Posted 30 May, 2014 by Alix Dunn

How Do They Do It?: International Mentors Share Tactics at engine room SkillShare


Photo CC BY 2.0 by C!…

Last week we held an online skillshare on how to successfully manage a mentorship process. The focus was on tactics and experiences supporting advocacy organizations who are exploring how to use technology and data in their work. We were lucky to have four experienced mentors, and the expertise and interest of K-Monitor who is in the process of setting up a mentorship program with 10 NGOs in Hungary.

The mentors who volunteered their time to talk about their experiences and tactics included:

Advocacy organizations often evolve their tactics to reach their goals. Whether groups are developing projects to use open data to expose corruption, or launching creative campaigns that use new media, introducing technology into projects that organizations don’t have direct experience with is a challenge. The process of planning a new type of project that uses different and new tools can be intimidating for advocacy organizations. Especially if that new type of project includes heavy technology or data components. It can mean lots of decisions, and sometimes little in-house experience to draw on to make those decisions. Mentors try to make these decisions easier by providing strategic support and advice. They soak up diverse experiences while working with many organizations in many contexts and use what they learn to positively influence the work of organizations who don’t have much experience using technology and data in their work.

Supporting projects in this way poses many challenges – how to effectively support organizations working in vastly different issue areas, how not to get sucked into the project you are trying to help, how to make sure you are positively impacting the project, etc. But, with more and more mentor organizations working to make it easier for advocacy organizations to navigate options and plan high impact projects, there are new experiences, tactics, and ideas churning in many mentor-mentee relationships. Enter the skillshare.

The goal of the skillshare was twofold: support K-Monitor as it sets up its new mentorship program by providing insights and answering questions; setting up a space to share experiences and learn about new tactics from fellow mentors.

We talked about 4 big topics:

  • How to ensure that partners stay engaged and invested in the mentorship throughout the life of the project
  • How to document a partnership, both internally for the mentor, and externally for public communication about the mentorship
  • How to monitor and evaluate the impact that the mentorship has on the partners
  • How to make learning across partners’ projects possible

These are obviously complex questions with no clear answer. The experienced mentors who took part in the skillshare had lots of ideas and tactics to share.

Big takeaways included:

  • Establishing a routine for the partnership is key to successful documentation and ensuring that the engagement stays on track. Mentors cited routines that ranged from weekly calls, to active mailing lists, to regularly scheduled in-person meetings and meetups with several partners.
  • Having, defining, reviewing, and adjusting clear goals are key to keeping a mentorship on track. Goals should include targets for the mentorship and targets for the project itself. Partners should be encouraged to revisit big project goals at regular intervals to ensure that they are working towards them. By keeping big goals clear, it will be easier to help a project get there. It will also make it more likely that the project will accomplish what they set out to accomplish.
  • If a mentor is working with several organizations and wants them to learn from each other, the mentor must put energy into creating a sense of family and community between the partners. Otherwise, there won’t be an incentive for partners to “waste” time on other organizations’ projects. Using common pain points across projects to establish community can be an effective way of building relationships between partners and finding efficient ways of solving common problems.
  • Monitoring and evaluating impact of mentorships requires documentation of routine interactions and collecting creative (but structured) data that can describe the sometimes surprising impact that mentorships and projects have. One mentor cited her organization’s surveying strategy. To track projects and encourage sound adjustments in strategy, her organization carried out 5-question surveys with partners every two weeks and volunteer support teams every month. These surveys act are a tool to collect data but also to encourage partners to revisit project goals regularly.
  • It’s key to do the monitoring and evaluating throughout the course of the partnership. The more that mentors collect information in a way that can be used for both monitoring the mentorship and the impact of the project, the better.

 A couple of questions that we would love your feedback on:

  • How can mentors share information and data about the partnerships with partners in a way that supports the project (and not just the documentation and impact assessment that a mentor may be carrying out)?
  • How to plant seeds of collaboration between partners?
  • What to do if the mentorship advice becomes too divergent from a partner’s views on how a project should be carried out?
  • What are the signs that a partner is not invested enough in a project, or that the mentor is taking over the project?

Are you mentoring organizations who are working with tools and strategies that are new to them? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the issues laid out here, and hear from you if you would be interested in taking part in another discussion about tricks of the mentorship trade. Get in touch at post [at] theengineroom [dot] org!



This skill share was sponsored by and done in collaboration with WeGov, a project of Personal Democracy Media.


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