It never fails that we’ll have at least one person per training, if not more, that is convinced they don’t make widgets. If you’ve ever read Ken Miller’s book, We Don’t Make Widgets: Overcoming the Myths that Keep Government From Radically Improving, this probably sounds familiar to you. If you haven’t, let me summarize quickly what it means. A widget is the deliverable at the end of your system of work. So for some people, it’s much easier for them to define: if I am awarding marriage licenses, my widget is a marriage license. If I am adopting a pet from the Denver Animal Shelter, my widget is the waggly new pup someone is taking home. But for others, it can be tough to name a widget, especially if what they do feels less tangible and more like a service.

Elaine Jackson, a Social Emotional Academic Learning (SEAL) Coach for the Office of Children’s Affairs, is one of these people. Elaine is also brilliant, so it didn’t take her long after being introduced to the concept of widgets and systems of work in our Public Service Superhero Training, to start thinking about the widgets of her service-based job. One of the widgets Elaine wanted to improve is her coaching calls.

Before the onset of COVID-19, SEAL coaches would make live observations in out-of-school-time programs and create a coaching loop based on observations and goals. SEAL coaches are currently not permitted in the after-school space and rely on site director’s information about sites to generate conversations. This means conversations haven’t lasted as long or haven’t been high-quality, with concrete discussions about goals, leadership and personal/professional development. While conversations were previously tracked, the notes were not helpful in future conversations and did not help with rich dialogue. Elaine created a new tracker to organize information happening across multiple spaces, create valuable coaching conversations and provide cohesion. Elaine’s tracker also gave her space to evaluate the conversation on a scored scale and make notes on further improvements.

“By identifying the widgets in my work I was able to look at coaching calls from both qualitative and quantitative angles. This truly illuminated why the work that I do is so important- all thanks to the widgets that I didn’t know were there!”

Elaine Jackson, SEAL Coach in the Office of Children’s Affairs

The tracker is already paying off and has increased call quality and efficiency by 37%. How’s that for making a non-widgety widget into a very widgety IMPROVED widget?!

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