MEET THE PARENTS: HOW TO INCREASE RECRUITMENT OF PARENT VOLUNTEERS
"Meet the Parents" was a project undertaken whilst taking part in Kingston University's 'Design for Innovation' module (a standalone part of their Master's programme) and was a live project involving a local primary school and its Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
Being a parent a the school myself was an advantage for this project, with challenges such as recruiting participants for research and being able to observe PTA meetings etc made much more straightforward. The first piece of work was to discover the barriers to volunteering, which I did through a widely shared questionnaire and some in depth interviews with parents. From these insights I was able to create personas to help think through the barriers from various perspectives.
PTA meetings provided an excellent way to observe and interview key stake holders, from head teachers, through to PTA leaders and specialist volunteers. One key insight from this stage of the research was that there was a fear among parents that if they volunteered once, they might be called upon to help too frequently after that. It was also clear that childcare issues was a big barrier, especiallly as there was a perception that most help was required during the evenings.
Others insights coming from this phase was that there was a lack of knowledge of the range of ways in which parents could volunteer. There was also a huge communication barrier when it came to contact between the PTA and potential volunteers. At this time, large class/parent Whatsapp groups hadn't really become the norm and due to data issues, the school weren't able to release contact details of parents. So the PTA were mostly reliant on the requests for help coming in one of the many email correspondances that the school would be sending on a daily basis to all parents. Such broad requests were consistantly struggling to get a repsonse from anyone other than the usual small bank of overworked volunteers.
In response to the challenges outlined above, I prototyped a communication systems, using Whatsapp as the platform, which broke potential volunteer roles down, based on the commitment levels needed and when and where the help was required. I tested this at a PTA meeting and adapted the categories according to feedback.
We then piloted the overall concept at a parents welcome eveing, with large poster detailing the categories and the estimated time committment that each would require. The poster also had the advantage of informing parents of the varied types of volunteer activities that were on offer, something which would not necessarily been make clear previously.
Reflections on the project
This was a fascinating project which I would have loved to take further had work commitments not taken me elsewhere. Time issues meant that opportunity to gather feedback was limited, but from my own experience piloting the system at the new parents evening, there was undeniably a welcome clarity to the messaging and I was made aware that the PTA was well staffed for the following year.