VTK and You: The Summary (not a video)

Well, I never expected the VTK and You video series to extend to five videos.  I thought at the most there would be three.  If you’re just joining us for the VTK (aka Volunteer Toolkit) party, let’s catch you up.  Our council was one of the last ones to roll out VTK, so that’s why I’m just now writing about it even though it’s already been out for three years.

As someone who is both a Brownie and Cadette leader and a former IT professional who rolled out and tested applications in a previous life, I wanted to provide a summary of what I concluded from my recent experience with VTK.  This was not done as an exercise in bashing (although I admit that I become a little sarcastic near the end).  In fact, I originally created the videos to hopefully provide somebody (anybody!) a snapshot of what it’s like to use VTK from a volunteer point of view.  In other words, I was just trying to help.  I have more to say about VTK from a non-technical standpoint and how meetings are written and presented, but I’ll hold off for now because I want to stick to the technical issues and possible solutions. 

So, here are my thoughts.  VTK has a lot of potential.  However, from the looks of it, it was built without much volunteer input.  I know some focus groups were held before it launched.  In fact, I participated in one years ago. But it was only for one meeting, and if I remember correctly, we met for about an hour and a half to look at mock-ups and give our input on what was presented. That was it. Was there any kind of research done PRIOR to these mock-ups with volunteers?  I would be surprised based on what I’m seeing.  I wrote a blog post last year about inclusion and how the lack of it led to many of the issues that we’re having these days.  VTK is an example of how the lack of volunteer input has led to something that hasn’t lived up to its potential.

Here’s what I came away with after finishing the videos.  I go into more detail and show examples of each in the videos themselves, but I’ll save you the torture of having to watch and listen to my ramblings.

Problem 1: VTK is billed as something that will take a lot of the paperwork out of being a volunteer and cut down on the hours that it takes to run a troop. It supposedly does that through provided meeting scripts – but this only serves a small percentage of volunteers. That’s not enough because basically what volunteers need is ORGANIZATION. There are a lot of online applications and websites that leaders can use that will do some of these things, but the better ones come at a cost.  There’s more to running a troop than meetings, which is what the vast majority of VTK centers itself around.

Solution 1: I would take a look at the features offered by some of these other online services and ask volunteers what they would need to cut down on paperwork. It’s not necessarily the meeting that’s eating up time – it’s communication with the parents, keeping up with the finances, and the logistics of what forms have been turned in just to name a few. VTK does some of these things, but not very well in my opinion.

YouTube won’t be the same after this VTK series!

Problem 2: The meeting feature of VTK is not flexible enough for volunteers. If GSUSA wants more volunteers to use VTK, then there’s going to have to be more flexibility in meeting planning.

Solution 2: Instead of building meetings around scripts and activities, build them around Steps for badges and Sessions for Journeys. The same terminology should be used in both VTK and the Girls’ Guides. Volunteers (or girls!) could build a meeting by selecting what individual steps or sessions they want to use, and options could include either a GSUSA provided script or the steps that correspond with what’s in the booklets of the Girls’ Guide. Also, a basic meeting template should be available in the case where a troop goes on a field trip to fulfill some requirements. There are some other specific features I would also include like the ability to upload files, and I talk about these things in the videos.

Problem 3: The overall design and concept of the application is not great, but I can’t put ALL of this on GSUSA. There are way, way too many bugs. And what gets me is that we’re THREE years into this thing. Three MONTHS would have been too long for these bugs not to have been fixed. But it shouldn’t have rolled out with all of them in the first place, and I put most of this on the developer. I’m afraid to log all of the bugs I found just in my five videos, and that’s from just doing the basics. There are bugs such as type-os, poor formatting, slow running scripts, random log outs, and broken features, and you can see examples of them in action throughout the five videos. The poor formatting may be on the GSUSA side, but even still – a developer should have at least brought attention to the fact that it looks bad. I’m referring to some of the earlier badge scripts like the Brownie Dancer badge that I chose as an example in my videos.

Personally, if I were a client of this developer, I would have raised holy hell if they delivered this product to me. There couldn’t have been much testing before this rolled out, and certainly not after the fact. In case you were wondering, NorthPoint Digital is who we are apparently using as developers.  I might be getting a strongly worded letter after naming them.  Well, I’ll write a strongly worded letter right back, so there!

Solution 3: Implement a way for volunteers who are using VTK to contact someone on the technical end to report bugs.  I can’t believe this is not already the case. Currently, there’s no way for someone to report them other than creating five dorky YouTube videos in the hopes they get back to someone who can do something about it. That’s ridiculous. Sure, volunteers can report bugs to council staff, but why even have a middle man? Just send reports straight to where they need to go.

Problem 4:  VTK doesn’t support multi-level troops.   Earlier this summer, I was under the impression that something was updated so that VTK could now support them.  When I looked into that in the last video, it turns out that the new multi-level support only involved written Journey scripts.  I assumed there was going to be some sort of website update with new features.  Someone correct me if I’m wrong in this case.

Solution 4:  Allow for scheduling meetings on the same date.  Right now, you can get around this by combining meetings, but don’t make that step necessary.  A warning like “You are scheduling a meeting on the same day as another one – is this what you want to do?” would be fine.  This ability would allow leaders to create a meeting per level if they meet separately (and I’m willing to bet most of them do).  Again, doing research in advance such as knowing what percentage of troops are multi-level vs. single level and learning a bit about how multi-level troops are structured and organized would have gone a long way in building the proper framework in order to support a larger portion of our user base.

Problem 5:  VTK doesn’t have anything for older girl levels.

Solution 5:  See my solution for #2 as to how to solve this issue.  Include C/S/A badges and Journeys in the meeting library, but allow leaders (or better yet, girls!) to build their own meeting by including badge steps and Journey sessions as their own selections.  GSUSA shouldn’t worry about writing scripts.  Most volunteers who have gotten to the Cadette level are already experienced enough to run a meeting without needing things spelled out for them.

Well, I think that about does it.  There were some areas I didn’t cover or test in my videos like using VTK on a mobile device, what the parents see, and the My Troop and Finances tabs.  If you’re so inclined to watch the videos, here you go:

VTK and You Video List:

Want to go straight to YouTube?  Here’s the playlist of all five.



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