DANA POINT, CA — Every year at the MSCA Educational Conference, participants are given the opportunity to take part in a roundtable peer group session.

This year, MSCA found a way to make the peer group sessions more high-tech and more efficient. The organization used the Technology Assisted Group Sol-utions (TAGS) program created by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS).

TAGS is a website program that allows individuals and associations to compile and exchange ideas from a distance. Contractors were asked to log on to the TAGS website, go to the MSCA section, and answer questions ahead of time that would be discussed at the group sessions.

When the contractors split off into groups, each table had two or three laptop computers to review the answers of the other contractors at the conference. Attendees were able to maximize their discussion time by having topic discussions and feedback already available.

This is not the first time the association has used the TAGS program, and it will not be the last. The board of directors for MCAA held its mid-year meeting in June and used the program to discuss and re-evaluate its Vision 2000 program. By using TAGS, the board members were able to compile their ideas and suggestions for Vision 2000 before getting together.

Mike Wolf, director of the TAGS program, talked about the benefits of the system and how the MSCA attendees were taking advantage of it.

A Head Start

“This group came in with literally hundreds of ideas,” Wolf said. “This group would have come [to the conference] not knowing what’s going on, but they logged on before ever coming to the conference.”

Wolf explained that the TAGS system presented the contractors with questions that would be discussed during the roundtable portion of the conference. The questions centered on changes they have implemented in their business in the last year and the impact they had. Members were also asked about company challenges, what business ventures could have the best benefit on their company, how they have tried recruiting and retaining employees, what steps they have taken to enhance partnerships, and how labor/management partnerships can address service training.

After the contractors answered the questions, they could see how other contractors answered. Wolf said that the program can rank the ideas by most popular in a number of seconds.

Wolf says that the TAGS program provides a big head start whenever groups of people are meeting together. In fact, he says that some companies are already using the system.

“A lot of groups don’t even get together,” he said. “These are real virtual meetings.”

For associations and companies, this method is not only convenient, but saves money by making it possible for groups to share ideas without having to physically meet somewhere.

But for MSCA, the motivating factor in using the TAGS system was to make the most out of the peer group sessions. With many issues, ideas, and answers already put together, the contractors had more time to build on the ideas and to discuss them. Also, the site will remain up, so participants can refer back to certain issues after the conference is over.

According to Wolf, the conference begins before the contractors come to the conference and it doesn’t end when they leave.

Publication date: 10/29/2001