You don’t need special tools to break down walls
November 5, 2014
By Courtney Francis
Meeting people and exchanging ideas can open new doors, awaken our brains, and be the foundation for new friendships and collaborations. Connecting with those working in adjoining spaces offers new perspectives and experiences that can inspire and improve your work. It’s not only important, but fun!
It might seem intimidating, but stepping out of your network doesn’t have to be hard- especially when you empower the community to actively participate. We want to share two experiences we’ve had this year that really helped to build a community of like-minded professionals. Turns out it’s pretty easy to do.
Taking a look around us: EdTechPGH Meetup
We started by checking out the Pittsburgh community for opportunities to make connections. The ed tech community is growing here. But, but it’s still relatively new, making it a little disconnected. We wanted to fill the gaps and bring together unique groups of people, so we decided to take a stab at creating an informal Meetup that was run by the local community of ed tech enthusiasts.
When we started, we had no idea what they needed - so we decided to ask them! Novel idea, right?
We hosted a networking event with the explicit purpose of prioritizing future events. Broad requirements for membership meant we could work to link a variety of people in our community. At the time, it felt like a bit of a gamble; would their needs align with each other? Would they want to make the effort to plan their own events? Would they take ownership over the meetup?
We provided some structure to gather and document people’s needs. We had them write event ideas on sticky notes and clustered them on the wall. We used technique from the LUMA Institute called “Visualize the Vote” to prioritize them to inform future meetups.

We documented what we learned and shared it with the group so new members would understand what the community was all about. Each event we host fits the broad goals of the group: knowledge sharing, community building, teacher resources and tech policy. We’ve had 4 meetups so far and because we put the community in charge from the start they’ve begun to take over ownership of events.
Moving beyond Pittsburgh: Interesting People Breakfasts
What other opportunities did we have to make connections? We attend a lot of conferences and meet a lot of great people that we thought should know each other. But conference schedules are CRAZY- how could we get anyone’s time? How could we contend with sessions, workshops, social events and travel?
The answer was breakfast. Interesting People Breakfast.
The concept was simple, yet meaningful to us and our colleagues: make connections, talk education, and start off a busy conference day with some good food. We asked everyone we invited to invite someone else who was equally interesting. This meant less planning on our part, and new connections for everyone.
Of course people love to eat, but we were impressed with the lengths they went to join us. They met us at 7am on a Saturday. They rode a bicycle 12 miles. They walked 30 minutes through chilly morning air, all to meet new people and share experiences.
The bottom line is that you don’t need a large amount of resources or strategy to connect with people outside of your network. You just need to find interesting, passionate people and a little bit of time. Interesting conversation goes a long way, and can lead to long-lasting professional relationships.
Courtney Francis
I'm the Outreach Manager at Working Examples. I'm passionate about design, collaboration and technology, and I get really excited when they work together to solve problems and promote innovation.
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