- What I’m reading: about six books right now, including Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, Palaces for the People by Eric Klineberg and Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer.
- What I’m watching (well, re-watching): every episode of Ted Lasso and The Great British Baking Show
- What I’m listening to: podcast Mental Platypus.
At the risk of sharing something that makes me sound like I went to school before the invention of the lunchbox, I must confess: we didn’t have test corrections when I was kid. In my day, you took a test, you got your grade, and that was that. Sometimes the news was good, sometimes it wasn’t, but either way, the results were recorded and set in stone, never to be changed. Now, as my daughter recently explained to me, if you don’t do well on a test, you can go back to your notes, learn what you missed, correct your answers, and raise your grade. Genius!
Sadly, it’s too late for me to rectify the many mistakes I made on a fateful high school physics midterm, but perhaps that’s for the best. A path paved with great physics grades might not have brought me to the library where I work today, making corrections for the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the biggest tests any of us has ever been given.
Yes, my engaged local government friends, that’s where we are right this minute in our city roles: test correction mode. The process that helps my kid finally ace the final on Julius Caesar is the process we should now rely on to restore, restart, and reboot our city services in the pandemic era. We have the opportunity to identify what didn’t work, figure out how we can do better, and apply that knowledge to improve the results. Students today might take the test correction process for granted, but I was the age I turned on my last birthday when I really started to comprehend this process of learning and then using what I learned to do better by making corrections.
Last year, just as it was becoming apparent that the pandemic would not, indeed, be over in two weeks or even two months, I had the great good fortune to embark on a nine month innovation training cohort offered by the Centre for Public Impact and Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation.. We started as a ragtag bunch of municipal employees from a cross section of Scottsdale departments, and working remotely, with an amazing innovation coach from this firm ,we became a team of service designers, learning how to evaluate situations, gather citizen input, generate new ideas, develop prototype solutions and then make– you got it– corrections– based on feedback we got when we tried out the prototypes. We learned, most importantly, that we might have to make adjustments to our plans, so we shouldn’t get too attached to one solution or another until we had a chance to take it for a spin in the real world. I believe this was the best possible time to embrace this iterative method of problem solving because the on-going pandemic is proving to be quite the test. We have to be prepared to make not just one set of corrections, but to be constantly evaluating and correcting as our situation evolves.
Today, we are making corrections by checking our notes on what we learned when we changed everything we were doing to make sure that we could still offer services during the pandemic. I know we started making pandemic-accommodating service changes to library programs in early 2020, thinking that it wouldn’t be long before we were “back to business as usual.” What we are realizing, of course, is that “business as usual” and “back to normal” are simply words, not real possibilities, so we need to incorporate the best of the changes we’ve made into our current policies and procedures as we re-open library buildings and re-launch in-person programming. Online library card registration and renewal, for example, have turned out to be so popular that it is hard to imagine that we wouldn’t offer those services. Using what we know about that success, we have developed other virtual services like online book recommendations for those who are still uncomfortable venturing into a public space, and we are currently piloting those services and evaluating user feedback. On the other hand, we learned that virtual computer classes for beginners were not the biggest brainstorm. Turns out that people who don’t have basic computer skills can’t really learn basic computer skills online… because they don’t have basic computer skills. But we learned that we can successfully teach advanced computer skills online as long as we offer those classes to people who are already adept at joining an online meeting. Virtual book clubs had mixed success, so we are developing new formats and themes to try out new iterations this coming spring. Simultaneously, we are preparing to offer in person book discussions again, cognizant of the adjustments we need to make for social distancing and pandemic safety.
As I apply what I learned in my innovation training, my rallying cry is “Keep what works, lose what doesn’t!” We should also make corrections now to streamline processes and policies that no longer serve us the way they used to, so that staff benefits from iterative problem solving and test corrections as well. When our pre-pandemic services are not right for today’s pandemic-inflected life, we have to be agile and resilient about making corrections and stay open to trying new ways to offer the services our users desire. Test corrections are a golden opportunity learn from what we leave behind in order to improve the substance and the delivery of our services to the community. If that seems like a lot, remember…you can always make corrections.