At Digital Services, we know a lot about radio — hey, even though we’re digital, we’re still National Public Radio — but we don’t know as much as we’d like about day-to-day operations inside the offices of NPR Member stations. We partner with stations on goals. We train stations how to use our products. We talk with stations about challenges. But not many of us have a deep understanding of what it’s like for the people who work at a station and use our products.
So we decided to do something about it.
Starting in January, we began sending DS staff to visit stations, meet counterparts, and get an introduction to life inside the network we serve. So far, we’ve sent ten Digital Services people to four stations around New England — and more visits are planned.
Why is this important?
We think it’s self evident that the better we understand how stations operate, the better we can fulfill our mission. But it’s more than that.
We want our people — software developers, product managers, support staff — to have a more informed understanding that we work on behalf of the NPR Member station network. We aren’t providing software to an impersonal group of “customers,” but to a very specific group of allies and colleagues.
How does it work?
We started by reaching out to stations and asking if they would be interested in allowing us an inside look at their station. We selected stations that were generally within a three- to four-hour drive from our Boston office — in other words, stations we can visit relatively easily. Of course, we hope to and are happy to include stations further afield, but it might take a little longer for us to arrange the visit. We will be looking for more opportunities to reach out to other stations throughout 2016.
For stations who are interested, we select a group of three to five Digital Services personnel and schedule a visit lasting from two to four hours. What happens during these visits varies, and we follow a fluid agenda that includes a brief station tour, “job shadowing” (where we can observe how day-to-day work gets done), and some form of open-ended conversation — asking and answering questions, brainstorming, whatever makes sense for the people who are present.
So far, the visits have gone very well, and have provided valuable, eye-opening information. We’ve been to MPBN, NEPR, and WHDD (Robin Hood Radio, “the smallest NPR station in the nation”). We are currently working with some other close-by stations to schedule visits in the next month.
We’ve heard from stations about their audiences and plans for the future; we’ve observed staff working with our products; and we’ve heard about challenges and successes — both in how they use digital technology and in how they engage with their communities.
Perhaps most important, a growing number of Digital Services staff now has first-person knowledge of how stations function. Yes, it’s limited knowledge — you can only get so much from a half-day visit — but it’s meaningful just the same. Our people return from station visits energized with new ideas, happy to share their experiences with the rest of us, and — we believe — better positioned to serve station needs.
After each station visit, our staff will share notes about what they learned. If we see opportunities for improvement in any area, we’ll share them with our colleagues at NPR — and with Member stations as well.
We aim to visit several more stations over this winter and spring, and we plan to write about some, if not all, of those visits — so look for updates here. If your station hasn’t heard from us and would like to participate, please let us know. Contact Jackie McBride, firstname.lastname@example.org, to get started.