On this month’s Community Call, two project teams from the CSCCE Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP) shared their research into what makes a great ambassador program and how we as scientific community engagement managers can support the members of our communities who volunteer to take part.
What is an ambassador program?
To advance the mission of the community with which they’re working, community managers often turn to ambassador programs. Also known as community champions or fellows, these more engaged users can help with beta testing, advocating for the community’s work, recruiting new members, launching specialized projects or other specific activities.
Both the Advocacy Ninjas (CEFP 2017) and the Busy Bees (CEFP 2019) conducted surveys to dig deeper. The Ninjas surveyed community managers running ambassador programs and the Bees reached out to participants, which means we are now starting to get a clearer picture of what these programs look like, what works, and what doesn’t. Here are some key takeaways from the teams’ presentations:
- Disseminating knowledge and resources and cultivating community culture were the main priorities for community managers running ambassador programs.
- The name of your program is important: ⅓ of programs used the term “ambassadors”, ⅕ used “champions,” and there is a sense that different names convey different meanings (e.g. “fellows” conveys a selective process for entry).
- However, for participants, the effect of naming a program is a little less straightforward. The Busy Bees found that people with named roles (e.g. champion or ambassador) appreciated it, but those who didn’t have a named role also appreciated their freedom.
- The most often cited incentive offered by community managers was recognition. Other incentives included a completion certificate/badge, access to a network, giveaways, or early access to content.
- This was validated by program participant data, which showed that their major motivations for taking part were social and cognitive (e.g. contributing to an organization’s mission, meeting like-minded people, and learning new things).
Tips for scientific community engagement managers
- Be up front about expectations: how long is a participant committed to a program? How many hours a week are volunteers expected to contribute?
- Start small and grow your program in a way that is sustainable. Do you have time to support the program or do you need additional resources?
- Public recognition is a strong motivator for participants, but consider other incentives such as financial support for your committed ambassadors.
- Take care of your ambassadors! They need support in terms of resources and materials, but also they need to be able to say no if they are overcommitted. Of the program participants surveyed, 67% said there are too many demands on their time.
For the first time, we added a 30 minute discussion section to our regular one hour community call. It was great to see so many folks sticking around for this, and we had a thoughtful discussion about the project teams’ findings and our own experiences of running – or contemplating running – programs. The conversation highlighted some areas for further thought:
- When we develop programs that are intended to foster culture change in science, are we just offering people a way out of academia by providing career development and recognition? While that’s not a bad thing in and of itself, it may not be advancing the goals of our organization.
- How is the program perceived by the community? Some on the call worried that ambassador programs could be viewed as free labor, work that really should be performed by paid staff.
- How do you decide if you are ready for an ambassador program, or if an ambassador program will further the goals of your community? Is there an optimal time to launch this type of programming?
A big thank you to our presenters and project teams:
CEFP2017 project team: Advocacy Ninjas
- Melanie Binder
- Stephanie O’Donnell
- Heidi Laješić
- Allen Pope*
- Gabrielle Rabinowitz
- Rosanna Volchok*
CEFP2019 project team: Busy Bees
- Toby Hodges
- Naomi Penfold*
- Korie Twiggs
- Kathryne Woodle*
* indicates presenters
Updated October 2020: you can now view the recordings of these presentations on our YouTube channel, along with other archived Community Calls. And, our Community champions programs resource page is now live, with loads of resources to help you plan and launch your own program.