by Will Stenzel
In the previous blog post, we learned about the Oasis origin story and its early evolution. In this blog post we'll focus on the Oasis Cohort Management System. I will explain why we built it and how it works. Originally, it was created to address specific challenges but it has evolved over time to bring additional value and become the secret sauce behind Oasis. It helps us automate operations from initial signups to showcasing projects at the end of the semester.
Why we built it
Data is an essential part of running an organization, but managing data can be time consuming. This was something we came to realize early on. We knew that using forms to collect data was a necessity, but this data would end up in different spreadsheets making it hard to reconcile. For example, identifying participants who had signed up but were not yet part of a team required the tedious task of cross referencing names and emails from different spreadsheets.
We also observed that many groups struggled with ideating and planning out their projects. Some groups used Google Docs and Trello to share ideas and manage their project, but others did not. It was important for us to provide teams with some frameworks or structures to be successful.
The recognition of these challenges was what originally motivated us to build the Oasis Cohort Management system.
At its core, the system does these four things:
- Stores cohort-related data including all projects as well as the people involved (participants, mentors, leadership team)
- Allows participants to collaborate with their team in a shared workspace for project ideation and planning
- Gives teams a place to showcase their work at the end of the semester
- Provides the staff with insights on the success of the program
To explain how the Cohort Management System works, I will break it down into two parts. The first part will describe how we automate the process of getting the data into Notion and the second part will explain how Notion does the "heavy lifting."
For those unfamiliar with Notion, it is an "all-in-one workspace" where you can write, plan, and collaborate.
How it works
Part 1 - Getting Data into Notion
We used a combination of different tools to automate getting data from the participants into Notion. We could have manually input the data but it was important for us to design an automated process that didn't require extra work and could be scaled as Oasis grew. Below is a graphic showing the data flow and responsibilities of different technologies in the process.
Google Forms are used to get information from the participants. The two forms we use in the cohort management system are the signup form and the team creation form.
n8n allows us to design low-code workflows which can use logic, manipulate data, and easily connect to API’s (like Notion). Our n8n workflows receive data from the forms and create new people and project records in our Notion databases, automatically checking for duplicates.
Notion is where the magic happens. It stores all our data, displays it, and acts as a collaborative document editor.
Part 2 - The Power of Notion Shines Through
When a project is created, a private workspace page and a public showcase page are created. We share the private workspace page with everyone on the team as soon as it's been created so teams can collaboratively ideate, plan, and organize tasks for their project. They can either start with a blank page or use the
Notion has a built-in capability to make any page shareable to the web. However, by using a third party app called Super, we can host public Notion pages at our own domain with some additional custom code to make it feel more like a standard website. This is how we created the Oasis Hub, a site that displays all of our cohort data as well as resource guides and the blog you're currently reading.
Since the showcase page in Notion is directly connected to the Oasis Hub, updates on the page automatically show up on the site with no additional work from us. Not only does showcasing the project give the current participants an easy way to share their work with others (like prospective employers) but it also captures the history of Oasis and provides inspiration to future participants.
In addition to the value Notion brings to the participants via the project workspace and showcase pages, it's also a valuable tool for the leadership team. With all the data in one place, we can easily identify participants who have not been assigned to a team, and see which teams might benefit from additional members. It also allows us to view historical insights and trends that otherwise would require a lot of manual data wrangling. We've created a private "Staff Dashboard" page where we can see the number of total signups, total projects, and the number of participants that dropped out for any given semester. This helps us understand how our numbers compare to past semesters and how we might be able to improve for the future.
The Cohort Management System allows project teams to work collaboratively and efficiently, and makes running Oasis more streamlined and effective. Although this system is specific to Oasis here at Northeastern, we hope that sharing this information can make setting up and operating similar programs easier. If you’re interested in using this, I’ve put together the Cohort Management System Toolkit which you get for free.
Shoutout to these people for help with editing: Jack Gelinas, Becca Johnson, Sam Xifaras