Three hot and sunny days of borderx racing, timed downhill descents on two tracks, and freestyle jumps and tricks.
Today was the ATBA-UK’s first event practice day. In previous years we ran six events a year and so we kept our event management skills sharp, but now that we only have one competition a year we get rusty and we only have one chance to get it right. So we decided that we would practice.
It was the first time that we had the whole team together and spent time talking through how we manage safety during the competitions, the process for registering riders to compete (which is now paperless and much faster), how BoarderX qualification and knockout rounds will be run, how we time runs in the Downhill competitions, and how Freestyle judging works.
It really helped us all learn a bit more about what each other does, which reduces single points of failure, and just as importantly it helped us all feel like a team.
The ATBA-UK holds most of it’s discussions in a group chat on Facebook Messenger that involves only those that are part of the management team. This is where we discuss everything from who’s doing what in preparation for the UK Championships, to problems that arise, from what instructor training is going on to how much money we’re making. Like all chat-streams, it works if you keep up to date with it but it’s easy to lose touch if you’re away from it for awhile. It’s good for ongoing synchronous and asynchronous communications but it’s really bad for recording decisions.
So, recently I’ve been wondering about other ways, such as using the ATBA-UK Management Team Facebook group more, with each topic of discussion having it’s own post with the discussion in the comments. It seems like it would be a better way to organise discussions around a diverse range of topics but in fact I think we’d loose the flow that we get with Messenger and it would quickly become impossible to keep track of the state of each discussion. How would you know if you should add a comment to a post, or if that discussion had ended? So, neither the Facebook Group or Messenger really work as Oven Doors, but thinking about the workflows of the ATBA-UK Management Team did make me wonder, what would happen if we held all of our discussions on the public Facebook Page that anyone can see?
If we posted all of discussions publicly, would the management team feel unable to say what they think or would it make us think about what we say? Would people be interested or would they quickly become bored of reading it? Would people feel more involved and engaged? Could each decision be a vote by the membership of the ATBA-UK? Could we post even more information than we currently consider such as how much money is in the bank? Would it provide more of an Oven Door to look inside the organisation and show in real time the state of the ATBA-UK? Could it provide a public forum for people to ask questions about how the ATBA-UK is doing what it does? Would it make the Management Team more accountable and more accessible? So many questions and so many possibilities.
ATBAmus Prime, the ATBA-UK’s Facebook Messenger bot had it’s first conversation with a real human. It was short, but it worked.
An instructor wanted to renew their membership so they messaged ATBAmus and selected ‘talk to a human’ from the options and typed their question into messenger. ATBAmus emailed their question to me, which I replied to, and which ATBAmus posted into the chat with the Instructor.
I assume they chose to contact the ATBA-UK from the message us button on the website, and hopefully it was a more useful experience for them than sending an email using a contact form.
It was a beautiful sunny morning. As I drove into Worcestershire the Malvern Hills brought back all kinds of memories from my years in this part of the world. And as I drove down the A4103 I almost turned right to go to Out To Grass.
Digging gives you a lot of time to think. And at a mountainboard centre my thoughts were about the current state of mountainboarding and whether we are flogging a very lame and unhealthy horse.
I’ve had previous thoughts about how we have got into the current situation of not enough mountainboarders riding often enough through a lack of infrastructure, and I think I’ve known for a while now that there isn’t very much the ATBA-UK can do to fix it, all we can do is respond to the situation in what we think is the best way.
One of the consequences of fewer riders in recent years has been reducing the number of competitions the ATBA-UK holds. This in turn had a knock on effect on the amount of money the ATBA-UK makes through entry fees and membership. This income had to be supplemented somehow and the most likely to be successful way was through instructor training. So, the ATBA-UK changed it’s model for delivering Instructor Training and rather than external training providers offering training it was all provided by the ATBA-UK. This worked and we made enough money last year and this year to cover the business overhead costs and continue to trade. But of course it had a not-unexpected consequences.
Some of the training providers felt that the ATBA-UK was taking away income from them and despite explaining the reasons behind this change they wanted to take it back. One of the ideas they talked about was setting up an alternative organisation to deliver instructor training. The thing is, the ATBA-UK is a community asset, it belongs to the mountainboard community. It isn’t ours, we are just looking after it for the community. It makes me laugh (and wonder if the issue is that the current committee haven’t communicated this to the community) when I hear about mountainboarders talking about setting up another governing organisation in competition with the ATBA-UK. If they want an organisation to provide validity and authority to whatever they want to do they could just have the ATBA-UK. They don’t need to set up in competition, they can just have it. I don’t think there is a single member of the current committee that wouldn’t happily hand it over and walk away, and I would certainly spend a lot less time and money driving around the country teaching people to be mountainboard instructors.
In some ways, the ATBA-UK committee, the team that does the work of the ATBA-UK (instructor training, organising events, marketing, accounts, etc.) is a microcosm of the mountainboarding community and is suffering from the same problems; not enough people doing enough work. I’m as guilty as anyone on this point. My focus is the Instructor Training but I’m behind on finishing the new training manual. Other things in life get in the way and mountainboarding becomes less and less of a focus.
So that’s the horse. Not enough people doing enough work to encourage more people to go mountainboarding to get even more people into it, and some conflict, and some other things in life. At some point we’re going to have to face the fact that it just isn’t worth carrying on with (in it’s current guise, anyway).
Anyway, we made the berm much better.
I’ve always believed that the mountainboarding community follows the laws of networks and so benefits and suffers from network effects. Networks are made up of nodes (people in the mountainboarding community) and edges (the social connections and relationships between those people). Understanding this helps us understand how the connections between people in the community work and what effect changes have on the entire network.
Understanding the problem
There aren’t enough people mountainboarding often enough. That is the problem. Looking at the problem from the perspective of the social graph of the mountainboard community, we have people (nodes) who are either active (riding regularly) in the community (network) which means that they have existing connections which are continually renewed and reinforced, or inactive (not riding regularly) which means that those preexisting relationships have lapsed. There are also dormant nodes but for the purposes of this we would say that they have dropped off the graph.
If a node becomes inactive it weakens the edges and has a knock on effect on the other nodes. If a node is active it can affect the activity of nearby nodes but may not be sufficient on its own to keep them active.
If node A in the diagram above becomes inactive, nodes C and D become disconnected from the rest of the graph, and the connection between node B and the rest of the graph is weakened and so weakens the connection of nodes E, F and J to the rest of the graph.
That’s why understanding the mountainboarding community as a network is important, because it shows us what happens when a single rider stops and how it takes more than a single rider to build up the community. We can use this understanding in order to help keep the active mountainboarders riding and reactivate the inactive riders. This will follow the same network effect rules as the weakening of the network and exponentially strengthen the community. So, how do we do it?
Towards a solution
We need a plan. If we want to solve this problem we need a plan, people, resources, etc. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but I think with the right things in place, and the right understanding, it is possible.
- Identify active and inactive (and dormant) riders. Knowing this will be essential for targeting the right riders. Luckily the ATBA-UK has a database of mountainboarders across the UK. They could all be assigned an activity score (5 for most active, 1 for least active) and then their postcodes mapped onto Google Maps using TableFusion.
- Focus on active nodes for retention. We want to keep the active riders riding as if they become inactive the network effects will multiply. So we look for areas on the map that have the highest concentration of active riders.
- Then we establish regular scheduled meets in the areas where the active riders are, doing the type of riding they like to do. If there is a cluster around a centre (as we could expect) then we organise a meet at that centre. The meets need to be at least monthly and planned in advance so riders can know about them and plan to attend.
- The meet-ups then need to be promoted across the community. This could be done using the ATBA-UK email newsletter, group chats on messenger (segmented by area), various websites and Facebook groups.
- Doing this would require quite a commitment from someone, and probably some funding from the ATBA-UK, but it would help turnaround the decline of mountainboarding in the UK.
We had the Annual General Meeting of the ATBA-UK today to review how this year has been and announce our plans for next year.
It’s been a challenging year for us with a drop in the number of riders attending competitions meaning that this year we tested a single three-discipline event for the first time. The UK Championship was enough of a success for us to build on and improve for next year.
We have also changed how we manage the Instructor Training Programme, also in response to the drop in competitors and lost income from not being able to offer Competition Membership. The plan is to bring the ITP in-house and offer ATBA-UK Instructor Training to activity centre that have mountainboarding as one of their activities.
Next year is going to be very interesting.