yourself that we live in a democracy. We live in a Republic. Also don’t kid yourself that there are not any back-room deals. Hey you vote on my gun control bill and I will back your oil drilling bill… Hey I have a high unemployment rate in my state, let’s build a federal government building in my state, and I will get the state to reduce taxes on the lobbyist companies that backed your election.

A democratic process might be great, but it may require more work than this pilot. Truly democratic processes can also be manipulated too. Talk to any economist and they can explain how election engineering is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for parties.

I think the Pilot was very reasonably formed. I would have liked to have seen it rolled out as a proposal for feedback before being rolled out as a system to be implemented. There is a chance that persons on the inside of this deal may have even thought it was going to go that way. This may be naive on my part.

In response to the my previous post about the lack of communications: most of this can be solved with greater transparency of all actions taken behind the scenes. I’ve spent enough time “in the loop” at various times and for various projects, and I know that some things cannot be made public until details are finalized.

But at the same time, when radical changes are proposed to a competition model that has more or less been the same for over a decade, people don’t like surprises or to be caught off-guard. While a literal democracy does not have to be initiated in FIRST, just holding public forums explicitly for ideas for new competition models and starting a forum on the FIRST website would help a lot.

Another thing that would really help is if the powers that be ultimately showed some way that they are actively listening to the people of FIRST. Because while a non-profit organization does not mean that this is automatically a democracy, it does mean that we are all volunteer participants. We all choose to be here. And there may be a lot of people who may just as easily choose to leave the program if they don’t feel like the organization is actually listening to the people of the program and [re]acting appropriately.

Even if they may not like every decision, if the FIRST community ultimately feels like FIRST and FiM are actively listening to them and acting based upon their feedback, this will yield good public relations.

Actions like the Presidents Circle help improve this credibility. I have not been involved with the President’s Circle, so I don’t know exactly how much weight their ideas and feedback carry, so I’ll leave that for someone more enlightened to fill in. But at the same time, some of the teams that struggle to continue with FIRST ever year aren’t the teams that would usually end up in the President’s Circle, and a voice of an important part of the FIRST constituency is lost.

Another thing that would help is if FIRST or FiM had an official “idea box” of sorts. As an added bonus, have them post all the constructive criticisms or potential flaws presented with their own ideas on how they would tackle such ideas or improve their pilot program. That way it shows the everyone that feedback from the community is actively making its way up to the top. They also cannot be “canned” answers, as that might actually worsen the public relations. They have to be targeted responses that directly acknowledge the problem and address it head on.

Related to this, Dean’s letter to Michigan could have helped, but it lacked a lot of details. For a very short summary, it was good. But when it actually came to acknowledging and attacking head on the roadblocks which may prevent the new pilot model from succeeding, Dean’s letter was relatively scarce.

Yet another thing that will VASTLY help in the credibility department is a rigorously defined set of goals for the pilot program. Changes this big should not be made on a “let’s-change-this-and-see-what-happens” approach. A well constructed, quantifiable series of goals would be the best., and they should be made public. The people of FIRST that have to deal with all these changes at least deserve to know honestly whether the new pilot is actually working as well as it was hoped to, or if there are a lot more details that have to be worked out.

And last, but not least, they need to copy the style of IFI’s response to all the questions surrounding Vex earlier this spring:

Post a very long, very informative page on the internet that acknowledges all the questions, and address them one by one. IMHO, the Vex FAQ page listed above was a very good piece of public relations for IFI/Vex Robotics, and a similar one may be very beneficial for the FiM pilot.

// Although if some kind of voting system were to be established, I would be a fan of one team = one vote. Just like in our democratic republic, it doesn’t matter if you are a multi-billionaire like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or if you are just some average Joe, when it comes to the ballet on Election Day, you have one vote that is equal to everyone else’s vote.

This is an excerpt taken from the pdf sent to MI teams my comments in red:
These seem like reasonable and quantifiable goals.

More Affordable: Make FIRST more cost effective
• Reduce cost to participate (minimum cost to compete from $6K to $5K)
• Minimize time away from school and work
(for single event teams time away is equal with 2 events, for multi-event teams time is equal to or less than previous)
• Reduce travel costs
(This will make for a good end of season survey question)
• Reduce event production costs to free up money for teams
(This is within their plan.)
• Eliminate shipping costs
(The plan for this is already formulated. It actually uses a format that FIRST used to do. Again this will be a good post season feedback question)
More Accessible: Make events local
• Increase the number of events so teams can play closer to home
(this is the addition of 4 more district level events spread out throughout the state)
• Increase visibility and give families, schools, communities, local government, businesses,
and media easy access to local FIRST competitions
More Rewarding: Let teams play more
• Guarantee each team a minimum of two events in Michigan to better balance the hard work and time spent building with time spent playing
(minimum match schedule will be up from 8-10 at a traditional regional to 24 matches)
• Increase the number of matches per team per event
(again they want to increase from 8-10 to 12 matches minimum)

The whole PDF actually parallels the VEX FAQ reasonably well. I believe that the PDF was only sent to MI teams as they were the ones directly effected, but one of the MI team captains already posted the PDF in the main thread.

It is very similar to the FAQ that FIRST put out:

This FAQ was updated 7/31 due to some of the questions that had been arising.

I like the FiM “Idea Box” idea. In practice it might be hard to post a different answer to each post as many people don’t take the time to read through submissions and post the same stuff over and over. Is a canned answer reasonable for a canned question?

As far as to get FIRST feedback, should questions be posted into the FIRST forum, or is there a better area to get feedback?

I like those goals, they are definitely a good start. While some of them IMHO need some more work in regards to details (such as the eliminate shipping cost one: some teams may have to rent a truck or bus larger than they need just to get enough storage space for a robot, incurring more cost upon them), however those are details. And as you commented in red, that is also up for post-season feedback from teams.

In regards to the idea box, literally every question does not have to be answered individually. Often times there are a lot of questions which more or less ask the same thing, just in slightly different terms. As such, further questions like these can be referred to existing questions. If a canned answer does arise and has been addressed elsewhere, such as a press release or a PDF, then a link to it would be sufficient.

Basically it would be like the Q&A Forum on the FIRST website. Every question gets an answer, but some are just links to threads where that question was already answered. The thing that matters is that the people who have concerns see that the powers-that-be are in fact reading, listening to, thinking about, and responding to their ideas.

Any way you look at it there needs to be someoe to respond to those questions and who better to do that then the people who created the system. If there were correspondents from FiM that were named, then all our questions could be directed to them. The place to do that could be a website set up by FiM that has all the details of the new system, current news from an official source, and contact information for questions ie:email. There could be a forum up for both michigan and non michigan teams too. One area for how to roll this out to the rest of the country another for how to improve it for the '09 season. A map of district locations would also be nice, this could even include possible locations for future districts. Team lists as well as standings could be there as well (If this was on it would get very confusing). The possiblitities are endless, somoe one with in FiM just needs to put them into action.

All questions (at least for MI teams) should be directed to your team leader who should have received an email about an informational and Q&A meeting about the new structure in MI that is being set up. FiM is making arrangements to answer questions for MI teams.

Here is what I sent in from our team…

  1. When will the DE locations/dates be released?
  2. What is the plan/logistics/schedule for teams to register and pay for their two events?
  3. What will the schedule be for the events - is there a set template that is the same for all DEs?
    3z. pre-event work window (what is allowed/not allowed)
    3a. load-in (when is it allowed / not allowed)
    3b. unbagging/uncrating at event
    3c. working on robot at event
    3d. inspection (pre-event/enough to compete/complete)
    3e. practice field availability, if any
    3f. matches begin/end times
    3g. expected # of matches (i.e., how much time between matches)
  4. Is there a single rulebook for FRC, or will there be a MI Supplement?
  5. How will no-show robots be handled (higher likelihood at a self-ship event than at a normal regional)?
  6. Any other information to help teams decide if this is a 3-day excursion, or 2-day excursion. It can be a 2-day excursion if 3a-3d can be done on Friday morning. It will be a 3-day excursion if those things need to be done on Thursday evening. This is needed for travel/budget/vehicle planning.
  7. What size/type of trucks are allowable for load-in and load-out? (May help teams who might use bigger truck to take more than one bot to/from the event)
  8. How is volunteer signup going to work? VIMS? (Anything to help teams figure out how to support an event with a team of volunteers)
  9. What were the lessons-learned from the 2008 Kettering event?
  10. Is the balance of robot performance versus non-robot performance consistent with FIRST’s overall goals? Is the recognition of teams who deliver non-robotically but not on the field going to be sufficient?
  11. (this one is probably not on the allowable topics list, but it is a fundamental question) If the official position in Michigan is to promote FRC and encourage “lower-end” FRC teams (i.e., roughly half the teams in Michigan will not go to the MSC), where does that leave FTC? What is more important, the number of students involved, or the number of FRC teams? Some might suggest that FTC is a more efficient pathway if you are using the cost and ROI metrics being used by FiM.