Expect the Unexpected: Lessons Learned as WICSEC President
Ellen Rutledge’s term as the President of the Western Intergovernmental Engagement Council (WICSEC) wasn’t at all what she expected. Instead of guiding the organization through its annual in-person training conference, she organized not one, but two, virtual conferences and spearheaded WICSEC’s efforts to bring meaningful and relevant training to the child support community throughout the pandemic.
“I became President in the fall of 2019, and we immediately started planning for the 2020 conference in Portland, Oregon,” she said. “We had our planning meeting in early March 2020. I am not even sure I had unpacked my suitcase when COVID reared its ugly head, and everything changed. Early on, WICSEC made a conscious decision to use our resources to support our colleagues. That meant offering a much different kind of conference.”
WICSEC’s goal is to plan an innovative and relevant conference every year. In 2020, WICSEC designed its conference to meet the needs of people who had suddenly found themselves teleworking, implementing new technology left and right, and facing a whole host of challenges in their personal lives. The best part was WICSEC didn’t charge a registration fee for the Virtually Awesome conference.
“Due to smart financial planning on WICSEC’s part and vendor support, we didn’t have to collect a registration fee in 2020,” Rutledge said. “We provided three days for attendees, who had been under tremendous pressure, to come together to learn and network. I knew we had done the right thing when I read survey comments from people who wrote about feeling connected even though the conference was virtual.”
WICSC took what it learned during 2020 and held a second virtual conference in 2021.
“Again, we selected speakers to address our attendees’ real-time issues and concerns,” she said. “Our plenary speakers reminded us to break rules, really see our customers, and that it is ok to take our time to process grief. Our breakout sessions provided practical information and content. We brought activities to people virtually that they might not have experienced otherwise like our networking event and chair yoga.”
Collaboration with the other child support associations was a key component of Rutledge’s presidency. The other associations include the National Child Support Enforcement Association, the Eastern Regional Interstate Child Support Association, the National Tribal Child Support Association, and the National Council of Child Support Directors.
“The Presidents of these organizations began regular conference calls throughout the pandemic,” Rutledge shared. “Everyone was generous in sharing information about conference logistics, so we were all ready to navigate conference planning in a different environment.” These calls continue. The Presidents use the time to keep each other informed of upcoming events, share information, and ensure the child support community is receiving up-to-date information about industry developments.
“Collaboration and innovation. These two words sum up my two years as WICSEC President,” said Rutledge. “It took a lot of ideas and people who were willing to do new things to pull of the conferences. I loved the experience."
Rutledge serves as the Director of Professional Development for YoungWilliams. In her position, she creates and supports training and professional development initiatives for YoungWilliams employees.