Building Institutional Knowledge to Enhance Labor Education in the Midwest

The Client: The Midwest School for Women Workers (MSWW) is one of the four annual regional schools sponsored by the United Association for Labor Education (UALE), a national labor organization. The MSWW hosts an annual conference that seeks to empower and educate women workers across the Midwest. Each year the MSWW rotates to a different location within the Midwest. The 2019 MSWW is being hosted at the University of Iowa Labor Center by Jen Sherer and Robin Clark-Bennett.

The Problem: Both the UALE and MSWW are volunteer-based and ad hoc in nature. Because of this, the MSWW is largely dependent on personal relationships. There is no clear point of contact at the UALE for MSWW coordinators, leaving them with little support for planning and implementing the School. Further, because the MSWW is a rotating conference, coordinators struggle to build and transfer institutional knowledge each year. Lastly, the UALE is not a 501(c)(3) organization, so coordinators also struggle to find funding when they host the MSWW. As a result, the MSWW has been unable to create consistency or sustainability from one year to the next.  

The Outcome: As part of the project, the team interviewed stakeholders that are involved in the MSWW in various capacities—participants, coordinators, members of the UALE Executive Board, and the UALE Women’s Caucus Co-chairs—and developed an understanding of the MSWW’s strengths and challenges. In doing so, the team identified strategies that would be immediately helpful for MSWW coordinators to make the School more efficient and effective and would also help the MSWW build a stronger foundation and enhance its sustainability. The team presented their work to the 2019 MSWW coordinators in a deliverable describing the team’s process, project scope, analysis criteria, spectrum of recommendations, and final recommendations for the MSWW’s future as a legal entity.  In addition, the team created several tools for the MSWW including, a library of template documents to be used each year, a planning guide and checklist, a Trello page to allow for better information sharing amongst the coordinators, and brief how-to videos for each tool.