You can learn a lot from a chicken

When new projects first start, often teams feel a little unsure or unclear about what they're being asked to accomplish, conjuring up Gertrude Stein's, "there's no there, there," or maybe leaning more toward Bill Clinton's "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." At any rate, let's just say in the parlance of our time that you may have been a little fuzzy, like Gertrude and Bill once were.

My first experiences in early meetings for the Public Access Technology benchmark (PATb) project were uneven. Yes: benchmarks are good, but what will they look like, and how will they work? Along with my colleagues, we all suffered in varied ways from wanting to jump to something concrete, something to which we could respond.

The Gates Foundation shared their research, supplying case studies of how organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and LEED had created and updated their respective rating systems. Important lessons surfaced from their experiences, and we were all influenced by their thoughtful work. But still, I craved more; how does what we're tasked with creating (excuse the pun) measure up to these measures?

After one particularly intense discusson, Rick Weingarten from ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy waved a colorful one-page example that offered the "there" and the "is" for the team.


Whole Foods.

Who knew this mighty natural foods megachain would supply some much-needed context for our quest?

First: I invite you to suspend your need to connect directly the following story to the aforementioned PATb project. Instead, consider the goals and lessons learned from the document I'm about to share.

(To read the entire chart, go here and scroll to page 3)

Consumer: Let's say you want to buy a chicken. With a glance at this document, you can decide how free-range/organic/one-step-below-domesticated-pet you want your chicken to be.

Supplier: Let's say you want to sell your chickens to Whole Foods. This document will help you understand how your birds fit into Whole Foods' chicken strategy.

Policy: Let's say the way in which your chickens are raised doesn't show up on this sheet, yet you're motivated to sell chickens to Whole Foods. You may be convinced to change your practices to accomodate Whole Foods' criteria.

Now let's shift from chickens and think about libraries. What the PATb project is trying to create is both a tool for librarians to assess their PAT and also a tool to influence elected officials and community members to drive investment, much like the Whole Foods measures. If we're not too tied to the themes of the chicken sheet, but consider how this one page communicates different information to different people with shared goals, we're getting somewhere. Neat, huh?

For me, Rick's example helped me to better understand what we're hoping to achieve. Simple. Concrete. Useful. Meaningful. Now mind you, there is another, longer document that offers the context and supplemental information--this isn't a one-page proposition--but the ideas this executive summary conjured up are truly powerful.

So where does this leave us? Much has been done since that fateful meeting when Rick shared the Chicken Standards. The folks working on the benchmarks project are spending a lot of time researching, drafting, and incorporating feedback into their work. But they need more of the latter: careful consideration and ideas from librarians and stakeholders. Does this project alight a spark in you? Maybe you have some ideas, or would like an opportunity to share your thoughts once there's more there, there, like a set of draft benchmarks. Is this you?

Here is my invitation: please share your expertise and thoughts with us. Tell us who you are and how you'd like to engage; maybe you'd like to receive monthly updates or maybe you'd like an opportunity to weigh in and share. Please get involved with this project so the benchmarks work for you. Complete this 2-question survey on how you'd like to participate. Thank you!


Broiler Chicken Rating Standards source (pdf)