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Podcast: Bendable in South Bend, IN with Rick Wartzman & Jennifer Henecke

Posted on August 21, 2020


Rick WartzmanJennifer Henecke
Rick Wartzman
Head of the KH Moon
Center for a Functioning Society
The Drucker Institute
Bio | LinkedIn | Twitter
Jennifer Henecke
Communications Manager
Public Library
St. Joseph County, IN
LinkedIn | Twitter

Creating a City of lifelong learning. Jennifer Henecke, the Communications Manager for the St. Joseph County Public Library, and Rick Wartzman, Head of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society, joined the podcast to talk about a new online learning resource developed for South Bend residents. The Drucker Institute partnered with the Library and the community to create Bendable, a platform with curated resources for professional development and training. They also designed community collections with local experts on topics like buying your first house, coding, and film making.

Host: Alyssa Dinberg

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Learn More

Bendable Website

Bendable – Creating a City of Lifelong Learning

St. Joseph County Public Library, Introducing Bendable

‘Bendable’ app opens up learning resources in South Bend area

The Learning Program That Aims to Make American Cities More Economically Resilient

Bendable, with the help of Pete Buttigieg, wants to create an educational marketplace


Episode Transcript

Alyssa Dinberg

Coming to you from Denver, Colorado, this is GovLove, a podcast about local government. I’m Alyssa Dinberg, one of the five co-hosts for GovLove. GovLove is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. In today’s episode, we’ll hear from Rick Wartzman, Head of the Drucker Institute’s KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society. Rick works with the Drucker Institute’s lifelong learning system, which just launched in South Bend. Part digital and part place based, Bendable allows people of all ages and backgrounds to easily acquire new knowledge and skills through online courses, as well as in person learning opportunities. Bendable is a learning program that aims to make American cities more economically resilient. Also joining us today is Jenny Henecke. She’s the Communications Manager at St. Joseph’s County Public Library in South Bend, Indiana. Jenny worked directly with the Drucker Institute to develop the platform and continues to be heavily involved as it evolves with the needs of the community. I’m super excited to have Jenny and Rick on today, and welcome to the podcast.

Rick Wartzman

Hey. Thanks for having us.

Jennifer Henecke

Thank you for having us.

Alyssa Dinberg

All right. So as we do with every episode, we’re going to start today with a GovLove lightning round. And this is just an opportunity for us to get to know our guests and just some fun light hearted questions. So my first question is, what is the best gift that you have ever received? And I’m going to have both of you answer all three of these questions and for this question, let’s start with Rick.

Rick Wartzman

The best gift I’ve ever received. Definitely my wife saying yes, when I asked her to marry me 30 years ago.

Alyssa Dinberg

Aww! That’s a good one. That’s really sweet. What about you, Jenny?

Jennifer Henecke

Well, that’s a hard one to follow up on. [Laughter] But when I turned 30, my husband, he was then my boyfriend actually repaired one quilt that I had for, like ever. And it had holes in it. And he actually sent it back to my aunt, and got it mailed and did all this rigmarole to get it back to me. So it was really special.

Alyssa Dinberg

That was a really thoughtful gift. That’s great. Um, okay, so my next question and I, during COVID times, I have asked everyone that I’ve interviewed just because I think I can learn something from it. And I think our listeners can too. Jenny, what is the best self care tip in the time of quarantine?

Jennifer Henecke

Oh, this one. So for me it was getting dressed, and specifically wearing earrings. So and that’s not something I do normally, actually. But yeah, every morning, I would get dressed as if I was going to work minus the shoes. I didn’t go that far. And my co workers were like, why are you wearing a dress? You’re at home for the 30th day in a row and it’s like I just have to do this to make me feel like there’s you know, something to get dressed for.

Alyssa Dinberg

I think a lot of people have felt that way. I don’t know if I’ve necessarily taken that approach. I mean, I sit at my as we all do, I sit at my counter and on zoom calls all day, so I have a nice shirt on top and then I usually don’t have dress pants on the bottom and I actually just went to the grocery store right before this to get lunch and realized that I walked out of the house looking like that, which was a little embarrassing, [laughter] but that’s okay, whatever. Anyway, Rick, what about you? What’s been really helpful during this time?

Rick Wartzman

Um, you know, taking a drinking, I’m kidding. I you know, I put a bunch of gym equipment I ordered early on in March, like the first week in March when things started to shut down because I couldn’t go to the gym anymore. I put a bunch of gym stuff in my garage and it has been my savior. I go out all the time and lift and do stuff out there and it’s kept me sane.

Alyssa Dinberg

That’s great. I know a lot of people have done that. I live in a, unfortunately a one bedroom apartment, so I have not had that option. But walking has definitely been really helpful to me. Just getting out of the house. Okay, my last question for the lightning round series. If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be? And why? And let’s start with Rick on this one.

Rick Wartzman

I guess I’d be a cauliflower because I love cauliflower and I have high self-esteem. cauliflower.

Alyssa Dinberg

Cauliflower. I don’t know if I’ve heard that one yet. That’s a good one. That’s funny. Do you like make things out of the cauliflower like pizza and

Rick Wartzman

I’m so I’m the dish guy. I know my role… my wife’s …, but she does roast cauliflower.

Alyssa Dinberg

Cauliflower is definitely a trendy vegetable right now. Jenny, what about you?

Jennifer Henecke

I’m gonna stick in the white vegetable spectrum and go with the potato. A) because that’s basically the bulk of my diet and who doesn’t love potato. It compliments everything. You can make them spicy, you can make them sweet if you wanted to. You can make them fluffy. They just they do a lot of things. They are the workhorse of the ….of vegetables.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah, I actually, I would say a good bit of, good bit of people that I interview have said potato and for the same exact reason that it’s just very, you can use it for a lot of different things and very useful. So it’s a good answer. All right, let’s move into the bulk of our interview. I am eager to learn more about Bendable and I know that our audience is as well. So, my first question is for Rick. Can you tell us a little bit about what Bendable is and where the idea came from to create it?

Rick Wartzman

Sure. So Bendable is a lifelong learning system. And the idea is to give easy access to residents of a particular community. Access to the knowledge and skills that they’ll need to be more resilient in the face of a fast changing economy. What we’re really trying to do is through Bendable cultivate in people the habit of lifelong learning and, and just make learning, a great experience for them. Something that they will come back to again and again, learning for work, but also learning other things you know about personal finance or how to cook a healthier meal. Again, we really want to build that learning muscle in people and we’ve created a system that’s part play space, and, and partly a digital platform to, to do that. In terms of where the idea came from, so my work at the Drucker Institute, you know, we’re a social enterprise, we’re based at Claremont Graduate University just outside LA. And our kind of worldview and a lot of our work is informed by the timeless wisdom of Peter Drucker, who was widely known. You know in business we called him the man who invented management and was a brilliant writer. He wrote 39 books and he coined the term “knowledge work” way back in the late 1950s. He foresaw this age when people would use their heads, you know, at least as much, if not more than their hands, in terms of the way they made a living. And I began to notice, you know, that we were we were in this knowledge age deep into a knowledge age. And yet, things were kind of running backward in many respects. You know, employers weren’t training employees nearly as much as they had historically. In more recent decades, you know, corporate training along with other parts of kind of the corporate social contract in America had fallen apart. We saw public education dollars, certainly in inflation adjusted terms running, you know, in the wrong direction. And it just felt like a pain point to me. You know, we were at a time when we need all this knowledge. Everyone needs new knowledge and skills all the time, no matter what kind of our station in life is. Because our skills become obsolete so quickly now. And yet again, there were there was this whole, people didn’t have easy access to that. Public education was letting people down in a lot of ways and a lot of communities. So we wanted to see if we could devise a system that would kind of correct that.

Alyssa Dinberg

So where did the partnership come from, to work with the library in South Bend?

Rick Wartzman

Yeah, so we actually first approached the Mayor’s office. So it was, it was mayor Pete Buttigieg, who was then the Mayor. The Drucker Institute, we had done other work in South Bend on a public sector training program, which one of my colleagues runs, and he had worked with Mayor Pete and folks in his administration. So we knew a bit about South Bend and thought it would be a good place to try out on this lifelong learning system. It wasn’t even named Bendable then, and credit to the library for really coming up with the name but we, I approached Mayor Pete, along with my colleague who had worked with him, kind of gave him this vision for a community based lifelong learning system and asked for his buy in and support and we were then trying to raise a little bit of money just to conduct some research around the idea and had lunch with Pete and he said, absolutely, this is a really something I can rally behind and I’m with you. But you don’t want to house this in the mayor’s office. I had made clear to him that having local administration was really important. We wanted local folks to ultimately administer, run Bendable, to steward this lifelong learning system. It shouldn’t be, you know, the Drucker Institute way out in California running something from afar. And I thought Pete would say, great, let’s do this in my office, we’ll handle this and he said, I’m behind it. You can invoke my name in raising funds and all the rest, but you don’t want to house it in the mayor’s office. And I was really surprised. Because I said, wait, I thought you were behind this. He said, I am I am. But mayors come and go, administration’s change, administration’s change priorities. And little did I know he, you know, that he’d go off and go on a different path himself. But he said, you want to go to the library, see if you can get them interested. They’re credibly trusted. They’re probably the most trusted public institution you know, in any community, they are incredibly welcoming and kind of inclusive. Inclusion was a big part of what we were striving for, and giving access to learning and their mission is lifelong learning, you know, they’re not going anywhere. Go see if you can get them interested. So we reached out to the library, and it began this really incredible partnership.

Alyssa Dinberg

Wow. So Jenny, you’ve been involved since the beginning, correct?

Jennifer Henecke

A little after the beginning, but pretty much.

Alyssa Dinberg

Okay, and, I mean, this is probably a silly question, because knowing the mission of what a library is, but why was the library interested in being involved?

Jennifer Henecke

I think, you know, it didn’t occur to us to say anything but yes. And part of that is like about being a library. You know, we’re I think very yes prone profession. You know, we say yes to new services that serve our community and yes, for community engagement and like brick said yes, for inclusivity. And then also yes, for a tool that can help us address the issue of workforce development, which I think a lot of institutions struggle with how to support that particular endeavor, and libraries are no different. You know, we’re always looking for a way to, to kind of tackle that particular need. So I think it was just like a natural, of course, sort of situation. And I mean, that being said, I think the real credit goes to our Executive Director, Debra Futa because, you know, it takes a leader to cultivate a culture of yes, and, and because of that, we were all willing to kind of go on this journey with Rick and with Drucker, in what has, you know, turned out to be a very natural partnership. And the library has been involved pretty much at every step of the way. You know, we’ve we sat through countless development meetings and design sessions and I went out to California a few times and, and I think we played a fundamental role in some ways in guiding Bendable’ s underlying principles, like free access. It became something that you know, the library was, that’s what we do. And that was very important for us to see that and Bendable. So Bendable was very much like a no brainer for us from the very beginning. And that was even before we knew what Bendable was. And I think that’s important to like, focus on how powerful the vision was, is, it wasn’t we didn’t even know what it where it was going or what the concept is going to turn into. But because it emphasized lifelong learning, and that’s our central mission. It was, it was an obvious choice. You know, we exist to provide free and open access to everyone in our community, regardless of age, political viewpoint, economic status, and that is mirrored in Bendable, that they offer learning resources that appeal to people of all ages, looking to learn for pleasure, or work and it’s kind of that weaving together, of learning for pleasure or work that makes us a good match. It’s instilling that habit, you know, that you can only do if you’re doing it across all sectors of your of your life. And, and I think both Bendable and the library know that it’s about the journey. It’s not about an endpoint. So if learning stops, and we stopped growing as people, so for all of those reasons, I think that’s, that’s where the yes came from.

Alyssa Dinberg

So just because I think our listeners might be interested, and I think a lot of times we hear about programs like this that are incredible ideas, and not a lot of people understand how much work goes into creating them. So how long did it take from start to launch? And when did you guys launch?

Rick Wartzman

Yeah, so I’ll give a little sense of that from my vantage. So, it was a two and a half year process actually. Um, you know, it’s like the gestation period of a, I don’t know, hippopotamus or something. You know, it was it was a long birth process. And, but we, but it’s really important I think the way we went about it. So we came into the community. And our first instinct and this has a lot of Peter Drucker, frankly is, is always go out and listen to your customers. So we really set out just to listen to the community for a long time. And hats off to our colleague, Mike ……., who just did an incredible job of accessing kind of every piece of South Bend as a community and listening. And so we spent a lot of time really the first year asking people what do you need to learn? What do you want to learn? How do you like to learn? And we asked that quite those questions over and over in different forums, in different ways, through different you know, workshops and sheets getting filled out and we brought in at one point, we began to raise some money around this. We, Google and Walmart’s corporate foundations supplied the seed funding that allowed us to bring in IDEO, the design firm, and they helped us conduct some of this research and really begin to map out what the user experience of this lifelong learning system should be. So our first, you know, kind of task was really just to listen and to take in as much as we could so that Bendable would end up as it’s ended up, really being not just built for the community, but built with the community. And I think it’s a really an important distinction important part of our approach.

Alyssa Dinberg

So, you say that deep community involvement is Bendable’s secret sauce. So what is that community involvement and how are they involved?

Rick Wartzman

Yeah, I’ll just, I can, you know, tell you we’re working really hard to weave Bendable now into the everyday activities of all kinds of institutional, organizational stakeholder partners across the city, the library for sure, but also employers, you know, the city parks department, you know, classrooms you know in the public schools, working with their teachers, Goodwill and the Workforce Development Board, Work One as it’s called in Indiana, but I’ll defer to Jenny. She’s much closer to it and is heavily involved in in, you know, reaching out to a lot of these community partners. But that’s what we’re starting to see is they’re really picking up Bendable to meet their own programmatic goals and their own missions.

Alyssa Dinberg

Great.

Jennifer Henecke

And this is where I mean, I get really excited about this part because we have seen just the response from the community. It has been incredible where organizations are kind of reaching out to us to get more information and seeing how they can you know, either have their workforce or, you know, their staff or some of their clients get involved. And, you know, we find as a library, we’re so dependent on our community, because without a community, there is no library and, and we need to be able to expand beyond our own walls in order to meet people where they are. And that’s, I think Bendable has become a tool for us to do that. And other organizations and industries and teachers are seeing that value as well, that they can use Bendable and all of the learning resources that it includes to really solidify their relationships with the different groups and communities that they serve. And I think, you know, the, as Rick has said, you know, the community has been involved from the earliest stages, getting feedback on learning, and then even now, we’re piloting different projects for how we can engage with different organizations and sectors to make sure that they’re kind of latched into what Bendable is. And I think the secret sauce part is that, you know, bendable is democratizing learning in our community in a way. So it’s bringing the community in on the creation process, but also really showcasing what people in South Bend know, and highlighting them the actual individuals or the actual workplaces who need to do the training and saying it’s about you. It’s not, it’s not so much about us coming in from the outside and offering help. We’re doing it together. It’s giving us a way to celebrate all of the victories and share in some of the challenges.

Alyssa Dinberg

That’s amazing. That really is. So, sorry go on.

Rick Wartzman

Yeah, just one thing I would, one thing I’d add to what Jenny said, you know, just is, there are all these community stakeholders, but you know, it’s the library itself, that is our backbone and you know, seeing what Jenny and her colleagues are doing on the ground. So we’ve done a lot of training of library staff, you know, getting them conversant in Bendable, and it’s a it’s a strange time, right? They’ve, the library’s opened up kind of partially, but there’s still, you know, at least, like curbside book pickup and, you know, people there’s a social distancing. So it’s not back to normal. But, but the library, you know, serves all these people and all these multiple needs. And so we’ve now had front-line librarians come to the Bendable team, and say, hey, how can you give us, we’re starting to get demand for resources, learning resources on particular topics. Will you curate a list of Bendable content? Right, courses other you know, learning opportunities that you can access through bendable through our digital platform. Let’s make up some like learning playlists that we can share with people because we’re getting a lot of asks around, you know, what are resources on parenting, right? I’m stuck at home with my kids. You know, I’m pulling my hair out. What do I do? Or I need to up skill for a new job. Is there like a playlist you can put together of learning resources around that topic or, you know, understanding the history of racism in South Bend, you know. We’ve been able to, to now build out these different resources and share them with the community. And that’s been really exciting to see. And again, the front-line librarians are the interface with the community on that.

Alyssa Dinberg

Can you talk a little bit more about what the platform looks like and what, how you curate those learning opportunities? Because it’s not, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s not created specifically for Bendable. You pull from different platforms, correct?

Rick Wartzman

Yes. So it’s not as much a pool as a curation. So we have 19 content partners. About half are national course providers, so Cell-Ed and Penn Foster which some of listeners may be familiar with. It’s essentially an online, really a terrific online high school and community college. Study.com, edX, LRNG and Khan Academy for younger learners. So we have a whole bunch of national content partners. We work with to curate items from their catalogs and put them onto the Bendable platform. It’s then this super IDEO designed you know, wonderful user interface. If somebody just wants to see what it looks like it’s a, it’s a, it’s just a great user experience. At Bendable.com, you can go check it out, and you can then easily access from this whole ecosystem of course providers different things. We also have a whole, the other half are local course providers so Ivy Tech, the community college or Indiana University South Bend or the Local Code School or the Forever Learning Institute, which is a senior center or, you know, other local Goodwill, you know, locally. So we have a whole bunch of local providers. And our job at the Drucker Institute was to look at the landscape of, you know, learning out there, make sense of it. Again, curate, you see, one of our big functions is being good curators, and picking and choosing the courses that are right for South Bend, for their learning needs, for the skills that employers want and are in demand, you know, finding courses that meet those needs. And then there’s a whole separate process we have, a feature called Community Collections, that I’ll let Jenny tell you about, which is another way to tap local expertise.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah Jenny, if you could tell me about the Community Collections. I did see that when I was on the platform, and it sounds pretty cool.

Jennifer Henecke

Yeah, of course. And this is I have to say it’s one of my greatest loves in Bendable because the library is leading the charge on creating these. So it’s got a special place in our hearts. And you know, in many ways, it’s the heart and soul of Bendable. Because when you’re talking about community involvement, and how the community participates in Bendable, this is one of the biggest ways if not the biggest way. So a Community Collection is a learning playlist curated by local experts. And so I’m going to unpack that a little bit. So a playlist is a curated list of resources. So it could be a YouTube video, a TED talk, a book, of course it’s form the library, podcasts, articles, right in meetup. And then these are resources that a local expert has, you know, kind of listed out in order to teach other Bendable users how to do something. And by local expert, we mean that broadly. So you know, of course, we all we mean, you know, the actual recognized leaders in our community, the actual experts, so you know, professors from Notre Dame or St. Mary’s, you know, elected officials, you know, community organizers, that sort of thing. But we also mean kind of, but the maybe not so recognized leaders, you know, church leaders or someone from a neighborhood association, but even brought more broadly, we mean that person down the street, who you know, and everyone else on the street knows, can fix a car like nobody’s business. And that’s the person that you go to in order to get help with that, or the person who knows how to do gardening or cook, or, you know, helping with child care, you know, how do you set up a learning environment for a child, so it, expert means a lot of different things. And my dream is that one day everyone in South Bend will have a collection, because I fundamentally believe that, you know, everyone is an expert in something. We all have a passion. We all have something that we know how to do. And the Community Collections allow us to bring it all in, so that we can share that knowledge and really, like celebrate what our community has to offer. And I, that’s another thing. I like to see how people recognize someone in Bendable. So when you log on to the homepage, the first thing you see are three faces. And it’s my goal that you should know someone on that list of community collections. And if you don’t know someone, you should let me know so that I can, you know, create another one and do another interview. But the ones that we have so far, they cover a you know, and we’re just getting started. So there’s so much room to grow in this area, but they include things like how to get started with coding, how to buy your first house, learn to have better conversations with helpful restorative justice, making learning fun for kids at home, which is a particularly relevant one these days, and then same kid at home. So you know, those are just like a selection of the collections that we have available. They’re from people that are recognizable in our community. So Alex Sejdinaj from the Code School, Emily Rupchock, who is really does a lot with childhood learning. And these are names that if you were from South Bend, you would be like, oh, yeah, that’s that is, you know, someone that I trust to tell me how, you know, how can I go about doing this learning. So a Community Collection is one of the essential building blocks of Bendable and one of the ways that we can really reach out into our community. And I would, I guess, end on saying that, with from a library standpoint, it’s really hard to put a YouTube video on the shelf. And you know, for a lot of people, that can be one of the ways that they learn how to do something, or a TED talk or a podcast and this is a way for us to put some of that non traditional learning, modes of learning on a library shelf, you know, metaphorically where it’s, it’s in our collection, it’s it’s something that people can access freely just like you would be able to walk into a library and check out a library book. So for us, that’s extremely exciting. So yeah, well, I love community collections.

Alyssa Dinberg

That’s pretty amazing. I think the thing that sets Bendable apart from any other online learning opportunity is the community involvement. I mean, you really are going and learning from people you know, and that there’s just something so special about that.

Rick Wartzman

For sure, for sure. And I think, you know, Jenny touched on this, but the fact that we very intentionally put those Community Collections as the first thing you see on the platform, and you see just these beautiful, we have an amazing photographer doing this work, and you just see these beautiful faces of people in South Bend and you know, white, black, brown, you know, every, from every walk of life, teaching things and saying, here’s how I learned about this thing and I want to share that with you and you know, in terms of the overall content, you know, we’re probably approaching 1500 resources on the platform, something like that. And, you know, the Community Collections themselves make up a tiny fraction of that. They’re, you know, whatever, there are 25 of them now or something. There’s not, you know, that many in the scheme of things. But as Jenny said, they are the sole of Bendable. They are that, they are the thing that people immediately gravitate to, we know from our user testing. They really speak to people, and they make it authentically South Bend. I mean, how many, how many learning platforms have you been on where it’s the stock photo is the thing. This is there’s nothing stock about this.

Jennifer Henecke

Yeah. And each one of these collections is involved in a conversation. You know they are not, in some ways they can be very labor intensive to create, but it’s, every time we we make one, it’s a librarian touching base with a community member. And then right there, you’ve already, you’ve built a network, you built a bridge between people and their library or people from a different organization. And that’s, I think that’s another powerful part is, we’re just going to keep building these bridges until we’re all kind of woven together.

Alyssa Dinberg

What’s the difference? This is something else I saw on the platform. What’s the difference between the Community Collections and the Courier Collections?

Rick Wartzman

Yes. So the Courier Collections are also locally curated, but they’re a little different. So we work with local employer partners, often the biggest employers in South Bend, to create career pathways with us. So what that means is, let’s take medical coding and billing. Healthcare is one of the three industries we’re focused on, driven by the data and by where we know there’s demand you know, for people to learn new skills because their jobs, at least we hoped coming back soon in the community there, there’s been need for to fill those jobs. So medical coding and medical billing and coding is one. And so we work with in that case, Beacon Health, it’s the big hospital system in the city. They worked with us to look through our course catalog, vet and curate courses from a variety of providers, Study.com and Cell-Ed and edX and Penn Foster and so on, and put together kind of a learning pathway for people that they say they’re putting their stamp on as a major employer in that industry. Um, as you go through and take the different courses on that learning pathway, on that career path, it’s the one place in the system in Bendable where we have digital badging. So you actually get a digital badge or for any listener familiar with that process, we’re part of Credly’s Acclaim platform. So you’re issued a digital badge, showing that you’ve successfully completed that course as assessed by Penn Foster or Study.com. You then can carry that digital badge with you, it lives in your kind of Bendable gallery, where you can show it off or show it to an employer, you can add it to your Indeed application or put it in your LinkedIn profile. And it’s a co-branded Bendable and Study.com or co-branded Bendable and Penn Foster badge. And each step you take on the pathway there’s usually, you know, three or four or five courses, you need to complete the pathway. You get a, you get a badge and then you get a summative badge in say medical coding at the end or to be a CNC operator, and that that one was done with General Stamping and Metalworks. They’ve put their, you know, their endorsement on that collection and worked with us to find the right courses to put that together. So they’re locally endorsed, locally curated, and we know that there’s a lot of power if learners actually go through and earn these badges that employers are going to recognize that they’ve really done something because again, the employer communities put their own stamp on it.

Alyssa Dinberg

Wow. Yeah. Um, so I, we briefly talked about this a couple minutes ago but Bendable has 18 different content providers. How did you guys go about selecting those providers?

Rick Wartzman

Boiling the ocean basically? Um, I mean, they’re, it’s amazing. So one of the, one of the concepts is that, what I ran into is I started to conceive Bendable, I realized that we’re in this weird thing where like, we’re in this knowledge age, but people may have a hard time accessing knowledge, but part of it is not, part of it maybe again, their employer isn’t providing training like they used to, or they’ve had a bad public education experience in some cases or whatever. But a lot of it is you just don’t know where to turn or who to trust. There’s a ton of amazing content out there. It’s not that the system is under resource. It’s under organized, it’s under curated, it’s often not a great user experience to try and figure it out. If you’re just a regular person and you want to learn something, and you type it in, you know, a Google, you know, search engine, like, it’s overwhelming, you’re kind of overwhelmed. So we spent a lot of time talking to, you know, trusted sources, just doing a lot of poking around ourselves over a very long period to come up with the list of providers that that we thought made sense. You know, Jenny and her colleagues at the library were invaluable in helping figure out where the right local providers. Again, there’s plenty of resources in South Bend, but it’s probably a bit under organized. We organize all that under one Bendable roof and put that all together. The last thing I’ll say about is we’ve been very conscious of picking content providers that would add up, you know, in the whole more than more than that some of the parts. So what I mean by that is we’ve tried to create a real learning ecosystem that would have something for everybody. We want this system to be lifelong. We want it to be universal. And so we’ve, you know, you can go on there and find basic literacy and numeracy classes through a text message based platform on Cell-Ed. You can kind of you know, find very you know, rudimentary skill building through GCFGlobal, a Goodwill learning platform. You can, you can get a high school degree through Penn Foster or through the local Excel Center at Goodwill. You can then you know, do Study.com classes that are you know, a bit you know, if you’re further along, kind of in your in your skill set, all the way up to earning a Micro Master’s in, you know, whatever data science from MIT on edX, stuff for younger learners, stuff through Forever Learning for older learners. So, again, we’ve really tried to build out a full ecosystem that that makes sense. And we’re excited we’ll be adding in the coming months, learning resources in Spanish to try and better meet the needs of that part of the South Bend community.

Alyssa Dinberg

So I know that it was just launched in June. Do you have any numbers on usage?

Rick Wartzman

Yep, we do. We’ve had about 9000 unique visitors to the site. Again, we’ve had it’s been a real mix, interestingly, from outside South Bend, and of course, inside South Bend and the area. The platform’s gotten some publicity you know, where there was a Fortune article and so you know, we think people may have from around the country just clicked on Bendable to see what it was about. I’m sure after this podcast, we’ll have more outside South Bend, you know, folks checking it out, which is great. And then, but to really access the content you do need to live in South Bend and have a South End library card. And Jenny can talk more about that, about the whys of that. But, you know, it is obviously, as you can hear very, very South Bend focused. So we have accountholders, where you need to live in South Bend and have a South Bend library card. We have now over 600 folks who’ve actually signed up for accounts, and what we’re super excited about, we’re seeing about half of those we know, well, probably more than half but we know at least half have gone off site to learn from our different content providers. So there’s learning I mean, we’ve issued our first 40 or 50 badges within those career collections. We’ve you know, 300 plus lessons were consumed on Study.com these kind of short lessons. You know, last month we’ve seen you know, a couple hundred users at GCFGlobal. We’ve, you know, seen a lot of learning going on.

Alyssa Dinberg

That’s amazing. 300 people, more than 300 people in a month, two months. It’s incredible.

Rick Wartzman

A couple of months. Yeah.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah. So the pandemic has definitely thrown everyone for a loop. And I know that in the community that I work in, the library is run by a district. And the library has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic. And they’re really struggling with how to continue to provide those needed services to the community. So Jenny, I was really wondering if you could talk about how the pandemic has affected the roll-out of Bendable, especially the place based learning aspects of the system?

Jennifer Henecke

Yes, yeah. That’s, it’s, it’s interesting to think about that because we, you know, I remember when the COVID you know, the pandemic kind of rolled into South Bend, because it happened really quickly. There was, you know, one day we were talking about, maybe we need to think about upgrading our cleaning procedures and then I want to say a few days later, the library was closed. So it happened really quickly, and in the midst of all of that, we were in the final stages of planning the roll-out for Bendable, and kind of getting all the last ducks in a row in terms of beta testing and getting the platform all ready to go out in the public. And then suddenly, you know, the world tipped on end. And, you know, that’s a thank goodness for strong partnerships, because I think, you know, from the library, we were really, as we’re a lot of organizations in South Bend about, you know, what do we, what do we do now, in this, you know, new, new situation we find ourselves and, you know, we were able to kind of continue to work forward on this project that we’ve been working on for two and a half years and now, the world has changed. So what do we do? And I think there are really two sides to this issue. The first is, we had to refocus how we were looking at Bendable and what the roll-out meant, so that the initial plan was, our South Bend has a best week ever celebration, which is this enormous community wide celebration of, you know, South Bend and, and what our community represents. And that was going to be the moment that we introduced it to everyone. But obviously that was cancelled. And all of the in person learning, even, you know, the in person learning that was happening in the library, in other organizations all came to a dead halt. So we had to rethink what that meant in terms of, you know, how do we actually physically roll the product out, but what does it mean? And I think we pivoted very quickly to, you know, a digital way of getting the information out. And that’s where the the other side comes in is that it ended up being a great opportunity. Because I think, in so many ways, this is exactly what our community needed. We were suddenly faced with kids who weren’t at school and were doing e-learning and unemployment, you know, went skyrocketed and people were out of work. They were looking for training opportunities, they needed to re-skill. And June, I think it was June 6th when you know stuff and it started to open up a little bit, and the library had started to reopen in a limited capacity, and then there was Bendable. And I don’t think, there’s no way we could have started the process of trying to address those issues in that moment and gotten to where we are now. So it was kind of like we just had this band aid that was, that could help us get through the, some parts of the pandemic, even in terms of socialization, you know, being able to have a community connection, even if it’s digital, because, you know, for many of us continuing, digital is where we’re at right now. You know, a lot of people are still working from home and doing learning online. And we find even stuff and then you know, not a lot of places have reopened or are starting to reopen. So in some ways, the we were able to pivot to this digital model of both talking about Bendable, and making sure that people were aware of it, but also to really focus in on the digital learning opportunities and address, you know, the needs that our community was facing. And that’s one of the things that we were able to do really quickly was come up with a COVID section on the homepage, and that didn’t exist. Obviously, it didn’t exist before the pandemic struck, but we were really flexible and we said, okay, the…. has these needs, and we need a platform on Bendable to be able to give them resources that specifically address the COVID crisis. So, but team at Drucker and the Bendable hub organization pulled together this homepage section, we contacted a few community leaders and one in public health, one in fitness, and one from the DTSP, which is our Downtown Association about reopening. And we created a few COVID collections that specifically address these needs. And we were able to address the moment in that way. And that’s, so the pandemic kind of threw everything on its head. But luckily, we were able to turn it around and really make it, you know, make the most of the situation.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah, I would say that. I mean, granted, I wasn’t there during the launch, but it definitely did not go as you had planned. But I think that this is probably the most opportune time to launch something like this. People are at home, they have nothing to do, mental health is an issue. It’s a really good opportunity for people to build skills. So I’m sure that the community is really appreciative of having this opportunity.

Rick Wartzman

It’s also you know, I think Jenny had on something too, which is the ability for Bendable to be responsive. And so, you know, when George Floyd was murdered, you know, we reacted then too and we were able to, to leverage a great relationship that the library already had with a Civil Rights History Center at Indiana University South Bend, and, you know, have their archivists there, put together a great collection on the history of racism in South Bend, which we featured as a community collection for a number of weeks. And so, you know, there’s, it’s interesting and there’s I wouldn’t even say it’s tension. I think it’s a healthy dialogue. You know, we have all the time, I’m a journalist by background. And so, you know, I have this kind of metabolism of like, you know, by tomorrow, it’s already old news. So I’m like, constantly like, let’s get that up. Let’s get that up and, you know, library which knows its customers way better than anybody, it’s patrons you know, sometimes you know, they want to pause for a little bit more and just and hold something on there, you know, on the page a little bit longer to give people a little bit more time to get familiar with it. And so I think it’s been actually really interesting and a good, we’re learning from each other I think and that’s been great but but overall in the combination of their deep community relationships and their instincts, and and Bendable and my journalistic instincts, I think we’ve been able to, to very much be of the moment while also again not overdoing it, and you know, we’re not a magazine. So finding, trying to find that balance.

Alyssa Dinberg

Great. I think we have time for probably one or two more questions. I am curious how you’re tracking Bendable’s impact in the community.

Rick Wartzman

Yep. So I’ll speak to it real quickly. And Jenny may have her own kind of, you know, version of certainly from the library standpoint. So we, as part of the development team for Bendable, FSG consulting firm, some of your listeners may know, they came in and built out an evaluation assessment framework that we’ve incorporated into the design of Bendable to kind of know, you know, what outputs should we be monitoring? What right, what outcomes ultimately do we want to look at? Um, and this is, you know, this is hard stuff and it’s, we’re not an answer to poverty, we’re not going to instantly change a community but our theory of changes that over time, a community does, you know, many people in it, cultivate a significant number of people cultivate the habit of lifelong learning, that you will see them have better job opportunities, you will see their wages rise in the aggregate over time, you will see employers find you know, folks with better skills and reward them accordingly, you will see deeper community engagement. And so all of those are the kinds of things that FSG has called for us to measure. It’s not easy to measure those things, it’s expensive to measure those things. We’re off to a great start though. The Lumina Foundation has funded a developmental evaluation assessing the early, just kind of reach and early impact of Bendable out of the gate. And they’ve actually directly funded FSG to continue to do that work. And so they’re, they’re joined with us at the hip, and they’re kind of watching everything we’re doing, and it’s become an important source for us to continue learning and improving the system as we, as we go.

Alyssa Dinberg

Hmm, interesting. What about you Jenny, from your perspective?

Jennifer Henecke

I think it’s nice to have kind of that overarching look at our impact. And so we’re kind of paying attention to more like the grassroots, you know, are we have 10 branches that are located across our community, and it’s, it’s seeing how people that come into those branches and how they react to Bendable or how our branch managers feel like they can utilize the tools in Bendable to serve the community. And then from my, you know, my own observations, so it’s very much a qualitative look that we’re taking at what the, where Bendable’s going and what the impact is. As I do these collections, you know, seeing how people respond to it, you know, I’ve done a few and, and the excitement is immediate. And they also get how the reach that this will have for, you know, things that they’re passionate about, whether it’s, you know, voting or, you know, again, like some of those civil rights issues. So I think that’s one thing that we’re looking at is how our community is perceiving it, and whether we’re able to leverage some of the elements of Bendable to, you know, from a person to person standpoint, to make forward advancements for those, you know, individuals and families.

Alyssa Dinberg

I’m really excited to see where Bendable goes in South Bend and the impact it makes. I think it is a pretty amazing opportunity for the community. So with that, can you talk a little bit Jenny about what the future of Bendable in South Bend is?

Jennifer Henecke

It feels like right now the sky’s the limit, you know, we have just gotten started. And, you know, it was in development for so long, and now we’re just getting our legs. So, you know, I see nothing but possibility. It’s almost, it’s a difficult question to answer because I, I see, you know, touching base with more organizations, getting more industries involved, finding more authors to help us or Community Collection authors help us create collections and all this wonderful learning. And then, you know, from a very local perspective, we’re in the midst of another huge, huge project, which is the renovation of our main library, which is going to open up at the end of the summer in 2021. As you know, we’re renovating the current library and then building a Community Learning Center, which is, it just speaks to the mission of what Bendable is, and being able to use that space and that moment to further lifelong learning in our community. I think, you know, it’s all building on to the same thing. And so it’s a lot of potential and a lot of excitement for the future. But I think we’re just hoping that you know, South Bend that everyone gets on Bendable and, and we just continue to grow.

Alyssa Dinberg

Rick, can you talk about what the future for Bendable in other cities is? So I’m sure we have a lot of listeners that are very interested in bringing this to their community.

Rick Wartzman

Yeah, I hope so. We’d like to expand to as many as five new communities next year. We have a plan to be able to do that effectively. I think the key thing you know, there’s some financial commitment to bring Bendable into your community, but there’s really a commitment of deep partnership. This is not a plug and play. Like we don’t give you the keys to the digital platform, probably for nine months to a year before we embed somebody on the ground in your community in your city. And we really again, ask those questions. What if folks in your community need to learn and want to learn, how do they like to learn? We have a, we have a great backbone, we have a, but this is not this is not plug and play, you know. We got to really get to know your community and then then hyper localize it. And again, it’s those key relationships. It’s, it’s, that’s really our secret sauce. And that’s what we need to cultivate first. And, and then again, stay on after launch, to work on getting Bendable integrated into those organizations, into their activities and programming like we’re doing now in South Bend. That’s all part of the package.

Alyssa Dinberg

Great. Well, I’m sure that you will have some people reach out too with interest, and I’m looking forward to seeing what those five cities are. So my last question, and we ask this on every episode, and you guys can do a collective answer or you can do independent answers, whichever one you choose. If you could be the GovLove DJ for this episode, what song would you pick as our exit music?

Rick Wartzman

Wow. Jenny, do you have a thought? I had one that popped in my mind.

Jennifer Henecke

Yeah, I had one because I did think about it a little bit. So I’m a huge Beatles fan. So I was thinking “Here Comes The Sun”.

Alyssa Dinberg

Mm, that’s a good one.

Jennifer Henecke

Because there is so much hope in Bendable and it’s, you know, there’s nothing that’s more uplifting than when you’re kind of making your own path and that’s what it’s about.

Alyssa Dinberg

That’s a good answer.

Rick Wartzman

Cool, and I am, the one that popped into my head was Teacher Teacher by Rockpile. Steel Niccolo Dave Edmunds. And, anyway, a great song and Teacher Teacher Teach Me More, you know ….

Alyssa Dinberg

Both very relevant for this episode. I really appreciate it. Well, thank you so much for coming on today. It was, it was really good to talk to both of you. This is the second episode I’ve done with the Drucker Institute. And both have just honestly they’ve touched my heart and you guys are doing amazing things. And it’s been an honor to have you on this episode. So thank you. GovLove is produced by a rotating, rotating cast of awesome ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We’re a social startup with the mission of engaging the brightest minds in local governments. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/govlove, or on Twitter at @govlovepodcast, and if you have a story for GovLove, we want to hear it. So please, please send us a message on Twitter or email Ben at [email protected] Thanks for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.


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