Make Shift Coffee House Online
Lessons Learned and Next Steps
What We Did

By the time coronavirus hit we had run 40 in-person Make Shift Coffee Houses. We canceled the three more we had planned and jumped into designing an online format.

In May and June, 2020 we ran 13 Online Make Shift Coffee Houses with about 100 people participating or watching live. We tried successive prototypes, always tinkering and improving.
We were adamant about three things

A.   A mix of perspectives in each discussion
We required participants to tell us about themselves in advance and then we placed them in hand-selected groups. This was tricky for us and it also required participants to give us three choices of sessions.

B.   Easy access
We invested in significant website development and email automation to make it simple for the user.

C.    It’s gotta pay for itself
This is not the time for fundraising for Make Shift Coffee House. Given the needs generated by coronavirus and the fundraising tsunami we are about to endure with the upcoming election, umm, no. We are trying to launch a business model that will pay for itself and be free for users. This is why we teamed up with Wicked Joe to provide Make Shift Coffee. And we ask for donations at each Make Shift Coffee House.

And of course, even though online we are true to the Make Shift Coffee House culture of respect and understanding with a little fun thrown in.
What We Learned

1. Talkers and watchers is the way to go
We think that 5 people talking with dozens watching works very well. As facilitator, I get to know each participant and get deeper into their stories. Yet it’s so valuable to provide that content to a wider audience. We tried different ways to have “watchers” and settled on Facebook Live as the best option.

2. Marketing horsepower required
We don’t have a big enough fan base to “make this thing go viral.” And we don't have enough money to buy significant social media promotions. Outside our existing fan base it’s been a challenge to drive traffic to our sign up page.

3. Online works pretty well
I was a skeptic. But I’m happy to report that the Online Make Shift Coffee Houses have been really fun. I have learned so much! There is no doubt that they are extremely effective at helping people understand each other’s views, our mission. They have the powerful advantage of being untethered from geography. People can participate from anywhere.   

4.  People sign up but don’t show up
This was especially frustrating because in a group of five (the Make Shift Online standard) just one or two dropping out can dramatically change the balance. People who signed up didn’t have enough at stake and we did not have a good feedback/confirmation/hand-holding system.

5. Public sign up doesn’t pay
In the experience of the 13 we had, the donations that come in from participants (although deeply appreciated and helpful) are not enough to cover the effort.

6. Attracting conservatives is a challenge
Like with the in-person Make Shift Coffee Houses, we find that the online format is also more attractive to liberals than conservatives. We have to make extra efforts to personally recruit conservatives and Republicans.

7. The Hosting Model works great
Leslie Mortimer of the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine wanted to help her community discuss a hot topic: Is violent protest ever justified? She hosted a Make Shift Coffee House. She chose 5 participants with differing views on the topic. I facilitated the discussion in the style of Make Shift Coffee House and with Marlene's help, handled all the tech including Zoom and Facebook Live. Watch it here. This worked really well.
What’s Next

In the fall we want to run lots of Online Make Shift Coffee Houses in partnership with hosts. We have figured out how to run these well and we think they will benefit many organizations.

But first we’re going on summer break.

Make Shift Coffee House has been hard at it for over three years and I’ve decided to take a little sabbatical. I’m closing my company Good Group Decisions for the summer. It’s a good time to step away and reflect.

If you would like to host a Make Shift Coffee House in the Fall, please let me know
(although I might not respond quickly). I plan to be off for July and August and take up scheduling in September.

In the meantime we will continue to add to our Make Shift Library (it’s really great if you haven’t peeked lately) and post on our Make Shift Coffee House Facebook Page .

Many of you have gotten to know Marlene in recent months, our extremely competent and likeable Make Shift Barista! Way more than that, actually. Marlene has been a pleasure to work with on a hundred different tasks. We wish her every success in her new adventures. Keep shining Marlene!
Thank You Supporters

We were able to take time and spend money to develop an online format due to the generosity of our supporters. You. Did you know that over 200 people have made charitable contributions to Make Shift Coffee House? When coronavirus hit we had some of that money still in the bank and this is how we used it. We are very grateful.

We are also grateful for a grant received from the Maine Community Foundation. It was supposed to fund 4 Make Shift Coffee Houses in rural parts of Maine but in light of coronavirus they told us we could use the money however we wanted. We thought that using it to design an online format was a good use of those funds. Thank you Maine Community Foundation.

Lastly, it should not go unsaid that Make Shift Coffee House has benefitted from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. We have been able to subsidize mine and Marlene’s salaries; greatly appreciated by both of us.
I hope you get peace and perspective in your own way this summer.

- Craig