Research Club Cares About Workforce Leadership, Too!

May 6, 2011

Kristin Wolff at Research Club

It's More Than Breakfast
This is me at Research Club Brunch in Portland, Oregon, April 30, 2011.

Research Club is a community based think-tank. It offers "classes" that support professional development and, well, life - how to plant a victory garden or make kimchee, for example. And once a month, it hosts a brunch: we all bring food, and a few community members present what they are working on to whomever attends. Presenters apply in advance and organizers schedule presentations. Here is the Research Club Mission Statement (I particularly like #3).

What Gets Shared?
Presentations at recent brunches covered subjects like:

  • The effects of mining on the lanscapes and identities of communities in the west;
  • Native American influence on economic and community development along key trade routes in Oregon; and
  • The evolution of creative co-working and innovation spaces in Northern Europe (and separately, in our own Portland, Oregon!)

Bruch typically includes a musical (or other artistic) performance - this time it was the charming Ciara Caurrthers on her ukelele (I have been listening to ukelele music ever since).

Who Attends?
Presenters comprise a mix of working professionals, small business owners, students, and grad-students, though Research Club does hold particular appeal for people who work long-distance and those engaged in "gigs" rather than traditional jobs, as both groups have less physical interaction with colleagues than people who work in more traditional environments.

How Did Workforce Leadership Wind Up On The Agenda?
In March of this year, I was discussing the Enhancing Workforce Leadership project with Research Club Co-Founder, Nim Wunnan, who encouraged me to apply as a presenter. Given how much our project team has emphasized engagement in the project overall, I couldn't say no. But I did wonder, "Are people going to know what I'm talking about? Will they care? Will they scream and yell about the absence of job opportunities in their fields or communities?"

I presented. And people cared.

Also in attendance that day were:

  • Global Alien, a group of Asian and European performance artists exploring immigration and globalization - they engaged me in a discussion about labor policy in Korea, Germany, and the UK;
  • Ilie Mataru, a journalist (who writes about jobs) and serial entrepreneur about to launch his first social venture - or whatever you call a business that is about mission and not just money (Stake Magazine coming soon);
  • Max Ogden, Code for America (CFA) fellow who asked if I knew about the US Department of Labor project with CFA intended to support returning veterans transitioning into civilians jobs, school, training, or their own business (I did not know about this).

These and others in attendance helped me see the connections between our respective fields in new ways. And engaging like this helps me communicate complex information about workforce development issues, systems, and policy in ways that invite people to find themselves in the content I'm sharing.

It's reassuring to me that people ("the public") are not only interested in public policy but want to improve it, even participate in solutions. What I didn't expect was that they, too, are reassured by the knowledge that jobs, education, and prosperity are worked on and worried about in a serious way by workforce leaders every day.

Other Takeaways
These kinds of activities are part of my own DIY-U effort. But they also suggest something important about how information and knowledge is shared in our increasingly connected world.

  • Learning can be community organized - outside of school and other traditional institutions.
  • Networks enable the kind of serendipty that not only accelerates innovation, but is a delight to experience.
  • A lot of deep knowledge - especially that involved in system and community change - is cross-disciplinary.

Research Club is not a substitute for the basics of math, reading or principles of electrical engineering, but it does offer an alternative model for learning that also builds networks and leverages ideas, resources, and people-power from communities that just might be interested your cause.