Involvement Compass: How does it work?

by , under Je peux vous aider

aka, why doesn’t it work?

I’m willing to acknowledge the validity of both of those questions as long as I am permitted to assert, here and now, that each is a fundamentally different question.

Related, yes. Overlapping, sure. Inversions of each other, never.

How it works concerns its function as a technical artefact.

Where it fails necessitates a wider analysis of both technical and contextual factors, and maybe even provides some insight into systemic something.

Let’s do the easy one first.

How does the Involvement Compass work?

WHY

From the beginning, the Involvement Compass was an ambitious project designed to recursively solve the problem of students confusion on campus.

As we progress through university, we move through, around, and in between departments of departments with overlapping spheres of responsibility influenced to varying degrees by a wide array of stakeholders with differing levels of influence. No surprises, then, that, while opportunites for student enrichment abound, it can be very difficult to know about them all at once–they tend to become highly stratified–many are known about only by small groups of people in a particular friend group or faculty. The Ethnocultural Support Service is perhaps an example of this. If you’ve heard about it before your third year, you did better than I did. The internship opportunities offered by the USC is potentially another.

The idea was (and is) to make opportunites for student involvement easily findable for students looking for involvement. How novel the thinking!

THE PRINCIPLE

If the mechanics at work behind the scenes can get a bit convoluted, it is only because the concept seems so simple.

As a student, you go through a quiz in which the questions test for a level of interest in a particular category of opportunity or a general trait that may be widely or narrowly appliciable.

A category might be Business/Finance Opportunities, while traits might be ‘frequency of meetings’ or ‘case competitions.’

Indicating an interest in a particular category will result in more questions about that category, which would otherwise be skipped.

Once you have finished the quiz, you will have amassed a collection of specific answers to specific questions–you will, in effect, have created a path.

Now, when matching you with opportunities, it is likely that you will be a best fit for opportunites with a compatible culture–that is, for opportunities belonging to a category interested that also posess certain traits you consider important.

If this is all beginning to sound self-apparent, that’s because it’s meant to be. In order to know what to do with your indicated areas of interest, we need to know about the interests inherent in each of our opportunities: specifically, the category that each of them belongs to and some of the traits as an organization. The Western Sport Business Club probably belongs to Business/Finance as a category, and might have trait of meeting once a month.

As it turns out, there’s a very obvious way to find out about them: the Involvement Compass. USC-Ratified student clubs were asked to sign up for the Involvement Compass by filling out the quiz themselves (the same one you would take as a user), and at that point we would be able to compare their stated interests to yours.

The result of this is that, as a student, your path (all of your answers) is matched against the paths (all of their answers) of the various Opportunities on the assumption that Opportunities whose answers are similar to yours are the ones that will appeal to you most.

Does that sound theoretically sound? Well, it should, because it’s meant to be. It would be even better if it worked as intended.

Why doesn’t the Involvement Compass work?

PREFACE

This is actually a much harder question to answer, so I’m going to do it a bit cheaply, and just hope that you’ll forgive me. I’m going to list some of what I feel are the primary problems with the Involvement Compass, loosely categorized as being either Technical or Nontechnical. I’m not sure if that’s the best way to break them up, but it seems like the obvious way to do it from this vantage point.

TECHNICAL FACTORS

  • Too much reinventing led to a problem of trying to recreate everything which eventually meant sacrificing some aspects. For example, there is no back-end interface where it would be easy to login in order to change text of the questions or modify their order. It’s called reinventing the wheel and I did a lot of it.
  • Rigidity in the wrong places happened a little by accident. The previous example suggests that it would be hard to modify the order of the questions unless one was a programmer. Turns out it’s still kind of hard if you are a programmer. This one’s totally the fault of the Technical Infrastructure Intern, but models can be reworked.
  • WesternLink’s API introduced a few problems in of itself. WesternLink allows for information to be called from its database and used in other places, but the fact that it takes 15 seconds for the information to come in meant that it was necessary to store information locally. A few database tables had to be set up in order to store/update information from WesternLink, which took a good amount of time as the launch of the project neared.

NON-TECHNICAL FACTORS

  • Not enough diversity of organizations to join. The only Opportunities retrievable from the Involvement Compass right now are USC Clubs, and then only if they chose to opt-in. If, in taking the quiz, you say that you are interested in campus media, organizations like the Gazette or CHRW aren’t even possible to be returned.
  • The quiz itself is somewhat imperfect. As it stands, it makes promises it doesn’t keep (for example, asking about media at all), and the way that it asks questions is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes you are asked what you are interested in, and other times you are merely told what is available.
  • A lack of institutional support has been in evidence. Now, to be fair, this is not any one person’s fault, and neither can I be absolved. Not enough understanding about what the Involvement Compass was supposed to do, how its eventual success or failure would be evaluated, or how it would be maintained in the future were considered ahead of time. Ultimately, this is the hardest barrier to overcome, and hopefully–given more time near the end of the year–it can be mitigated.

Wrap-up

So there you are. I don’t know if it’s what you wanted, but it’s probably less bad than nothing at all. A very simple-sounding idea in theory (at least, I thought it would be) ultimately failed to reach its full potential because of a lack of proper consideration of where people were to interact with the system. Hopefully, I can work to improve some of the problems holding it back over the coming months.

But if not, then at least I got to practice my writing instead of doing my weekly readings.

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