Conference Notes

The following is a detailed summary of the conference. Links to all the conference sessions can be found here.

JETAA Technology Regional Conference
January 29-31, 2010
Portland, Oregon
(Matthew Gillam)

This conference really grew out of a couple of developments in 2009. One was
the fact that it became clear by mid-year that the CMS project, which had
been sputtering along in one form or another since 2001, was never going to
prove viable and would never provide any solutions to the multitude of
database and communications issues facing chapters. The other, more
immediate impetus for the conference arose during the Using New Technology
breakout session at the JETAA USA National Conference held in Chicago in
August. It was there that the idea of holding a regional conference
dedicated to technology issues was raised during a very informative
discussion of the many new solutions available to chapters through
off-the-shelf software and social networking sites. Based on this, a
Technology Committee was formed to look into the various issues and
proposals, and some form of “regional” meeting was proposed to better enable
them to gather and pursue their ideas. A formal vote was then held, with 17
chapters agreeing to a proposal that a meeting (virtual or actual) be held
and the results be presented to the US chapters by December 31st, 2010 (one
chapter abstained). Based on all of this, discussions during and after the
Chicago conference showed a rare convergence of talent, know-how and energy
that participants agreed might allow the alumni to finally develop a new
approach to managing member information and improving communications within
and among chapters. The Portland chapter, represented by Bob and Beth
Schnyder, expressed great interest in hosting the proposed technology
meeting, and talks then began involving them, the Portland Consulate General
of Japan, Japan Local Government Center, New York, and Ryan Hart and Shree
Kurlekar, the two active US Country Representatives. It was unclear at first
whether the required minimum of five chapters could be assembled to actually
obtain funding for a regional conference, but in the end 11 chapters from
the US and Canada sent representatives, with funding and support cobbled
together from a variety of sources, including MOFA, CLAIR, and numerous
private sector entities in Portland.

Day 1: Saturday, January 30th
After greetings from Bob Schnyder and Vice Consul Watanabe, Bob began by
going over the results of the survey that was sent out to all chapters
around the world just prior to the conference. The chief items of concern,
or “pain points”, noted by the chapters were membership databases, Web
protocols, and cross-chapter communications, followed closely by things like
social media campaigns and document databases. He then explained that the
expectation was that the weekend would be spent as a “working conference”,
with solutions to chapters’ problems actually being worked out as
participants were discussing them, whenever possible. Overall, it having
already been determined that almost all chapters had set up their websites
using either WordPress or Joomla, the various sessions were divided into
groups focusing on each of these systems.

After a brief round of self-introductions and an explanation of how the
sessions would be structured, the participants split into the two WordPress
and Joomla groups for:

Session 1: Website Blueprint – Collaboration for Success
I sat in on the WordPress group, which discussed using GoogleDocs and Excel
for databases, with overlapping lists for members, FOJs, newsletters, etc.
It was pointed out that the WordPress database function is easy to hack, so
that function is not recommended. The group then discussed the relative
merits, including costs, of using EROI, Mail Chimp, or Constant Contact for
maintaining and updating lists, and the issue of keeping alumni and FOJs
listed separately.

Mr. Sasaki emphasized that CLAIR does not normally ask for members’ details,
and will only approach a chapter for information on specific members in
special circumstances, such as when Prime Minister Abe visited.

This was followed by a discussion on setting up a database template with
options to link event registration, PayPal or other payment methods, and
whether things like RSS feeds or forum functions are desirable. One idea is
to set up a dedicated email function (rsvp@….) for a chapter officer to
use for regular or one-off events and link that to the database to track
member activity.

Any system would need: 1. Data management (user & membership lists); 2.
Email or other communications functions; 3. Reporting; 4. Different levels
of security access; 5. Event registration tie-in (3rd party and API
integration); 6. Policies regarding privacy and access to information.

For data management, Joomla has a reliable system included already, but
WordPress would need a third party solution. EROI, used by Portland, already
includes most of this except for event tie-in. That could perhaps be done
through Mail Chimp.

Session 2: Website Collaboration – Standardization in the Making
Jason Porath highly recommended Mail Chimp for its database function,
ability to tie in with Twitter and Google Analytics, tracking functions,
ability to copy & paste from Excel, etc. A popular system in Alberta,, and another new system,, were also discussed.
Some participants were concerned about how difficult it would be for a
“non-techie” to use Mail Chimp or set up a new website for chapters like
Northern Alberta that currently have no tech-savvy members and no longer
have a functioning site. This was not considered a big problem, though, and
Lee-Sean said the set-up is easy; it’s the style, design, and presentation
aspects that are more difficult, and a division of labor is important.

Bob laid out the stages of website foundation as being to establish goals
and then a basic framework which can then be customized with plug-ins,
widgits, user accounts, themes, etc.

Three groups then promised to create and upload a pdf tutorial, explaining
plug-ins, and information on widgets, accounts, etc.

After lunch, Aaron Lovelace, from Speekit, gave the keynote speech on
lessons learned in setting up the company, including how they have come to
utilize the Internet in their business and possible ideas from this that
might work for the alumni.

Aaron listed five core philosophies in setting up a business: 1. Find a need
and fill it; 2. Wayne’s World Factor (people want to feel a personal
connection); 3. Direct response marketing, where you structure a sales pitch
and set up a response mechanism that makes it easy for people to immediately
act on your pitch – and have personality in appealing to people; 4. Go for
fast, cheap & easy – don’t plan things out too much; 5. Drink lots of

He emphasized that you must share the common wants, needs & desires of your
customers, that it’s vital to decentralize events and provide services to
attract new members, and that everything is based on having a quality
product and a clear focus on your brand identity.

Sessions 3 & 4: Improving Membership Communications – Current & New Members
and Backend Solutions

Groups were formed to discuss various issues facing chapters and the main
points were reported to the whole conference. The main issues and possible
approaches were:

When to engage new members and streamlining registration: Since Bob led this
breakout group, discussion seemed to focus mainly on Portland; but there was
wide agreement that attempts to engage new members are best made at
pre-departure, while in Japan (through CLAIR & AJET), and through social
networking sites after participants return home. Portland tries to get
departing JETs to sign up for emails, etc., and 16 out of 40 participants
departing in 2009 did sign up. Portland also links its registration system
to Facebook and directly to the chapter officers. They keep in touch with
Portland JETs currently in Japan, and solicit stories from them.

Managing basic member data (membership tracking): Jason led this group,
emphasizing that two important tools for tracking member data are
integration with LinkedIn, for career information, and utilizing event
participation data. Taking a laptop to events and getting attendees to take
a few minutes to update their info is also a good idea.

Increasing member participation: Todd’s group talked about how maintaining
an updated and easy-to-use website and holding career fairs were two actions
chapters can take to strengthen ties with their members. Overall, chapters
were advised to mine available data on their members and talk to them as
much as possible to determine who their best customers are, learn how they
like to be contacted, and discover what they really want out of JETAA.

Continuing member retention: Beth’s group listed various strategies, which
can include organizing as a 501c3, making use of all available networking
resources, getting information out through different channels such as JetWit
and newsletters, giving individual members responsibility for organizing
events, cultivating sub-groups within the chapter membership, and
implementing a prepayment system for event participation to help ensure that
people who sign up for events actually come to them.

Sessions 5 & 6: Utilizing Social Media for your Chapter – Facebook as your
Home Base and Opportunities & Centralization

LinkedIn was recommended as a good way (better than Facebook) to track the
alumni as they move through their careers, and perhaps for the chapters to
help provide networking support. Everyone felt that departing JETs should be
encouraged to register on LinkedIn before even leaving for Japan, and it
should be promoted as even potentially making it possible for them to find
jobs before they return home after JET. There was also discussion about how
much to rely on LinkedIn functions versus merely using the site more as an
entry point for members to link on to the chapter website, which would
contain these (membership management) functions. Another issue is that some
people work for companies or offices that do not allow employees to use
LinkedIn or that have contradictory and problematic policies regarding its

One person said that JETAA-I should take the lead on these technical issues
and developing new online resources. I responded that this regional
conference and any groups that result from it are the only organized effort
to undertake such an initiative, and briefly explained the backdrop of

Jason Porath stated he had always been extremely uncomfortable with how the
CMS set-up had centralized everything so much because it made it too
vulnerable. Megan Jones then said that CLAIR needs to create a written
explanation as to why the Japanese government should have access to members’
personal information, since that has been a problem for her and other
chapter’s officers, and Jason agreed with her. They both cited a lot of
distrust among the alumni toward the Japanese government.

Lee-Sean said that New York uses Facebook for posting photos, etc., but not
for event announcements or RSVPs. Northern California reportedly uses it to
search out members and older alumni.

Jason then threw out some ideas about using Facebook, etc. as alternate
sign-in sites linked to the alumni network, linking up this whole network
across chapters, and creating a best practices guide for chapters and
alumni. He also advised avoiding excessive dependence on third party
services, and recommended that chapters work to provide alternatives.

Ryan talked about Twitter, saying it is incredibly easy to use and can be
set up so chapters can keep track of each other’s activities. Benjamin
Erickson then talked about using Hoot Suite to integrate RSS feeds for
Twitter and microblog posts. It can also be used to pull RSS feeds off of
websites or Facebook pages. Bob pointed out that it is possible to schedule
when announcements or tweets go out, and to do tracking or analytics on

Day 2: Sunday, January 31st
Session 7: Final Tech Collaboration – Open Exchange of Thoughts & Idea

Session 7 on Sunday morning was devoted to remaining or open issues, and the
discussion mainly centered around how to take what was done at the
conference and disseminate it out to the chapters and get it implemented.
Topics included buddying up with other chapters to promote and implement
these systems, developing and disseminating a very basic set of standards,
and providing platforms, recommended best practices, tutorials, content
templates, and support.

Ryan reported that the Country Reps were asked by the Embassy to provide
information on how the alumni were working to fulfill MOFA goals, and Megan
said that Gloria Ma (Canada Country Rep) asked for information on improving
communication among the Canadian chapters.

Jason said that at the very least, a membership database needs to be
created, and he asked Mr. Sasaki what the minimum requirements for member
information would be for the Japanese government. Mr. Sasaki said these
would include the alum’s name, email address, time and location on the
Program, and, if possible, their ZIP code. There was a discussion concerning
affiliation, and it was again stated that the alumni would need a written
declaration from CLAIR for the chapters regarding privacy, who would have
access to any information, and how it would be used. Mr. Sasaki also stated
that some minimal level of information is necessary in order to be able to
prove alumni status.

There was a quick discussion of creating a records database also, but the
focus was on the membership database rather than records and documents.

We discussed the difficulty concerning the transfer of information on
returning JETs from CLAIR Tokyo to the alumni chapters arising from
technical and legal issues, along with the overall topic of establishing and
naming input fields for member data. Bob recommended adopting the Mail Chimp
naming structure, with some special, JET-specific fields added.

It was decided that new management guidelines would be created and Mail
Chimp would be used as the basis for a new membership data system. A
document (?) team was then created, consisting of Jason, Megan, and Kurtis,
and was officially named “Team Chimp”. A timetable was discussed, and it was
generally agreed that Jason and the team would have a basic system ready for
use in time for the US National Conference in August, hopefully with a test
site to try out new functions. However, Jason then said he doesn’t want to
use Mail Chimp for the main member database, preferring only to use it for
mailing information. Various alternatives like Joomla were then discussed,
but no real alternative seems to have been proposed. Bob pushed for issuing
some form of document listing best practices for social media, including
templates for documents and a website, with email and a database. The
templates would come with a list of pros and cons, demonstration sites, and
instructions for set-up.

There was also quite a bit of debate about whether or not to simply choose
one system and tell chapters to use that. Some wanted to leave a certain
amount of choice and discretion to individual chapters, and some wanted to
make it as simple as possible for people who really don’t know what they’re

A set of conference action items were then listed. In recommending best
practices to chapters, it was decided to advise them to use Mail Chimp if no
better solution is available, to provide them with Joomla and WordPress
templates, and to give instructions on using social media. For working with
chapters in need, it was decided to formulate a communication plan, identify
those chapters in need, pay forward the opportunities provided by this
conference, and conduct a case study (of chapters adopting new systems).

Session 8: Pay It Forward – Collaboration for all JETAA North America &

A series of steps were discussed for helping chapters, under the idea of
passing along the benefits produced through this conference (paying it
forward). After identifying chapters without websites or needing other help
it was decided to proceed as follows:

The Tech Team should first send out information on the Technology Regional
Conference, and then contact chapters. After that, the Country Reps should
conduct follow-up and implementation. The goal is to have every chapter with
a working, up-to-date website within two years, as well as access to a
technology network and resource archive and a Web-ring to link them into the
other chapters, JETAA USA, and JETAA-I. The Tech Team and Country Reps are
also to gather information on which chapters have Facebook, Twitter, or
LinkedIn accounts and to publicize these among the other chapters, along
with trumpeting progress on the chapters’ overall technical development. A
statement of goals & values regarding utilization of technology (“Vision”)
is also to be sent out with the initial information on the conference, to
help guide chapters and explain what this effort is hoping to accomplish.

The goal of the document repository (although little discussed) is to
preserve and transmit “tribal knowledge” and technical information that are
often lost to newer members during difficult transitions or poorly handled
officer successions. Integrating chapters into a Web-ring would also help
avoid their being dependent on one member for tech support, which leaves
them vulnerable should that member disappear.

The initial steps of this process were supposed to be taken care of by March
15th, and the remainder are to be ongoing.

With this, the conference came to a close.

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