The Right Decision: Stay on Track with DSG

October Newsletter 2020

The Future of the Yellow School Bus
Planning for the Certainty of Change in an Uncertain World

Are the days of the traditional yellow school bus coming to an end? Probably not anytime soon, but the way they are deployed, the way they are used, and the buses themselves must change with the times. As the ongoing pandemic continues to upend the way we live our lives today, there is an undercurrent of more permanent change emerging as well. The pandemic has caused us to reevaluate everything, including impactful trends for the pupil transportation professional. Where we will live, how we will work, and how we will educate our children in the future will each have large implications for the way our industry serves the public. Plus, there are other trends that were already emerging before the pandemic, such as reducing the environmental impact of our services and meeting ever-increasing demands for new and costly specialized transportation services. The future presents no shortage of challenges.

Over the next several weeks DSG will be presenting our thoughts on the likely future of pupil transportation. We will be covering a wide range of topics, but all in the context of the world we know best – the yellow school bus – and how this ubiquitous symbol of the work we do is likely to be constructed, deployed, operated, maintained, managed, and used to support the future educational objectives of our society. We hope you will join in the conversation.

Preparing for tomorrow while learning from today

No one really knows who first said that generals always fight the last war, but it is so ingrained in our thinking because the ability to look back is easier than the ability to look forward. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a myriad of instances where our institutions and organizations were unprepared for an event like a national pandemic. However, this does not necessarily mean that we have all failed by not anticipating the pandemic and having a playbook on the shelf.

A consistent organizational response to a service disruption is to conduct a surface assessment of what we missed the last time and build procedures and practices to make sure that we do not miss that again. This is the essence of the “fighting the last war mentality” and is common in response to audits, adverse events like accidents, and (unfortunately) consulting projects. What we need to realize is that the “clarity” the hindsight appears to bring is just misplaced as the certainty with which many of us make predictions about the future.

Our suggestion for how organizations should address the issue of preparing for future service disruptions is to think about four specific questions:

  1. Is our next major disruption likely to have the same source as our last one? – We strongly believe that the answer to this question is no. If we spend all of our time building our organizational capabilities to respond to a pandemic, we will miss far more common and far more likely disruptions like floods, hurricanes, and snowstorms. 
  2. Have we separated what happened from why it happened? – Organizational evaluations often confuse the outcome from why it happened. Evaluators often miss the influence of luck (good and bad) and overstate our individual influence on the results (normally in a positive way). Any assessment of the response to COVID must be structured and executed in a way that clearly connects the why and the what of the successes and failures.
  3. Do we know what authority we have and whose authority we need to get changes implemented? – Often times our best plan is not in other people’s interest. As we evaluate what changes need to be made, we also need to identify whose support is necessary. Only by having an operational and organizational plan can we hope to fully implement the changes needed to resolve issues associated with current and future service disruptions.

Learning from our past is a crucial element for organizational progress. However, if we are not clear eyed about how we will teach ourselves it is very likely we will learn the wrong lessons. At DSG, we believe that creating structured analytical and decision-making process about how to approach the future, particularly related to highly disruptive events, is crucial to learning the right lessons from things that have gone wrong. Please reach out if you would like us to help you design an approach that works for you.

Training has changed forever. Is anyone ready?

The pandemic has changed a tremendous amount in student transportation. The exponential increase in both the amount of professional development material available and the transition to low-cost, high volume distribution platforms will be one of the more consequential changes to the industry. The questions that leaders and mangers need to ask themselves are: how will we meet the new expectation that this type of material will be regularly available?; and how will we assess whether any of this material has made any difference?

The initial question that needs to be addressed has three key parts. The first question is how do you identify where quality content is coming from? One incredibly encouraging aspect of the pandemic is that the need for content vastly expanded the individuals and organizations contributing to wider array of topics. While this increase in the diversity of opinion is undoubtedly good, finding ways to quality check the information will be significantly more important.

The second part of the question is how will the material be organized into cogent and coherent lesson structures? A key issue with the traditional industry approach to professional development was that material was presented when it was made available. That meant that there was often no connection between two consecutive training sessions and long gaps between detailed discussions of the same topic. When all of this material is readily available, it becomes incumbent on leaders to organize it and present it in a logical sequence that considers the different types of adult learning styles. This is no small task and something that has been ignored in most professional development settings.

The third part of the question is how the material will be distributed to employees. The dramatic increase in low cost, always available learning management systems are a game changing innovation in professional development. This dramatically simplifies the question of distribution, but still requires thoughtful consideration of categorization and setup. Creating a structure to make time available and compensate employees for development activities will remain a challenge but will be a critical element in ensuring that organizations get value from all of the new material that is out there.

Once we have figured out how to get and deliver content, it will be necessary to assess whether more information presented in a logical manner has resulted in better outcomes. This implies that organizations will have systems in place to track what people have been exposed to, methods to assess whether they have understood the material, and evaluation tools to see whether behaviors have changed. Building this infrastructure will require a thoughtful assessment of how to measure the baseline of each individual employee and a method to track ongoing performance.

Measuring what people have learned and whether it has had a positive impact has been the nemesis of the education sector forever. For us to believe we will solve that riddle when generations of researchers and practitioners have not would be the height of hubris. However, the investment we will need to make necessitates strong consideration of how to justify the expenditures. At DSG, we think that developing a balanced and reasoned approach to measuring the relationship between development activities and actual development can be designed.