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Revising The Leader’s Handbook via Email

Nikki Julien
Olympia WA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 6, December 2002 - January 2003, pp. 140-41.

Keeping a smile on your face is important in a task as big as revising the Leader's Handbook, especially when it all happens over the Internet. Since much of the work was done via email, the working group shared many electronic smiley faces. :-)

Why revise a book that's good as it is? With technology expanding La Leche League's reach, the Leader's Handbook needed to be revised to reflect our growing global scope. Information needed to be added or revised to keep the Handbook up-to-date, especially in the case of online resources. Also, those involved in the revision process shared a strong desire to reflect LLL's commitment to offering suggestions rather than directing behavior.

"In October 2001 there was about a year supply left of the current printing of the Handbook. The decision was made that this would be a great opportunity for a group of Leaders from around the world to work on a revision," said LLLI Deputy Director Shirley Phillips of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. "A notice was sent out requesting input from Leaders who might be interested. The goal was to have representatives from Affiliates and Divisions including both Group Leaders—the ones using the Handbook most frequently—and Leaders with publications experience."

Word of the project circulated through networks, over some email lists, and by word of mouth (or shall we say fingertips?). Isobel Fanshawe of Christchurch, New Zealand, on the LLLNZ Board and Administrator of Publications for LLLNZ, wrote, "I first found out through PubLLL, the online group of people involved in publications, but I did not volunteer my services. Then LLLNZ received a request for help, so our Director asked me if I could help. Naturally, I complied with her request!"

Rewriting the book to be more international was important to Kristin Marshall of Nanoose Bay, British Columbia, Canada, who had been involved in the 2002 revision of LLL Canada's Leader's Handbook.

Mother-to-Mother helping may take place primarily over the phone in North America, but not necessarily in other places around the world. I can imagine mothers in Africa, South America, or very northern communities gathering in a comfortable meeting place—perhaps a kitchen, a community well, or a shady tree—to discuss babies and breastfeeding. And I hope the new Handbook will be just as useful in these locations.

With the thought of future translations, Edie Boxman of Heraliyah, Israel encouraged simplicity in the book's language. "Somehow, in each revision, and with a broader spectrum of Leaders working on the project, more and more interesting material accumulated. Keeping it simple was a difficult challenge."

Helping mothers become Leaders motivated Nancy Spahr of Peru, Indiana, USA, Director of LLLI's Leader Accreditation Department, to get involved in the project. "I tried to look at everything with an eye for the kind of information and presentation that would benefit Leader Applicants, for whom the book will serve as a ‘textbook' for learning a Leader's work."

Nikki Julien of Olympia, Washington, USA strove to make the book more user-friendly. "As a Leader primarily involved in Group work, I wanted the book to be practical when a Leader needed it most—right in a Series Meeting."

Difficulties in Leader communication and responsibilities in her large Group led Isobel Fanshawe to help with the chapter on managing the Group. In giving her time and energy, she received something too. "I rediscovered valuable information that could be used in the Group and for LLLNZ. I also think it was important that LLLNZ was involved because we operate slightly differently from the majority of other LLL entities."

Being a part of this experience, Juanita Watt of Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA, found, "I learned a lot, from what words and phrases are ‘Americanisms' (not used in other English-speaking countries) to how LLL is organized in different parts of the world. I also learned how superficial these differences are and how much we are alike in our commitment to breastfeeding and LLL."

Carrying out this task over the Internet had its challenges with some working group members unable to access the e-group site. Team members soon got into a natural rhythm of regular email and tracking changes in each revision. With the group being spread across the globe, there always seemed to be someone checking their email and responding often overnight. As coordinator of the project, Shirley Phillips sent out regular summaries of our email discussions, timelines for our work, and further questions to consider. In this way, decisions on language, chapter order, and content were achieved by consensus.

Since the 1998 edition of the Leader's Handbook was not available in a text format that committee members could use, La Leche League Canada agreed to share its recent revision, which was saved as files in a commonly used computer program. These files were distributed to the working group and used as the basic document from which changes were made, thus saving hours of retyping. Another reason to smile!

Members working on specific sections and chapters sent in their thoughts and changes. Shirley compiled this information and delivered it to the group. In addition to reviewing each other's work and adding comments and suggestions, two full drafts were sent out to an international group of reviewers. Shirley compiled all the responses into the text of the chapter files and sent them back to the working group members. They considered the suggestions, researched the questions, made changes, created clean copies, and sent the drafts back…that's a lot of smiley faces!

This pattern of sending work back and forth continued as our focus advanced from initial thoughts to major changes to additions to minor adjustments to wording consistency. From the beginning of 2002 for the next nine months (like a pregnancy J) we supported and encouraged each other, grew together and labored. Kristin Marshall wrote, "It was rewarding to see a project move forward and ‘get done,' since so much of our work as mothers and Leaders does not take this clear path towards accomplishment."

Leaders from diverse backgrounds, interests, and skills joined together in this effort. Carol Miranda of Bridgewater, New Jersey, USA, wrote, "It was hard work done at odd hours, but was very rewarding. I learned a lot about being a Leader, about LLLI, about LLL around the world, and about working in a group." In the process, the revision group was gifted with online friendships, expanded computing skills, rejuvenated Leader skills, and a sense of accomplishment in their common aim. "Most of us had never met one another personally but we worked very smoothly together," said Edie Boxman. "Someone always picked up on what needed to be done."

Leaders everywhere will be given a gift, too, as Nancy Spahr expressed:

We've tried to recognize and respond to the purposes of various aspects of a Leader's work as well as the knowledge, experience, and expertise Leaders bring to their work.…It's been enjoyable to improve a resource that could make every Leader's work easier, more effective, and more satisfying.

We hope that working with the newly revised Leader's Handbook will give you a :-) too!

Members of the Leader's Handbook Revision Working Group

Edie Boxman, Heraliyah, Israel
Claire Eden, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Isobel Fanshawe, Chirstchurch, New Zealand
Beth Hilleke, South Carolina, USA
Diane Jeffer, New Jersey, USA
Nikki Julien, Washington, USA
Kristin Marshall, British Columbia, Canada
Carol Miranda, New Jersey, USA
Judy Torgus, LLLI
Shirley Phillips, Manitoba, Canada
Nancy Spahr, Indiana, USA
Juanita Watt, New Mexico, USA

Reviewers of the Leader's Handbook

Karen Butler, Coventry, Great Britain
Cindy Garrison, Pennsylvania, USA
Sue Ann Kendall, Texas, USA
Sandra Tourret, Tortebesse, France

Nikki Julien is a Leader in Olympia, Washington, USA and is mother to Alec, 8; and Linden, 6. She found out about the project from a friend, already in the group, and didn't think twice about asking to join! A special thanks to everyone in the LEADER'S HANDBOOK review group and revision group for their words, encouragement, and support.

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