Program Delivery Partner Reviews

I’m really curious to know how the community feels about their local Program Delivery Partners (PDP’s). I’ve heard many accounts from many different regions, but I’ve never seen a thread specifically for PDP Reviews.

If you don’t know who your local PDP is, there is an incomplete reference document here. If you don’t see your PDP it would be awesome for you to add them!

Below is a large list of questions to use as conversation starters. Feel free to answer any of them or to give your own take on how you feel your local PDP is doing. In addition to providing feedback for our own PDP’s, I’d also love to be able to use this thread to identify best practices for PDP’s.

  • Who is your PDP?
  • How satisfied are you with your PDP?
  • Has your PDP improved over time?
  • How well has your PDP handled COVID-19 so far?
  • Do you feel like your PDP puts on the best events that they can?
  • How does your PDP communicate with teams?
  • How well does your PDP communicate?
  • How receptive to feedback is your PDP, and does your PDP have an official channel through which to provide feedback?
  • Does your PDP host training events?
  • How transparent is your PDP about their decision making process?
  • How well does your PDP work with other PDP’s in their region?
  • Do you know what the roles and responsibilities of your PDP are?
  • Do you feel confident that an issue would be resolved if brought to your PDP?
  • Do you feel you have equitable access to your PDP’s time?
  • Do you feel you can discuss concerns with your PDP without fear of repercussions? (i.e. blacklisting as a volunteer, punished by not receiving awards, etc.)
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If you’re having trouble determining who your Program Delivery Partner is, FIRST does have this page, which may or may not be up to date: Find Local Support | FIRST

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VirginiaFIRST dba FIRST Chesapeake is responsible for delivering FRC and FTC to VA, MD, and DC. I think the organization has made some impressive strides since implementing the FRC district model five years ago.

Strengths
– Stable leadership for several years, which enables decisionmakers to develop strong relationships with stakeholders. I don’t know if this is still the case, but the key personnel used to be hired on 1-year contracts which led to a great deal of churn. A number of current leaders have prior experience as FRC team principals.
– Passion about producing modestly-priced district competitions. This has enabled the organization to provide great event experiences while being a good steward of its limited resources. This has helped the organization recover from a period where it had negative assets.
– Attentiveness to team needs. Certain things the organization has done (serving as a nonprofit pass-through for team funding, providing Week 0 practice opportunities, coordinating playing field delivery to offseason events) demonstrates that they understand “program delivery” to mean much more than just hosting events. They’ll also deviate from event standards/traditions if needed to improve the team experience.
– Transparent decision making. The organization typically hosts a town hall meeting to explain critical program changes.

Weaknesses
– Ability to effectuate durable program growth using top-down interventions. I don’t blame them for this, I think lasting program growth pretty much only comes from bottom-up. I think FIRST Chesapeake is also a little too optimistic in their estimates of the district’s carrying capacity.
– Continuous volunteer pipeline building. Offseason events are not sufficiently leveraged as opportunities to strengthen the ongoing, long-term volunteer pipeline.
– Lack of a home base. This has prevented the organization from checking out the FRC playing field prior to Week 1 events, resulting in delays when parts were discovered missing.

Neither good nor bad
– Essentially undemocratic. While there are a couple of advisory committees that can provide input on decisions, the buck stops with the person in the RD position. There is no equivalent to the MAR charter.

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I’m an advocate of doing a retrospective with a PDP (or their emissary) and select mentors from team areas after the season’s done. Review how events in the area went, what was great, and what could be improved. Let them be able to make what improvements they can, and be a voice up to higher powers for the general “temperature” of the area.

As far as I’m aware, every PDP that started the 2019-2020 school year has turned over in South Carolina. This past year was a soft launch of FIRST South Carolina (a d/b/a of SC FLL and Robotics Education Inc) as they took over the FRC operations (to the extent there were any for 2020-2021), and this summer they took over program delivery for FTC as well to create a single Program Delivery Organization.

I have high hopes for this group. But until I experience a proper season under the new regime, I’m awarding an incomplete.

Yikes. Just be constructive, please. :slight_smile:

I can speak to California FRC and FLL. Someone else can chime in on whatever may or may not go on in this state with FTC.

FRC in California

A mythical organization called “FIRST California” exists to deliver FRC programs in California. Last I heard, FIRST CA was having significant tax/legal troubles making them not actually qualify as a 501c3 non-profit. I don’t know if there’s an update on this.

The organization is almost entirely made up of the Regional Directors, lead by “Senior” RD David Berggren. Due to the lack of nonprofit status, I’m not totally clear on who else may be involved in this organization (board members, employees, etc.), though I do know that David’s wife is employed to do social media for the organization.

Though FIRST California and David theoretically have jurisdiction over the entire state, I can tell you after volunteering in both the north and south that the two poles of the state operate quite differently. From the vantage point of a volunteer (and previously a team), it seems that the organization and David are much more hands on in SoCal than NorCal.

Central and Northern CA

FRC is run by Janet McKinley in the central valley and parts of NorCal. Theresa Bateman runs the rest of NorCal. The two of them run a tight ship, at least from a volunteer’s perspective. Having spent much more time in SoCal, others are probably better equipped to weigh in on their accessibility, Covid response, communication etc.

Southern CA

Through 2020, FRC was run in SoCal by Velma Lomax and Kim Beals, under more explicit direction from David. Velma and David are both still around, but Kim went to join my favorite department at HQ and her job is now available.

SoCal has a lot of nice, hardworking individuals. The organization, though, can be messy. A fight between a regional director and a planning committee led to one the regionals losing many of their best volunteers a few years ago. Some unqualified individuals have been put into key roles planning events out of desperation or preference for their sponsorship/fundraising connections. Venue contracts have not been read carefully (though, I blame HQ and Showready just as much as I blame local leadership), resulting in sticky setup situations or events going way over budget.

I recognize that California has a lot of teams and a lot of events and that venues in California can be particularly tricky. I also recognize that lots of RDs are trying their best and working with what they’ve been given. Shoutout to Velma who I can always count on to have a smile at an event and show volunteers the appreciation they deserve! With so many capable people in California, we should demand more out of our events and communication from the region.

FLL in California

SoCal

Pre-Covid

Until 2020, Southern California was split into two regions: Los Angeles (inappropriately named – contained San Luis Obispo to the North and the LA/OC county line to the South) and SoCal (contained OC and south).

LA’s operational partner was Tony Ayad and its affiliate partner was Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles. There was no organization and Tony was a one man show with some help from Girl Scouts on things like insurance and ordering trophies. Tony retired from FIRST in November 2020.

SoCal’s operational partner was Lynn Crockett, employed by LEGOLAND. On a related note, LEGOLAND was the region’s affiliate partner. My understanding is that Lynn’s role was part of her paid job at LEGOLAND.

Recently

SoCal and LA merged into one mega-region: Southern California. This new SoCal region contains everything San Luis Obispo and South. There are now three co-operational partners: Paul Kass, Cathy Schulz, and Sarah Rodriguez.

Before the regions merged, an organization called LA Robotics was supposed to be the affiliate partner for the LA region under new management. LA Robotics is a small non-profit coincidentally run by LeRoy Nelson, LA’s operational partner from eight or nine years ago. The plan was to switch to the same FIRST California organization as FRC for the affiliate partner role once they got their nonprofit status in a row. I don’t know what the current status of any of this is.

Given that we haven’t had an in-person season yet with this new leadership, it’s hard to evaluate them. My quick assessment is that they have a lot of new ideas and, while they’re open to feedback, really like their new ideas and insist on trying out most of them. I’m super excited to see what comes of all the changes, and wish them the best of luck!

Central and Northern California

I don’t feel equipped to answer this having only been to one FLL event in these regions, and it was an FLL Jr. event I went to by accident taking place at the same time and location as an FRC regional. From what I’ve seen, the organization seems a bit more fleshed out in NorCal, not to say that’s better or worse, just is. People more familiar should feel free to chime in!

Also: happy to answer any questions about FIRST in CA to the best I can :slight_smile:

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  • Who is your PDP?

In MN, the PDP for FLL (all types), and FTC is High Tech Kids (HTK). They’ve been the PDP for FLL since the pilot season in 98 or 99. In 2014 or so they picked up FTC from the previous PDP.

  • How satisfied are you with your PDP?

HTK is extremely well run from a volunteer perspective. Since I started volunteering for them as a student in 2010, they have done in my opinion an excellent job of running events and supporting teams. I would say I am extremely satisfied with them.

  • Has your PDP improved over time?

Absolutely. I’ll talk about this more in the feedback section, but I think one of the greatest assets of theirs is a willingness to listen to volunteer and team feedback, and quickly incorporate improvements into program. Thinking specifically about FTC, when they took over that, the events were relatively high quality, but also had a lot of rough edges to smooth out. Comparing them to 2019/2020 events, its clear to me that the quality, access, and experience at events has improved considerably. They’ve also taken steps to improve many of the things around events-- trainings, team communication and creating a good sense of community.

  • How well has your PDP handled COVID-19 so far?

They did an excellent job of transitioning to a remote event format that was as well run as their in-person events, taking guidance from previous remote offseasons and their volunteers to provide what in my opinion was basically as high of a quality of event as could be done given the circumstances. I have confidence that regardless of what the 2021-22 season throws at us, they will run safe and high quality events in whatever format we need to run them in. When there became an opportunity for live offseasons this summer, they did a good job of communicating that to team mentors.

  • Do you feel like your PDP puts on the best events that they can?

I think there is always room for improvement, but their event quality is in my opinion defined by a constant effort to improve and streamline both the volunteer and team experiences. Despite already having well-run events, they’ve taken every opportunity to consolidate and implement volunteer and team feedback to improve events, from stuff as minor as how judging rooms and volunteer lounges are set up to field and event logistical changes.

  • How does your PDP communicate with teams?

In general through email (newsletter and directly), though some communication has been via event discord, and HTK staff participate in the MN FTC Mentor slack (we don’t expect them to be there, but we’re happy they are!)

  • How well does your PDP communicate?

In general, I feel like I always see a timely email to their mailing list(s) whenever it is appropriate to communicate a decision, upcoming events, et cetera. Occasionally something slips through the cracks, but that’s fairly understandable in any organization, and seems to be a genuine mistake when it does, not deliberately keeping things from the community. I don’t actually remember the last time I felt like their communication was inadequate.

  • How receptive to feedback is your PDP, and does your PDP have an official channel through which to provide feedback?

Regardless of how experienced or new the volunteer or team is. I’ve been able to have constructive conversations with them not only now, when I’m a professional with a career, but also when I was a student, and then a college student. I’ve seen them take feedback from people that were brand new to the program or their roles, and if it made sense, flip it on almost immediately. I think one of the biggest things as a volunteer for them is that I feel like volunteers are trusted-- that they genuinely believe that their volunteers are there for the right reasons and want to help improve their events. I am amazed at how diplomatic and effective they are when expectations don’t align with reality for volunteers and teams.

  • Does your PDP host training events?

Yes, for all the programs they support, primarily for mentors. They also support team training events and training sessions at kickoff. They also host many well-run volunteer training events in a normal year.

  • How transparent is your PDP about their decision making process?

I would say that in some areas they are extremely transparent, but in others they are less so. In general, for things that directly and publicly affect teams, I think they’ve done a very good job of communicating how and why decisions are made to teams. I was very impressed by the clarity they offered as we entered the 2020-21 season about how things were proceeding. I will say that I think I’m more plugged in than most to the MN FTC scene, so my opinion here is probably colored by that.

  • Do you know what the roles and responsibilities of your PDP are?

Honestly I’m not 100% clear on this. They run events, organize and support various team support efforts.

  • Do you feel confident that an issue would be resolved if brought to your PDP?

Absolutely.

  • Do you feel you have equitable access to your PDP’s time?

I am continually impressed by how much the staff of HTK seem to genuinely care about the programs they run, and make themselves available both during and outside of events. I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate to judge them on my perceived access since I’ve been around a while. I think the measure of their success in this aspect is the access that a new team or volunteer gets if they reach out, and in my opinion both when that was me, and with the people I’ve observed, they are very good at being accessible and respectful to those people.

  • Do you feel you can discuss concerns with your PDP without fear of repercussions? (i.e. blacklisting as a volunteer, punished by not receiving awards, etc.)

Absolutely. I’ve always felt that teams that have brought concerns to them have been treated fairly, most impressively even when the teams or team members didn’t necessarily behave in the most kind or appropriate manner. And this is having observed a lot of team-HTK and volunteer-HTK interactions over the years.


I have an immense amount of respect for HTK as an organization and everyone that works there. That respect has been earned through years of competence, effectiveness, and kindness. Thank you Cheryl, Jeannie, Vicki, Barb, and Norm for running a fantastic set of programs.

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