HEI FYI

HEI FYI

Quality Work-Based Learning


This is the second post in our series on work-based learning (WBL) opportunities in a virtual environment. For more information, please contact us—we’d love to hear from you.

Once you’ve established your preliminary strategies for virtual WBL, how do you ensure the quality of the experiences you offer?

HEI has found that WBL experiences are most robust when designed and/or implemented via partnerships among educators, employers, and community partners. Moreover, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, even within a WBL model; program structures need to be designed to adequately accommodate the local context. Further, assessment of capacity and readiness to deliver WBL should be engaged by WBL providers to assure well-planned, high-quality implementation. WBL models should be informed by indicators of program quality detailed below, where implications relating to relevant policy and program design are mutually considered. 

  • Industry-aligned: All components of WBL should be industry-aligned to support participant development of technical and professional competencies required for successful performance in a career sector. 
  • Equitable: Equity must be considered across all phases of WBL implementation, which encompass design, development, delivery, and measures of impact. It is imperative that equity is integrated within WBL structures as evidenced by inclusion of intentionally embedded mechanisms that foster inclusivity and accessibility—including those involving offerings, recruitment and selection, participant support, compensation, and expectations. Equity cannot be thought of as a component external to or separate from the WBL program. Utilization of an equity lens also entails identification of opportunities facilitating and barriers hindering equitable access to WBL, and consequently, advancing areas of promise and mitigating challenges. Quality WBL is inherently equitable.
  • Transferrable: Participants’ learning should be adaptable to other contexts within the industry or sector. Further, training should be designed so that learner outcomes are congruent with expectations and values recognized across the profession.
  • Accountable: Central to understanding the impacts of a WBL opportunity—including for educators, learners, community providers, and employers—is clearly defining program objectives and expected outcomes. This not only serves as a guideline for design and implementation efforts, but also provides the foundation for which metrics can be established to monitor progress and identify observed effects. Further, this level of transparency encourages accountability across stakeholder groups.

Overall, WBL programs comprising these key principles have been found to be effective:

  • Support entry and advancement in a career track by providing opportunities for participants to develop technical and professional competencies. 
  • Provide meaningful job tasks that build career skills and knowledge in the form of appropriately complex and relevant tasks with structured mentorship and supervision.
  • Offer compensation, which demonstrates that participants’ contributions are valued and makes opportunities accessible to individuals who might not otherwise be afforded the ability to take part in these experiences without financial support.
  • Identify target skills and how gains will be validated, to the mutual benefit of participants and employers. 
  • Reward skill development through opportunities for more advanced responsibilities as well as wage and/or benefit increases, all of which positively reinforce learning and continued development.
  • Support college entry, persistence, and completion by assuring alignment among educational and industry objectives; WBL can be designed to excel postsecondary degree or industry-specific credential attainment through articulation agreements or embedded credit structures.
  • Provide comprehensive student support via career counseling or advisement, equipping students with the information required to make informed career decisions. 

Any questions? Let us know.

HEI FYI

HEI Tools: Template for a Great RFP


Whether you are a first-time grant award recipient or celebrating the next big win, the importance of finding a good, qualified evaluator or research partner cannot be overstated. A competitive procurement process requires requests for proposals (RFPs), and many organizations have to reconcile soliciting bids to satisfy awardee, organizational, or state procurement rules while vetting each candidate’s experience and ability. Often, many default to their organization’s procurement specialists or use a standard RFP template, which may or may not cover all the bases. 

As consultants to grantees and proposal writers, we at HEI wish to humbly provide some guidance on what should be included in your RFP to ensure that your solicitation contains all the information you intend to provide to—and solicit from—your bidders. Our template below should get you started. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

RFP Template

  • Executive Summary: Lay out for responders all critical information about your effort in one page. At a minimum this should include the key contact, a brief statement of the work, minimum qualifications to apply, and any important dates.
  • Introduction: Provide concise RFP Information.
    • Describe your organization in a brief introduction along with a summary of the core need you’re seeking to fulfill.
    • Describe who is the sponsor of the work and who will ultimately be the internal consumer of the services and work-products.
    • Clearly outline RFP deadlines, e.g., Q&A, submission, proposal opening, awarding, and anticipated start date.
    • Provide submission format guidelines, e.g., page limits, required layout, online or physical mailing, and required interviews.      
  • Description: Provide a description of the program, innovation, intervention, or research that is the focus for your proposed work. Include well-honed research questions (presuming this RFP is for research or evaluation), i.e., what are you trying to learn/know?
  • Scope of Work and Applicant Capabilities: Define the desired or ideal scope of work for the vendor. Include:
    • Anticipated timeline from start to finish.
    • Key deliverables. 
    • Stakeholder groups involved and/or subjects of the study.
    • Specific work items required, preferred, and optional. (Note: Don’t over define the work, as you’re hiring for outside expertise; provide room for the RFP process to generate creative ideas for you.) Work items can include:
      • Data collection activities, such as focus groups, onsite observations, surveys, etc.
      • Desired testing or measurement such as pre- and post-tests, group comparisons, change over time, and comparison against a benchmark.
      • Needed deliverables such as a formal word document, PowerPoint, in-person presentations, infographics, interactive dashboard, and form or submission within upload systems.
  • Proposal Submission Guidelines: Spell out essential guidance to help streamline the RFP process for both your organization and the applicant. Include the following:
    • Budget: Consider offering a budget range, if you have one, and note the variables that can impact that range such as the number of interviews, virtual or in-person site visits, a final presentation vs. printed final reports, etc.
    • Component Checklist: List all items the applicant must submit.
    • Submission Timeline: Clearly state how, where, and when the proposal must be submitted.
    • Award Timeline: Clearly note how, when, and where the proposal will be awarded. (Note: Set a timeline you can stick to.)
    • References: Define the kinds of references that exemplify the experience and qualifications required and denote information needed, e.g., client name, contact info, description of work delivered, etc.
  • Evaluation of Submissions: Provide the proposal evaluation criteria, rubric, or terms used to select the vendor.
    • Do you make special considerations for MWBE, HUB, or Veterans policies?
    • Will certain experience and qualifications be weighted higher?
  • Appendix: Provide any required procurement forms to the end of the RFP.

HEI is always here to help. If we can assist in your RFP process, please contact us.

HEI FYI

Tired of Zoom? It’s Not the Platform That’s the Problem


As professionals today, meetings are central to everything we do. We meet to plan, strategize, and implement. We also carve time out to collaborate, network, and connect. And perhaps most important, we meet for professional growth, personal learning, and inspiration. At their best, meetings are the heartbeat of our professional lives—they augment the humanity of our daily grinds and inspire us toward a better future. And yet, the vast majority of the meetings most of us attend are truly awful.

Enter Zoom—and all of the above is magnified. We’re hungrier than ever for connection and for the magic of a constructive professional gathering. And at the same time, boring and underprepared speakers, the takeover of one or more powerful voices, poorly planned agendas, and unfocused tangents zap our spirits and our energy.

Can anything be done? Are meetings the problem? Is Zoom the problem? It’s complicated but in short: yes, maybe, and no.

At HEI, we’ve unlocked powerful strategies for making Zoom meetings more engaging, efficient, democratic, and fulfilling than ever.

Pre-COVID-19

As HEI’s founder, I live near Washington, DC, and in a typical week, I could fill my calendar with endless events and meetings with colleagues in my field. Pre-COVID-19, I’d walk in the door, grab a coffee, say hello, and settle into my chair after some brief informal networking.

Five minutes into the meeting, usually more than half the room would be checking their cell phones or laptops. Total disengagement would occur across the room from the moment the lead speaker would start spouting off impressive bios of whomever was up to talk at us for the next 20 to 45 minutes. I’d often start to wonder why I was there and laugh to myself while they outlined the “engaging conversation that they had planned,” which was never really a conversation at all. Along with my colleagues in the room, I might start thinking about (if not working on) other tasks of the day. I might ponder how and when I could escape—though if I did, I’d have to do it with haste, as though an emergency task had beckoned me from the event.

The Virtual Now

Today, the same is true for virtual meetings, except now the breadth of potential distractions is tenfold. You can shut off your video and hit mute—and then check your email, pay your bills, or even order groceries (I’m guilty of doing all three at once)! So how do we make our meetings more engaging, meaningful, and efficient—especially on Zoom?

In more than half the meetings where I’ve been present, the extent of the “engagement” with audience members is no more than a Q & A session. Sometimes this is done with an open forum, and other times it is done through a carefully selected moderator who asks questions of the panelists. Unfortunately, no matter how well it is executed, this does not pass the sniff test for engagement. It’s the 21st century, and as viewers or audience members, we’re more sophisticated than ever. The old guard of “good” meetings would dictate that: human beings learn by hearing content, those with the most power and knowledge have value, and only a few voices really matter. Today, we need more and can do better.

At HEI, we use an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) framework in our meetings and in our research. AI beautifully adapts to the virtual space, and several of our staff members are certified to lead large and small convenings using AI in the XCHANGE facilitation approach. The core premise of AI can be best summed up in the words of David Cooperrider, the founder of AI: “We live in the world our questions create.” In other words, questions in and of themselves are not neutral, but they create change and impact what we see. Questions bring awareness and have power to be generative. Taking this perspective into how we prepare for and engage in meetings creates an openness to learning and a shift in how we seek to achieve meeting objectives. The following key beliefs guide our approach, and could improve your meetings:

  • Prize engagement over control. Many meeting planners default to one-way, speaker-centered approaches, because they depend on the certainty of a few leaders/experts controlling the space. Too often this is at the expense of deep engagement. Open up the gates to encourage dialogue and exchange. The unexpected may happen but can be managed through preparation, as we help participants first connect with each other on the places where they share values. For example, a simple question at the start of a meeting might include a small group breakout in Zoom, where a few people introduce themselves and answer one question: Why is it important for you to be here today? Or: What about this topic is meaningful to you, your community, the world? Connection—right there in the first few minutes of a meeting—makes each of the individual voices in the room more important than the resume of the first speaker.
  • In order for learning to be effective, it must be active. As a species, we learn by doing, not just reading, seeing, or hearing. It takes courage to invite engagement, challenge, interaction, and a diversity of voices. The primary role of a leader, facilitator, or educator is to create space for learning, which we know occurs through engagement. Even in meetings intended for the sharing of knowledge and content from a few expert speakers, the majority of what is conveyed will be lost without a few basic questions before, during, and after the learning content. Active learning requires that those listening have an opportunity to engage in the content in a meaningful way. For example, facilitators could provide a reflection guide and give the audience a few minutes to jot down some thoughts on the topic, or even to identify and post their biggest questions. After content is delivered, facilitators can then offer an opportunity for small group discussions about what was most meaningful to participants.
  • Democratize power and value. Our approach to meetings stems from our culture’s deep roots in hierarchy and privileging only a few voices. A democratic approach to learning together requires that more voices are welcomed at the table. Hearing from others with different viewpoints also contributes to a participant leaving a meeting with lasting learning. One way to do this is by valuing the voices in the room. For example, facilitators could invite the audience to contribute their wisdom, which benefits everyone. For Zoom meetings less than 50, ideas can be crowdsourced with the hand-raising function, or participants can be asked to share wisdom in 10 words or less. For Zoom meetings over 50, you can invite responses using Padlet, Menti, or another shared polling and brainstorming resource. You can ask those who have been radically inspired to raise their hands and share what has made such a big impact on them. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Storytelling is at the heart of connection. By providing space for small group conversations, we allow for the opportunity for meaningful connections—with the topics at hand and also with one another. How much more will a participant gain from the virtual meeting experience than when they hear a story about why the topic at hand is important to another colleague, or why something they heard was impactful to them personally and professionally? Ultimately, stories are what we remember and how we connect, and participants and speakers all have stories to tell about what is at the heart of a meeting’s content. Whether that topic is hard quantitative data, expert advice or learning, or big picture musings, all of us are in the “room” on the day of the event because something about this topic, this work, this professional life we live made it matter to be here. Tell that story.

We are all tired of boring meetings devoid of connection, equality of voices, and deeper learning. In this moment, where we find ourselves in a world comprised entirely of digital social spaces, now is the time to revolutionize our approaches for coming together. 

Want to learn more about our approach? We’d love to speak with you and help plan your next major convening.

HEI FYI

How to Do a Virtual Internship: Work-Based Learning During COVID-19


This is the first post in a brief series on work-based learning opportunities in a virtual environment. For more information, please reach out to us—we’d love to hear from you.

Internships and other work-based learning (WBL) opportunities are a time-honored strategy for building a strong workforce pipeline for any organization—especially when executed in a strategic manner that maximizes value for all parties involved.

Traditional internships and other WBL have taken place on-site at a company’s facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, thrown a wrench in many organizations’ plans for such programs, as a majority of work is taking place from home for the foreseeable future. Without being able to convene in person, should organizations still offer internships and other WBL opportunities? If so, how do they do so in a meaningful and effective way in a virtual setting?

Below, HEI provides the preliminary steps and strategies for bringing these opportunities online. For the sake of this post, we’ll use the term “work-based learning (WBL)” to cover internships and apprenticeships, as well as related experiences including sessions with guest speakers, workplace tours, informational interviews, short classes, and career counseling.

Implementing Virtual Work-Based Learning

Many of the preliminary strategies below are similar to those that would be applied within an in-person setting but require additional attention to apply in a virtual environment.

  • Identify a high-level employee(s) to lead all WBL efforts. It is important that one point of contact oversees the organization or company’s WBL efforts—and that this individual has high level buy-in (e.g., the ability to leverage human and financial resources as needed). This person will ensure that students have adequate access to company resources and can articulate across the company the short- and long-term benefits it receives from providing WBL activities, generate increased participation among staff, and ensure that staff, as best as possible, reflect the diverse students they will engage.
  • Review company’s technology policy. Each employer should identify relevant policies for engaging non-employees in a virtual setting. For example, the following questions may need to be addressed: Does age impact engagement? Are there minimum software and hardware requirements for engagement? Do non-employees need to be granted special access? What role can social media play? Employers should also be prepared to help students access prerequisite software and hardware, as well as assist with troubleshooting.
  • Clearly define the WBL activity. In virtual settings, shorter, more narrowly defined WBL activities may work best. For each activity, employers should answer the following questions: How does the activity benefit the student? How does the activity benefit the company and/or region? How is the activity directly connected to knowledge, skills, and competencies for a current or projected company role(s)?
  • Prepare employees to engage students virtually. Employers should prepare staff for engaging students in a virtual context. There will not be opportunities for spontaneous conversations in the hallway with an intern or someone to greet a student doing an informational interview in a physical waiting area. Issues related to evaluating student productivity remotely, setting expectations for virtual face-to-face time, and limiting distractions are all important discussions to have.
  • Provide a virtual on-boarding process. One benefit of in-person WBL experiences is the ability to communicate company culture in a variety of ways. Employers must be more intentional about communicating company culture in a virtual setting. How can a student get a sense of the company’s values and “how things are done” without walking the office halls? The use of pre-recorded videos and photos or sharing a screenshot of a “typical workday” are some ways to address this issue.
  • Create opportunities for follow-up. This may be many students’ first introduction to an industry and having someone they can follow-up with, in the future, may help increase their awareness and interest. This can be informal by providing contact information or conducted formally by engaging the same students in multiple, distinct WBL activities.
  • Track for equity. We know, for example, that women and students of color, including women of color, are underrepresented in the IT field. We also know that increasing representation will help the region meet current, critical gaps in workforce talent. Each employer should intentionally recruit diverse students and track student participation by group to determine whether additional measures must be taken to increase diversity in student participation.
  • Be patient, flexible, and open to learn. Employers have found themselves in a position they could not have fully predicted and the same is true for students. Students should witness employers model the type of patience, flexibility, and willingness to learn from new challenges that are valuable assets in any industry.

As employers contemplate mobilizing WBL and devising strategies regarding its implementation, it is important to recognize and highlight the value of quality WBL to both students and employers. Students benefit from gains in career exposure, hands-on industry involvement, reinforcement of academic learning, and paid work experience. Employers benefit from the development of robust talent pipelines, access to a diverse labor pool, positive reputation, increased employee buy-in, and growth in business prospects.  Overall, quality WBL is accessible to all, aiding in participants’ development of industry-specific skills and knowledge, while also strengthening the pipeline to support the cultivation of a talented, technically literate workforce.

Stay tuned for our next post in this series on ensuring the quality of WBL. Have questions? Please reach out to us!

HEI FYI

Congratulations to Wayne State University & the Belle Isle Conservancy


HEI is excited to congratulate Wayne State University (WSU) and the Belle Isle Conservancy (BIC) on their project video being chosen for the 2020 STEM for All Video Showcase! The online film festival highlights innovations in STEM education from programs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal agencies.

HEI worked with WSU to evaluate the project featured in the video: the NSF-funded ITEST (Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers) project, “Promoting Student Interest in Science and Science Careers Through a Scalable Place-based Environmental Program at a Public Aquarium.” This innovative initiative provides immersive learning opportunities for the city of Detroit’s fifth-grade teachers and students to increase minority students’ exposure to STEM careers.

The project’s activities take place at the Belle Isle Aquarium, operated by the BIC, and include:

  • A four-day summer teacher institute.
  • ‘Mini’ grants offered to summer institute participants.
  • Class field trips for fifth-grade students. (Note: Following COVID-19 school closures, virtual field trips were made available.)

HEI prepared a report documenting the entire life cycle of this project and offered recommendations for moving forward. We’re excited to see its future.

If you’d like to learn more about this project or our services, please contact us!

HEI FYI

How to find a good evaluator?


Many leaders of organizations seek support from an evaluation professional. Investing in evaluation makes sense: resources are scarce and you want to make sure that your investments make an impact. In some cases, you may have pressure from boards or other stakeholders to have evaluators external to the organization. Or perhaps, you’re lucky enough to be a part of an organization where organizational learning is such a high value that evaluation is encouraged to support reflection in your ongoing work. Whatever the reason, where do you begin?

Finding a good evaluator—one who is the right fit for your particular organization or project—is critical to having a successful evaluation experience.

Your Scope of Work

It is important to begin with crafting a proposed scope of work that outlines your need(s). At a minimum, you should devote some time to delineating the following:

  • What are you trying to learn from this evaluation? List two or three high-level questions that, if properly addressed, would denote a successful outcome.
  • What time-frame parameters do you have for the evaluation? Are you confined by a board meeting report? Or a funding deadline, planning cycle, or annual publicity event?
  • What level of investment do you have in mind for this project? If you know your resources are limited, indicate the funding cap on the evaluation work so that respondents can propose research approaches that conserve spending.
  • Is a particular expertise required for the evaluation, such as: content area knowledge, unique methodological expertise, or experience with special populations (for example, individuals with disabilities, specific racial/ethnic groups, or geographic areas with distinctive needs)?
  • Are there specific values that are important to your organization or project that should be indicated? This will help identify an evaluation approach that is well aligned with your values.

Finding the Right Evaluator for You

Once you’ve defined your scope of work, it’s time to seek out support. Fortunately, many options are available. Evaluators come in many forms—independent consultants, small-to-large private companies, small-to-large nonprofit research organizations, and academic affiliated faculty or centers at colleges and universities. One is not necessarily better than the other. Rather, it’s most important to find a good match and establish a positive relationship with an evaluator that you feel you can trust and that demonstrates an ability to listen to your specific needs.

So where can you find the right person or team of evaluators? Always ask if your evaluation candidates are members of the American Evaluation Association, the primary professional standards organization for the field. Additionally, consider the following approaches:

  • Ask for recommendations from colleagues in similar organizations.
  • If you work in a particular field, check out conference proceedings or agendas to identify evaluators who have presented work in a related area.
  • Use the American Evaluation Association’s online “Find an Evaluator” tool.
  • Ask funders or other philanthropic organizations that work with many evaluators for recommendations.
  • Check out your nearby college or university campus. Often, you can find evaluation departments within the colleges of education, psychology, sociology, and public or health policy.

Step-by-Step

If evaluation is new for you or your organization, you can find an excellent step-by-step guide provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Be sure to learn about potential evaluators’ past relevant experience, ask about references, and review their past work. Most importantly, meet with the evaluators by video conference to get a better sense of how they work with their clients and how they will ensure that you get the learning you need out of your evaluation investment.

If you have any further questions, we’re always here to help. Please reach out us!