What We Taught—and Learned From—Our New Partners at the University of Alberta

Since we started Switchboard in 2013, we’ve learned that platforms are not a panacea, and that we need to train people and change processes to make even the most effective software work. That’s why we now require our partners to undergo on-site training with our team before launching their Switchboards. We completed our largest training yet with our new partner the University of Alberta in March and wanted to share.

Our goal at Switchboard is to scale community and support students and alumni by breaking down silos between teams and offices. Our project team at Alberta, led by Chris Doble and Chloe Chalmers in Alumni Relations laid the groundwork for that collaboration by getting dozens of people together in the same room—no easy feat. They recruited 45 people to participate in the community building training with us. Attendees represented 18 different offices across campus, ranging from faculty, staff, deans, to AVPs and represented core functional areas of the institution: Academic Affairs, Communications and Marketing, Advancement, Alumni Relations, Career Services, and Student Affairs.

Tim Cooper, Switchboard's director of partner education and success, led the training at Alberta with our COO, Chelsea Haring.

Tim Cooper, Switchboard's director of partner education and success, led the training at Alberta with our COO, Chelsea Haring.

Here’s a sketch of what we covered:

  • It's essential that community stewards demonstrate warmth, humanity, friendliness, and authenticity on their Switchboard by modeling behavior and creating posts and comments that embody these elements.

  • Switchboard stewards should have a clear vision for what they want their community to look and feel like in a year. Part of this means thinking about  how you want people to feel when they first come to your platform. Thinking in these terms solidifies your understanding of the platform and what needs to be early on to support your vision of success.

  • People need to feel heard and supported for them to want to return, generate new content, and pay it forward, which are foundational to  building community.

Of course, with every training session we run we learn as much as we teach. Here are a few lessons that the team at Alberta taught us while we were there:

  • Interdepartmental collaboration and commitment is incredibly important to build meaningful traction early on in the adoption process.

  • People quickly figure out how they can help build community while simultaneously supporting their own work.

  • Seeding a community with posts in one fell swoop over the course of a day has a positive impact efficiency-wise on the proceeding weeks of behind-the-scenes work that lead to the first public announcements of Switchboard.  

Since our training, the University of Alberta team used the month of April to connect with other offices to recruit and educate more stakeholders. They also sent "soft launch" emails to a few segments of their community, which yielded solid adoption and posting that will provide a sturdier foundation for their hard launch on May 12.


"Tim and Chelsea have supported us with patience and humour, through every step of the Switchboard adoption process. Their on-site training was insightful, enlightening, impactful, well-researched, and customized for our audience. They helped us engage a diverse audience of 40 stakeholders to generate buy-in for the UAlberta Switchboard, and set us up for success in the next stage of the roll-out. As individuals, Tim and Chelsea represent everything we love about Switchboard: they are friendly, responsive, knowledgeable, and fantastic community-builders."


Chloe Chalmers
Manager, Corporate Alumni Relations
University of Alberta Alumni Association

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