NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article

Are User Groups Infected With Funnel Vision?
by Lynn L. Kauer, President/Editor, February 2002
Saginaw Valley Computer Association
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Funnel vision is a malady that too often infects small organizations. This malady isn't restricted to user groups per se as it can infect any organization. The development of the malady originates from the thinking that only information gathered from a closed group is important or meaningful. I've seen the writing of editors pleading for articles from their members so that they will have something to put into their publication. This article is intended to bring to light my thoughts and opinions I've come to realize since I became involved as editor over eight years ago.

It is no secret that the SVCA exchanges newsletters with other user groups. They are a wealthy source of information and differing ideas that we use for a number of purposes. I've long seen a pattern that I call "Funnel Vision" that can invade a user group and cause its demise. There are many forms.

When I speak of funnel vision I am speaking to how a group attains information. We all know that a funnel is a cone shaped device that is large at one end and tapering to a small opening at the other. We use a funnel to pour liquids or powders into containers with small openings. The reason is that the liquid we are pouring into the funnel may originate from a saucepan (larger source) that contains a lot of liquid but by its very shape doesn't allow a small stream to flow from it. Thus, the funnel contains the overflow, the transfer of liquid is contained, and the liquid is transferred into the smaller container.

User groups are small containers while the APCUG community is the larger container. If we learn to use the resources of the large community we can use the information to educate our members.

Symptoms of the Disease
As I scan the newsletters we receive, and those I access online, I find two distinctive forms of funnel vision evident. The worst form are the newsletters that contain only advertising with a short message from the President covering the reports of the groups last meeting or where he or she last traveled. There is no information transferred to the reader except for advertisements. I've often wondered why the group wants to spend its money publishing each month. Possibly it's because it is a source of revenue and the monetary reward is all that is important to them.

The less insidious form of funnel vision is more widespread. These newsletters are by and large a good-looking publication with a decent layout. The funnel vision becomes evident when it becomes apparent that only members of the group are contributing to it. Sadly, the editor has elected to only publish articles written by its own membership.

As I watch them over a period of time it becomes apparent that few new insights or ideas are being shared. All the information is basically being recycled into new forms of wording but little new information is offered.

Over the years I have watched the publications of these groups diminish in size. One that I looked forward to reading each month has shrunk from a 12 page to a 4-page publication because of lack of content. Every so often an article will appear by one of its writers that contains a tip or trick, a warning, a new idea or an insight about something the writer experienced the purpose of publishing a newsletter.

Sometimes, I receive a newsletter where the editor has left a page or two blank with a note on it that reads: "This page is blank because nobody contributed anything this month." While it is intended to encourage writers to contribute it has a negative effect. People join user groups for two purposes: to be informed or entertained. When people are cajoled into having to write something, even if it's trivial, this is in my opinion funnel vision at its worst.

Too often publications contain nothing but reviews written by its members. I'll admit that I am not one to get really excited about reading reviews. I'm not opposed to publishing reviews but I feel that there is a need for balance. My reason for speaking on reviews is that I see it as a form of funnel vision because it again restricts information to a closed group. An argument is that it is a method of getting people to write and contribute to the newsletter. The intent is to have the writer develop into a person who will write creatively.

Yet, if the only information attained is from the closed group where do the seeds of creativity come from? How creative can a person get if all they are reduced to is writing a review in order to have something to print in a newsletter? Possibly, if they were exposed to articles written by authors of other groups they would get the vision and motivation to write something truly creative. When they see what others do they learn to see outside of themselves and look at new products and ideas with a new purpose.

Looking Through The Funnel
To this point I have been speaking of how I perceive some groups look at their organization through a funnel. When the focus of information is contained from within their own group they are looking at the user group community from the large end of the funnel and seeing it restricted by the small end their own group.

I suggest they take the funnel, turn it around and look through it from the small end. You'll see a bigger picture. This bigger picture is the APCUG community. I, as an editor, scan newsletters printed and electronic for fresh new information and use them in our publications. No, the SVCA is not unique in this approach. Some of my favorite exchanges are the newsletters that also contain a nice mix of articles written by their own members plus those attained from others. These groups have learned to use the whole APCUG user group community for information and support. There are no blank pages in their publications.

I've watched the larger group publications like Big Blue and Cousins of Canada and Capital PC User Group of Washington DC. They originate from large member organizations that have people within their membership who write a series of articles focused on their areas of expertise. As I've watched their publications through the years I found that they also use articles from other groups. The point is, they too contribute and acquire from the entire APCUG user group community.

The point I have been trying to make is to encourage editors to use the entire user group community as a resource. There is a wealth of information available and some ideas that are totally new. To attain these resources all that they have to do is to turn their funnel around to see the bigger picture. There is no need for a group's publication to go wanting for a lack of articles. Use the resources from those who learned how to use a funnel for the greater vision of the APCUG community.

User Groups should feel free to reproduce this article as long as proper credit is given to the author, the Blue Chip News, and the Saginaw Valley Computer Association. Also, please send of a copy of the newsletter that carries the article to: Saginaw Valley Computer Association, PO Box 5827, Saginaw, MI 48603-0827. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.

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