My Experience Attending the Tekumel Foundation Strategic Planning Meeting
(Ed. note: Chris Davis has generously provided his thoughts from our recent strategic planning session – enjoy!)
Hi Everyone. In May, after the memorial ceremony for Professor Barker, I was asked to come back to Minneapolis in June and participate in a Strategic Planning session for the Tekumel Foundation and also to observe a Foundation board meeting. I wasn’t really sure what all this would entail, but I went with an open mind, and I have to say that I was treated VERY well, my opinions were heard and given equal consideration. That led me to throwing myself into the work and at the end of the 2 days of the planning session, I felt good about the work the Foundation board and guests had accomplished.
The board has allowed me to summarize my experience here for you all to read, if you care to do so. There are certainly details that are private, as you would expect. But I’ll try to give you a full taste of my experiences.
I drove to Minneapolis from St. Louis, an interesting drive (as much as you can be interested in an 8 hour drive down non-interstate multi-lane highways through rural Missouri and Iowa). I got a late start, and thought I might miss the start of the meeting, but I arrived about 5 minutes after the scheduled start of the meeting to find that many were just arriving and setting up, including a Skype conference call to one of the board members that was out of the country. This first meeting was primarily an information dump of Tekumel publishing heretofore. I’m not going to try to regurgitate this, as it moved pretty quick and we didn’t take a lot of deep notes. I’ll mention some topics and subjects.
We started with Goals for the meetings. We listed some topics off the top of our heads, and they fell into a few different categories (not sure that this order was prioritized). The first was main goals revolved around direction. We expected to define a direction and how to move in that direction. The 2nd was to figure out a publishing plan and how to put that into motion. The 3rd was to get a clearer and more structured relationship between the foundation and volunteers that are willing to help us (I’m going to use US as foundation board members, volunteers and Tekumel fans – I belong to the latter 2 categories) publish Tekumel materials. The 4th was to lay down the past history of Tekumel publishing, the good and bad. The 5th was how to organize ourselves to get the word out about Tekumel.
Once that was done, we reminded ourselves of the Mission of the Tekumel Foundation, “to encourage, support and protect the literary works and all activities surrounding Professor Barker’s world of Tekumel and the Empire of the Petal Throne.” Sounds pretty good to me. After discussing the agenda a bit, we launched into the history. We started out by noting that the very Strategic Planning meeting we were participating in was unique. It was the first time that anyone ever looked at the big picture of Tekumel.
A lot of information flew across the room, not all of it I retained. But some of the major things I felt were important. It was mentioned that the Professor’s office contained some 150+ boxes of material, 10,000 pages of archived material, computer materials consisting of 8 to 9 thousand digital pages of data. Less than half of that material was ever published. The Board’s archivists definitely have their hands full.
After that the publishing history was gone over, and it was a lengthy revelation to some of us in the room, I’m sure. Others maybe not. We started about about 4:15 or 4:30, and we were supposed to end around 7 or 8, but we didn’t get out until 9 or later. The last topic we covered was about the Mission Statement. It began with a bit of a discussion of the scope of the Foundation’s mission. This discussion got a bit convoluted, but a couple of the basic ideas were that the Mission was to keep Tekumel in the public eye. There was some discussion about legacy products and new products, and the importance of keeping the board separate from being an actual publisher. Even if board members were publishing material, they were seen as an agent, licensed and approved by the board as were all other agents licensed to create Tekumel material. The other very important concept that needed to be clarified was that there would have to be clearly delineated definitions of board member, staff (hopefully at some point in the future), volunteers and committees of volunteers, staff, and board members.
We adjourned to dinner at The Malt Shoppe (one of the places Phil made me take him to when I visited Minneapolis to work with him on the Blue Room so he could have a shake and then after that to another place for Turkish or Arabic coffee – I can’t remember which one). The food was still terrific and the shake was great. I think that afterward some of the folks adjourned to someone’s home for chatting, but this kid was tired and hadn’t checked into his hotel yet, so I begged off and went to the hotel and laid down for a moment and crashed. Next thing I knew it was 8am, and I hadn’t done my assigned homework for the 2nd meeting on Saturday.
I was providing transportation to one of the board members, so I went to breakfast early in Minneapolis and did my homework. The assignment was to enumerate 1, 3 and 10 year goals for the Foundation. I must have been a bit travel-lagged because it came slowly at first. But then breakfast arrived and Diet Dr Pepper as well (my replacement for coffee) and my brain engaged and I think I came up with 13 or so first year goals, 7 three year goals and 8 ten year goals. Some of them were pretty out there. After that, I communicated with my passenger and we made our way to a lunch meeting with Kelly McCullough, a fantasy/SF writer. He was in town for a writer’s convention.
We went to a nice little restaurant and chatted about publishing. The overall gist of the conversation was that it was a good time to be a content provider and a terrible time to be a publisher. Kelly recommended that the Foundation self-publish. There are so many options and there are ways to sweeten the publishing experience and make it better by possibly using crowd-sourcing tools like Kickstarter. Kelly had a number of other publishing tips that went over this poor guy’s head, but it seems like he had a lot of good, detailed advice with respect to publishing. About both self-publishing and going through one of the “Big Six” publishing houses.
We met for the 2nd strategic planning meeting at 1pm on Saturday. Some legal issues were discussed, I don’t pretend to have a handle on all of them. Licensing and rights. Folks that have created material and folks who have notified the foundation that they have an interest in creating material. A number of items were discussed that are near ready to release, and others that are not quite as close but with a push of effort could be ready to release. The discussion also spread to new source material as well. I’m going to discuss a topic here that I did mention at the meeting, and was heard, but that I think is important. All this new material is both a boon and somewhat of a curse. A boon for the obvious reasons, but a curse because someone has to go through and digest all of it. Twenty thousand pages of data is one hell of a lot of data to digest. Some of this is going to take time. I hate that it’s the case, but it is. I just hope we can find some things that are easily decided on and can be easily put together for publication. That said, I heard some really cool projects being bandied about, and can’t wait to see them!
We then talked about increasing Tekumel’s public presence. A number of smaller cons some of the board members and guests have been attending were discussed, and the idea would be to find other cons that we (not just board members but other volunteers too) could attend and represent Tekumel with a scheduled game, pick up games, etc. Of course, UCon was mentioned, and praised. Blogs and Forums were also mentioned and ways of making them more attractive as well as trying to find other options.
The big work of Saturday was the SWOT analysis and Goals. We started with the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for those not in the know – included me prior to this June 23rd meeting) analysis. The strengths included rich material, dedicated fans, technology, organizational structure, historical perspective and hindsight, diverse input, desire to do things legally and the right way, experience gaming with Professor Barker, etc. This was a good conversation, and was very positive.
The next topic was weaknesses. The weaknesses mentioned included still needing to understand what all is in the archive (might have been mine from above), no work area (how can we work to make a product to provide capital if we don’t have a place to work? But unfortunately a workspace requires capital… Catch 22 anyone?), volunteer work takes more time, money, poor public perception, the number of rules sets, lack of marketing and vision. A lot of these topics are exactly why the meeting was occurring. Nuff said about this topic.
The next was opportunities. This was fun. The opportunities mentioned included a recent resurgence of interest and goodwill, technology, Old School movement, the fact that the gaming hobby is HUNGRY for good source material (and that Tekumel has), some of the old contributors to Tekumel are returning and are interested in participating, our focus is on source material, not rules.
The next was threats, and there were a few. Some of the archive is threatened by mildew, the status of the RPG industry, burnout, need to recruit folks, scope could widen exponentially, IP theft, volatile market, general fragmentation in the RPG industry. It was a good conversation, and had a lot of truth in it for me. Also, I want to reiterate here that everyone was able and encouraged to speak out their opinion, even your lowly scribe here. I was encouraged to speak my mind, and believe me I did.
The last part of the meeting was to go over our Goals. This was the fun part. I’m going to go over some of the ones (most of the ones here were the ones where more than one person listed the same goals).
Goals – 1 year
- Obtain a Premises (This has been completed.)
- Licensing templates for content creators (The board informs me this is complete as well)
- Make sure all digital archive items backed up
- Getting a better sense of potential products from the archive
- Publish more legacy products currently unavailable
- Plans for fund-raisers/Kickstarts
- Get the word out – Tekumel is here!
- Maintain quality of material
Goals – 3 year
- All legacy products available in electronic form
- Publish some new material
- New Novels in print
- Keep up with new Technology
- Maintain quality
Goals – 10 year
- Tekumel MMO/RPG or equivalent
- Tekumel Movie (or VR experience or whatever movies have become)
- Totally organize and analyze the archive
- Continue to leverage technology
- Maintain a high level of quality (yes, it actually appeared in all 3)
- Continue to maintain Professor Barker’s vision
After that, we delved into some short term planning. We covered a number of subjects, including the obvious that we need some financial resources. It was also mentioned that there probably needs to be a more structured connection between the board and the volunteers willing to do things for the foundation and Tekumel. There are a number of volunteers both in and outside of Minneapolis that can do things for the Tekumel Foundation. One of the ideas is to build a real list of volunteers with interests, and assign those folks tasks. Of course that requires there to be task plans and time lines. These were all subjects that were discussed. We also discussed the idea that there should be someone needed to manage the volunteers, create the task plans, and time lines. See how all that works…
Some other issues of short term planning was to set up someone to manage the housing of the archive. Work is actively being undertaken to find a home for the archive. The home must have an Internet connection, be climate controlled, provide secure access 24×7, and be spacious enough for office equipment and workstations. Right now the archive is in a storage closet, where it is protected, but no one can work at that location. (As mentioned before, this has already happened) The board also expressed a desire to find someone with archival training, to help guide us as to the proper handling and care of the materials. They could also help by showing us ideas of how we can organize the archives properly as well.
One of the last topics we discussed identifying needed resources and talent. The discussion turned from finding someone to help us find a location to house the archive and working space, to money, again to volunteers and their organization, and finally to finding technical talent that can help us with publishing, archiving, organization (of everything) , restoration of documents, artifact maintenance, web presence guru, and proof-reading and editing.
We adjourned around 4 or 5, and many of us went to a dinner thrown by Ambereen Barker to thank us for the work we did on Professor Barker’s memorial ceremony. The dinner was delicious and all that attended had a terrific time. Again, folks adjourned to Ambereen Barker’s (I think) to chat and socialize, but I was again burned out with all the activity. I again walked into my room and hit the bed, waking at 3am still clothed and lying where I collapsed. I woke up, turned off the lights and properly got back into bed and slept until about 8, since I was picking up my passenger again, who had to run some errands to prepare for the Board meeting. We managed breakfast and the errands, and made the meeting mostly on time. Can’t really say much about the board meeting; I was just an observer. But many of the ideas in the strategic planning meeting were discussed and some implemented during the meeting. That was a welcome thing to see. After the meeting, I went back to my hotel and pretty much crashed again, even though it was 1 or 2pm. But I did end up getting up at 4am Monday to make my trek home.
I really enjoyed and appreciated my inclusion that weekend. I think the Foundation is in good hands, and I think that you’re going to start seeing some good things happen. I feel that the Board was involved in a lot of initial set up business, and couldn’t focus on things that needed to be done until now. And I think they now have a plan to accomplish all the things that we and they want to do. It still isn’t 100% clean and tidy, and there are still some issues that need to be dealt with of course, but I think they are on the right track. I know I am looking forward to what is to come.