There are numerous benefits to having a team around your project – to help share the workload, keep you motivated, and improve the quality and impact of the final resource. Without a team, you may not be able to complete your project, or might take a very long time to do so. Take a look at our overview of building a team for more on why teams are important. Once you’ve worked through scoping your project, chances are you’ll see a number of different places where you could use some extra hands.
Given the need for extra hands, most teams will likely have at least some volunteers involved. Volunteers are, to put it simply, people who believe in your project and are willing to devote their time and expertise to it without much (or any) financial compensation. The fact that many volunteers will be expending time, energy, and more on your project without any payment, makes their contributions all the more valuable.
It’s also important to remember that even those who are compensated in some way, or who have a mandate in their day job to support OER (so might not be officially considered volunteers) are likely to be putting in more than they are paid to do. Many of the people involved are likely to be contributing to a project because they believe in it, and it’s important for managers to be aware of that and not take advantage. Project managers, and indeed the whole team, should recognise the value of the labour put into a project and find ways to make sure it is recognised and rewarded in a variety of ways, not just financial compensation.
Volunteers, whether officially designated as such or not, come with all sorts of wonderful skills that you might not have yourself – so recognize the value they bring, and most importantly, don’t take them for granted!
Before you begin finding people to help, we recommend taking a few important steps to prepare.
Define What You Need
The first step is to think about and write out the details of what you need someone to do, which might take the form of a job description. You might be looking for chapter authors, peer reviewers, or editors, but the job description helps you clearly lay out their specific duties. Try to be as precise as possible – you should list out the various tasks, expectations, and/or responsibilities of the new contributor. In so doing, you should also get a sense of the time commitment needed on the part of the contributor, include an estimated time frame for the job in the description – this is not only for you to keep track of the contributor’s workload, but also so that interested volunteers have a sense of how much time they will need to devote to the project.
Once you’ve been through this process, we suggest you preface the details of the task or job with a brief summary of your project and the work that has been done so far, then finish with information on how to volunteer or participate, and who to contact with any questions. Here’s a sample job description for a part editor on an introductory philosophy text.
Decide Who You Need
Once you have a sense of the various tasks that a contributor would need to complete, you can decide on any critical requirements or criteria potential contributors should fulfil. This is a way of ensuring that you find the right person (or people) for the job, and you can be as broad or specific as needed. For instance, if your project is to create an open textbook for introductory philosophy, as in our example above, you might be looking for “faculty or PhD students (ABD)”, but you can also list things like “experience teaching first-year philosophy courses” as a requirement for chapter authors.
Depending on the task, however, you might find that these criteria are more of an added bonus than an absolute requirement. For instance, a copyeditor on a Hispanic Literature open textbook project would need to be fluent in Spanish, but a cover designer might not need the same level of fluency.
Once you’re clear on any requirements, make sure to add these criteria to the job description so they’re clear to anyone interested in volunteering.
Figure Out the Logistics
Recruiting new collaborators is a team effort (no pun intended), but to avoid any confusion, it’s best to figure out who is responsible for what to make sure it all goes smoothly. The two major tasks are: sending the calls for contributors and collecting the responses. In some cases, such as during the peer review stage, it might be obvious that the review coordinator is the one in charge, but it might not always be so clear cut. Make sure you speak with your team about who will send out calls for contributors through which channels (everyone should have a hand in here! You all have your own networks to tap into) and who should field the responses and any questions (this should ideally be one or two people at most to avoid crossed wires).
Write and Refine the Call
The most critical piece of the recruitment process is the call inviting collaborators to join the project. The copy requires a fine balance of information – too much can disengage (or flat out bore) the user, while too little could leave them hesitant to participate. The key to writing a good call is to be clear about what you are looking for – this is where the job description prepared earlier comes in handy!
While there are many details that you could include, be judicious about what people need to know up front. Generally, this will be the information that most directly affects their ability to participate, i.e. what you want them to do, and when you want them to do it by. The deadline for receiving applications is also an important one. Make sure to include this either at the start or the end of the call, so potential contributors know the latest date to get in touch.
Ideally, the language you use should also get the reader excited about the project, and build up a desire for them to take part. You can play up the community aspect of the project, and let readers know that in participating, they would join a team of scholars working to build a valuable resource. You could also include a list of other contributors on the project, or the institutions that they are from, to motivate others to join the team. If your project has a specific mission or unique aspects, be sure to mention these as well.
Remember to tell the reader why they ought to join this project! What’s in it for them? They might be motivated by the ‘good deed’ aspect, but readers will also be skimming through the call to see what other benefits they might receive out of working on your project. This could include a byline as an author/editor, other credit in the book, or money. If you have funds available, list any financial compensation available for the role.
We also recommend writing a few sentences encouraging people from traditionally underrepresented groups to apply. A nod in this direction can help encourage people to apply, and even if you already have a diverse team assembled, more input from people with different experiences can only make the project stronger.
Overall, the structure of the call is similar to that of the job description: introduce yourself, and the project briefly, linking to the project summary for more information. Next, mention the specific position you are looking to fill, any requirements for participation, and add a link to the longer job description. Make sure to list the deadline to submit an application and instructions on how to express interest (respond to the email, post in a public forum, join an activity on an online platform, etc.).
Once you and your team are happy with the details and the language, you can start spreading the word!
Now that you know who and what you need, it’s time to tell the world! Here’s how to get the word out and bring your new recruits on board.
Share the call widely, and crowdsource efforts
It’s important to get as many eyeballs on your call as possible! Simple probability says that the more people who see the call, the higher the likelihood of someone responding to it. You and the leadership team should of course share the call yourselves, but also encourage everyone else on the project to do the same.
A good place to start when sending out the call is to crowdsource a list of places where it could be shared. There are a number of channels where you can share the call, including but not limited to:
- Listservs or mailing lists in your field
- Community listservs or specific mailing lists for traditionally underserved or underrepresented groups
- Your personal and professional networks
- Colleagues and/or OER champions at your institution
- Social media platforms
- Rebus Community newsletter and other mailing lists focused on open education
- Cold calls (not quite a channel, but sometimes worth a shot)
Generally speaking, subject specific mailing-lists and personal networks will help target instructors, faculty, or researchers, and might be best for tasks that require expertise in content like writing, reviewing, beta testing, or adopting. Calls sent on social media or OER in newsletters target a more general group of people, and would be a good channel for activities like formatting, proofreading, or copyediting. Cold calls can be used to target specific people for any activity, but these do require a fair bit of work to find suitable persons to contact, and may not always have the best return on time invested.
Responding to interested contributors
Now that you’re getting a flood of responses from interested collaborators (or so we hope!), it’s important that you, or the person assigned, get back to them quickly! Replying within a day or two is ideal, as it’s important not just as a sign of respect to the respondent, but also to capitalise on their interest! Keep in mind that anyone who reaches out is potentially a valuable team member and advocate for the project, even if they don’t end up taking on the role you’ve shared. Also, if people keep asking the same questions, you can take the cue to add more information to the call and/or job description.
If you receive an expression of interest from someone who doesn’t seem right for the position, be sure to thank them for their interest in your project, and let them know that there may be other roles on the project for which they would be better suited. If they don’t meet some of the criteria listed for the position, you can (if needed) lean on this to explain your decision, which is why it’s good to have these things in writing in advance.
If you receive an expression of interest from someone who does seem right for the position, but can’t commit to the timeline or time frame you have set out, again, say thanks first! Let them know that their timelines don’t match what you had in mind, but try to keep them as an option in case you don’t find anyone else. You can suggest continuing the search for the moment, but that you’ll reach back if you are unable to recruit someone on your preferred timeline. If you do find an alternate, be sure to update them! And when you do, you should always offer to keep them in the loop for any future tasks and project updates.
Finally, if you don’t receive any responses, don’t despair! Go back to the drawing board and try these:
- See if anything is missing, confusing or unclear in the call or job description
- Ask some colleagues, or existing team members, if they can see anything that might need changing in your copy
- Think about whether the job can be broken into smaller components that are less of a commitment
- Think about timing – if everyone is buried in planning or marking, you might need to wait a while for people to respond
- Revisit your outreach plan, research some other options, and keep sending!
Sometimes it’s just a question of keeping at it, making small adjustments, and sending again until you find the right mix.
And now, if you’ve been keeping track of the combinations, you’ll know there’s only one left… the magic formula of someone who has responded to your call, is interested in the project, and happy to work within the timeframe outlined. Hooray! Keep reading to see how to onboard this new team member onto your project!
Onboarding a new recruit
First things first, reply to the contributor confirming that you would like to welcome them aboard the project! As with all the other responses, don’t forget to thank them for their interest and for volunteering their time. Gratitude and enthusiasm go a long way when you’re asking for people’s time and energy.
Next, explain the process and send them all the information you have about the task they will be completing, and let them know that questions are welcome. For instance, if you’re recruiting a new author for your project, you should explain the writing and editorial process, share the author guide, point to a model chapter, and confirm deadlines for receiving a first draft. Before they begin working on their task in earnest, you should also share any MOUs, contracts, or agreements with the contributor to sign (e.g. our example contributor MOU). Let the new recruit(s) know what tools or channels of communication you use, so they know how to contact you or other members on the team. At this point, you could also share any tracking sheets or other resources that you are using for managing tasks or the project.
At this stage, it’s often a good idea to set up a call to go over all of this information, rather than relying solely on email. This is a chance to go through the details and answer any outstanding questions they might have about the project or their role specifically.
In the spirit of collaboration, you should also introduce the new contributor to the rest of your team, which can also be done on a call, especially if you’re bringing on several people at the same time. Connecting team members with each other, not just the admin. team, is critical to building a community of people around your OER and project!
Now that your team is coming together, it’s time to get to work! Your next job is to make sure your new team has everything they need to be successful. Read on for a few tips.
Keep contributors involved
While the hard work of the recruitment portion is over, now is the critical time to ensure that team members are involved and engaged as they go about their assigned tasks. While there’s always a chance that contributors might drop out of the project for various reasons, you want to make sure that they aren’t motivated to do so as a result of how the project is being managed or due to a lack of communication with the larger team.
Clearly communicating with each member on your team is key, so make sure you share information that they need to know and are upfront about anything, such as changes in schedule, additional work, delays, etc. Over the course of the project, stay in touch with contributors and check-in regularly on their tasks. You should also send them frequent updates on the progress being made overall. It’s also helpful to ask for their feedback on various aspects of the project: their experience could give them added insight or provide a critical perspective that improves how a task is managed or carried out.
For more ideas, take a look at our our effective collaboration guide.
Other things to keep in mind
While we’ve laid out a start-to-finish process here, recruitment is likely to be ongoing on your project as you reach and discover various activities where you need more hands on deck. The first time will always be the most work, but from then on, for additional calls, you can reuse a lot of your copy, adjust in response to feedback, reach out through the same channels, leverage your growing team, and your target audience will already know who you are and what you’re doing! Besides, it only gets better and easier with practice.
It’s also good to know that sometimes you’ll end up with more people volunteering than anticipated. Take a moment to rethink how many people are needed for the job and whether more people could be beneficial. For example, if you were counting on one author per chapter and you have more interested, they might be interested in collaborating. You can always adjust! No matter what, though, the most important thing is to keep everyone who reaches out involved in some way or the other. Even if they’re not working on the project directly, anyone interested enough in what you’re doing is an asset.
Other times, despite your best efforts, you’ll get fewer people expressing interest than desired. This is okay – it happens to us all. In these cases, it’s a question of quality over quantity, and you can work to make sure you get the most out of those you have. This means making the experience a positive one for them, and being flexible in terms of timelines and workloads to keep things manageable.
Finally, remember that any contributor to the project is a volunteer (even if they are financially compensated). They are choosing to give their time and expertise on your project, so do whatever you can to make it worth their while, and recognize their contributions however you can.