This summer, The Patterson Foundation was looking for a tool to increase engagement and feedback across various events and activities. PollEverywhere was selected as the experimental tool of choice. I was having flashbacks to my past life working for a company that created “active learning” software for higher education. I’m all for creating pathways to collect feedback and offering new ways to engage at large format events. But...a polling tool?

From experience on my former marketing team, polling technology was used for quizzes, to enforce attendance, and to trick students into paying attention. If a professor had a sense of humor, sometimes it was used to break up the monotony of lecture. But to engage the way TPF was planning, I wasn’t sure how the community connection would happen.

I’m happy to report that I’ve been proven wrong over and over again in the last few months. Like so many other pieces of technology, it is what you make it. While my colleagues working in the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading have used it in a variety of ways, I have used it in two ways, which I deemed in my head to be “experimental.”

First, some of you may remember me from kicking off Rich Harwood’s Stepping Forward community presentations. I was pretty sure no one would care about our opening activity, but I’m happy to report that it not only focused the crowd’s attention, and the emoji word clouds were a big laugh for everyone. Nothing creates a feeling of togetherness more than a group laugh.

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My second experimental usage is in the Stepping Forward book circles. Technology is not everyone’s friend, so I was concerned that by asking folks to contribute to community-wide PollEverywhere questions, we’d create barriers to participation. There was, and continues to be, a learning curve with the “remote polling” experience. Our first set of instructions weren’t clear enough, our location of the links iffy. But the channels of communication are open so that we’re able to implement feedback and change our methods quickly to make it a better experience for all.

Most importantly, the Stepping Forward book circle questions have shown that across diverse groups in our community, we really do have a lot in common. Originally, the questions were going to be contained to each book circle. However, because of how PollEverywhere works, the process evolved to all book circles contributing to one cloud. The value is immeasurably higher. In real-time, we can see how responses evolve as more groups meet. We can all compare and contrast and find common ground in strangers’ responses. Even though many of us will never meet in person, thanks to the modern miracle of online polling, we can see ourselves reflected in our community.

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