3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in Unity 3D

Welcome area of the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government

A couple years ago I put together an unofficial 3D version of the ADA Toolkit for Local Government. It was based in an immersive environment anyone could visit and experience as an avatar or digital representation of themselves. Normally the ADA Toolkit is only available as an online, primarily text-based document. So I figured the ability to learn it through an engaging and interactive format might offer a much more interesting and possibly memorable experience. Eventually I moved this build over to Kitely – a service which hosts 3D immersive environments created using OpenSimulator software. People who want to visit and stroll through the 3D ADA Toolkit can still do so by visiting Kitely.com, signing up for an account or using an existing Twitter or Facebook account, and then accessing the 3D ADA Toolkit through the use of a viewer that Kitely will install on their computer. But while Kitely makes it very easy for someone to visit the places it hosts, some people are still hesitant to try out this type of experience – particularly those who are new to using an avatar to interact with digital content. So for some time, I have been wanting to create the same build in Unity 3D because it still offers the ability to visit and interact with the information in a 3D format, but does not rely on a login or the installation of a software program in order to view the content. Instead Unity 3D allows everything to work directly in someone's browser with only the installation of a plug-in to the browser. The end result can be closer to the browsing experience people already are familiar with.

It took some time for me to actually accomplish a build in Unity 3D for several reasons. One was the need to learn the software and interface. Fortunately there are plenty of tutorials out there for this so I was able to at least become comfortable with it over time by following these examples. But I still faced the need to create new content and doing so in the Unity 3D environment is not very easy. It definitely is not as easy as creating it in something like OpenSimulator. Then just within the last month or so, the folks who develop the Singularity viewer for OpenSimulator came up with a way to export 3D objects from the OpenSimulator environment. So I was able to export the objects from the 3D ADA Tooklit in OpenSimulator and import them into a Unity 3D build.

While that certainly helped move the project along, I quickly figured out there was still a lot more to learn to create an interactive environment. By again researching tutorials, I managed to script some popup messages to simulate what someone would see in the original OpenSimulator build. So at this point I have a very simple example of a portion of the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in a Unity 3D environment. I caution anyone who decides to try it out that it is far from perfect. I need to learn how to do a better job with the messages, perhaps add some NPCs, create more interactive elements, and figure out how to launch a website so that it doesn't take the person out of the Toolkit forcing them to restart it to get back in. It would also be nice to figure out how to keep the flowers from floating just above the ground. Anyway, so far I've only made the welcome area and the historical background of the ADA laws related to right of way interactive – the rest of it has not yet been done. And, again, I don't have the entire toolkit in Unity 3D – only a small portion. If you want to check it out, just click the image below – if you've never run Unity 3D in your browser it will prompt you to install the Unity 3D plugin. And remember if you click anywhere in the Toolkit to access a website, you'll have to relaunch the Toolkit to get back in. Thanks for trying it out! I'd also love to get any type of feedback on it.

3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in Unity 3D

Click the image above to enter the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in Unity 3D in your browser!


IPSI – Public Works Management Training that Works!

I just returned from spending a week at the Illinois Public Service Institute – "a three-year training program which provides instruction expressly designed for public service professionals." Since this is my second year of the three-year program, I thought it would be a good time to share my experiences with others who might be considering attending in the future. I don't know how other professions handle training of their managers, but in public works, those of us who advance up the ladder rarely receive formal training to prepare us for our new supervisory roles. Some agencies send managers to an occasional class, and some might have personnel who have taken public administration classes. But rarely does this type of training really prepare people for handling the public works industry. It just doesn't fit the traditional public works place, so if you haven't worked it, you won't get it. Fortunately 12 years ago, the Illinois and Chicago Metro chapters of APWA decided to fill this training gap by setting up IPSI. The result has been effective supervisory training for public works managers by public works professionals that just works.

Before I attended last year, I'd heard all the stories about how wonderful and amazing IPSI was. Frankly I was skeptical. You know how it is – you've been to all those classes that promise to miraculously transform you into a management superhero. But in the end, most of what you learn just doesn't work in the public works environment. Not only don't they understand how we are set up and how we deliver services, but they don't get the structure within which we work which presents specific types of challenges. IPSI is different because the content is approved by a committee of public works professionals and delivered by Dr. Lew Bender – an educator with extensive experience in training managers in the public service sector (and who is assisted by his amazing wife, Mary).

Last year was my first of the three year program. The focus for the 2012 class was on service excellence. Some of the highlights of the training were:

Performance appraisals – we learned how to conduct them to ensure the maximum benefit for everyone. We also learned how to work within the current appraisal framework we have if we were not allowed to change it.

Business etiquette – Maybe other people get the "Miss Manners" training at home, but my parents were simple folk who never taught us what all that silverware on the table was for and what order in which to use it. Fortunately for me and others who lacked this training, this session took care of filling us in on the details. By the end we were more aware of the entire process of conducting business over a meal along with other business etiquette knowledge. 

Communication, law, and the service culture – for the law portion of this group of sessions, we had an attorney visit to fill us in on important laws that affect our work. That's another aspect of our jobs we are rarely trained in yet are expected to just know and understand so it was good to get this information. 

Workplace safety – this was a great session that showed us how to try to avoid and if necessary respond to a threat. Although I'm thinking I'd really rather not have to put any of this training into practice.

So this year's focus was on supervisory skills – here are some of the highlights I took away:

Supervisory Dos and Don'ts – the committee along with Lew, the instructor, shared about 50 pieces of advice. The top three for me that I decided I need to build on were

  1. ensuring people know and understand expectations
  2. allowing people to develop skills through failure and risk (non-safety related) and remembering to debrief afterwards
  3. developing a vision and a few goals for our team as a group

More legal stuff – the lawyer was back this year to explain ADA, FMLA, and workplace investigations. The scariest thing I learned is for some reason the law makes supervisors personally liable for FMLA if acting in the best interest of the employer and if in violation of the FMLA law. This makes it even more important to understand this confusing law – ignore it, and you can get personally hit by it. Not that this makes it any simpler to understand, but I did find a presentation that shows some of these issues:


Managing Problem Employees (or problem children – PCs) – PCs are always a favorite topic because it seems too many people have some of these folks working for them. Some surprising information I got from the class was that PCs can take up a rough average of 40 to 75% of a manager's time. It was also uncanny how closely Lew described their behaviors – almost as if he knew the people personally. The most enlightening thing I learned was that PCs think of work as some type of fight for the "pie." If they actually perform some task you give them, it's like allowing you to take part of their pie. So they do whatever it takes to make sure they get your part rather than give up theirs. I had always thought everyone was thinking:  this is work, we have tasks to complete, and we do them. Now it makes so much more sense – it's not about work at all to them. It's all about guarding their pie.

Social media and public works – this session was facilitated by myself and Dave Lawry. We focused on opening discussions over the use of social media in our industry by having the group analyze two incidents related to municipalities that played out on social media. We also discussed the type of messages we typically send out and looked at a few examples of how other agencies are using social media platforms to communicate. This could probably have been an all day session that started out with an introduction to social media. For anyone who is looking for a fun introduction to social media, I embedded something I put together a few years ago – keep in mind some of the sites might have minor design changes:


More performance appraisal information and stress (not necessarily tied together)

Successful communication and employee loyalty – this was a full day session with Doug Cartland. If anyone has seen him talk, you understand how completely motivational and interesting this day was for us.

Strategic Planning – I am absolutely fascinated by this topic and in understanding how teams work together in planning. What was particularly interesting in this session was how I could relate it to conducting this type of exercise in a virtual setting. Most of the issues that hijack a strategic planning session are easily knocked out of the way by instead conducting the planning in a virtual setting. Of course we didn't have that choice here – totally face to face.


So those were the session highlights for me. But there is one other significant part to IPSI you won't get from the class schedule – the people. It really hit me this year as soon as I walked in and lasted until the minute I left. There is a closeness and bonding that takes place during the entire week that I'm not sure is obvious at first. It kind of sneaks up on you without you realizing it is happening. All the shared experiences in class, the jokes, the fun, the learning, the sharing of ideas and challenges, and the sharing of meals and time together build relationships and bonds we would not otherwise have. In the end for me, that's a priceless gift I hope I never take for granted. Because of it, we no longer feel alone or that we have to face our battles without help. We may be urged in class to constantly think "what hill we want to die on," but once we choose, we go there knowing we won't be rushing the hill alone.

Lindberg Rd Reconstruction LaSalle IL


Creating a Great Class

Building on the last post, this one goes into more specific detail on what tools a teacher can make use of to create a great class. This means a class that is effective, attractive, and provides a clear path to completion. Rather than use words to convey this information, I made use of a tool I've tried out in the past: Glogster.




Hurricane: Preparedness and Response Training

Emergency Mgmt Institute 2012

There's a little known secret out there among emergency professionals – FEMA has an awesome training facility in Emmitsburg, Maryland where public works professionals working in local government can get free, high-quality emergency response training. In July of this year, I was fortunate enough to attend a week of training there and plan to share my experience at some point over the next week or so. But for now, I wanted to pass along a notice about an upcoming course to be held at that facility. This particular class will provide Preparedness and Response Training for Hurricanes. So if you get the chance, it is definitely worthwhile to attend or if you can't make it, send someone from your staff. Here are the details:


FEMA Emergency Management Institute

E905 – Integrated Emergency Management Course (IEMC):

Hurricane: Preparedness and Response

Course Date: 11 – 14 Feb, 2013

Course Description:

This IEMC addresses preparedness and response in emergency situations resulting from a hurricane. This exercise-based course is conducted for participants from communities throughout the country. The IEMC places public officials and other key community leaders in a disaster simulation. The course methodologies of classroom instruction, planning sessions, and exercises allow for structured decision making in an educational, yet realistic, environment. A key outcome of this IEMC is that additional planning needs are identified, providing the opportunity to enhance overall preparedness. The exercise scenario for IEMC: Hurricane Preparedness and Response focuses on evacuation issues prior to the simulated hurricane making landfall and response activities after landfall.

Target Audience:

The target audience for this course includes Emergency Operations Center (EOC) management personnel.  EOC management personnel include, but are not limited to, mayors, city/county managers, general counsel, community/county managers, emergency managers, fire/police/public safety chiefs, public works and public health managers, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) managers, community services providers, Private Industry, National Guard Members, and key EOC support staff.


National Emergency Training Center (NETC),  Emergency Management Institute,

Emmitsburg, Maryland.


To Apply:

Complete a FEMA Form 119-25-1, General Admissions Application ( http://training.fema.gov/EMICourses/  ) with a student signature and signature of supervisor or sponsoring agency official.  Submit the application through the State emergency management training office who will fax it to the NETC Admissions office at (301) 447-1658. netc-admissions@dhs.gov

There are no tuition fees for EMI on-campus or off-site courses. All instruction, course materials, and housing (for most participants) are provided at no cost. Participants from other countries, other Federal agencies, and most participants from private industry or contractors to State, local, or Tribal governments must pay their own transportation and lodging fees. All participants are responsible for the cost of cafe­teria meals provided and for personal, incidental expenses.

For additional information contact Doug Kahn, douglas.kahn@fema.dhs.gov  or http://training.fema.gov/EMI/ 


The Lesson of Zork – Successful Training is in the Details

The problem with training material is that usually the people creating these documents know their subject matter inside and out. Now, I realize that most people probably wouldn't really think that's problem. After all, if we are new to a subject and looking for a teacher, we would most certainly seek out a "master" of the task or material. So why in the world would anyone think of full and complete knowledge of a particular subject as a liability for a teacher?

The reason I say this is that when we have mastered something, such as CAD or GIS or any other task we do every day, we end up going through the motions or steps without really thinking about it. So when we decide to teach someone else, it really takes an effort to stop and think of each and every step we need to explain. I came to this realization when I tried to write some guidance to show someone how to use a certain piece of software. I found out you really need to figure out and write down every single thing you do. If you skip one step, particularly a critical one, you risk losing your student. They end up stuck, not able to proceed because they are missing that one key ingredient. And the teacher preparing such a guide might not catch that one omission because while testing it out, it's easy to go on auto-pilot and fill in any missing steps without really thinking about it or noticing the key step is missing.

But had I remembered my earlier experiences playing the text-based game Zork, I would have more quickly understood just what is needed to create a successful training manual. Because just like playing Zork, good training is all in the details. If you've ever played Zork, you will remember how important it was to type out each command in logical order. If you see a bottle of water on the table, you can't just say "drink water." First, you need to pick up the bottle. Then you can issue the "drink water" command. And because it's all text-based, you need to provide your own visualizations of what you have done, where you are, and what you are planning to do. Yes, in a world of video and animation, text can seem boring. But  playing through these old games can help us better identify the basic tools and steps that must be incorporated into training in order for it to be successful. Throwing together a flashy video might engage, but will it teach? If we've left out necessary details, probably not. 

If you are interested in trying out Zork for yourself, you can find it here at this link: http://pot.home.xs4all.nl/infocom/zork1.html


The Gamification of Public Works

Mastermind - Socialiser Gamer Class Symbol from BrainHexMost people my age have been schooled with the "sit and listen" method. But today's teachers are breaking out of that mold by tailoring lesson plans for different learning styles using gaming ideas and platforms. So to better understand this shift in education, I am taking a summer class offered through Boise State that focuses on this new teaching approach. The course is built on 3D GameLab,  "an online, quest-based platform" that can be used to develop training courses. My purpose in taking the class is to develop education-based skills and to understand how best to leverage a game-based approach to learning. And my goal is to use these skills and this knowledge to develop training resources for professionals in public works and for citizens.

So why are educators embracing gaming as a teaching method, and why do I believe this can be leveraged for professional training? Game developers have figured out some critical elements of human nature. They are leveraging the fact that we can be motivated with the right environment and incentives to complete a set of assigned tasks. And this motivation can be so great that for some it borders on addiction. Imagine how many employers would be interested in learning this secret, particularly because the exchange of money is in the reverse – players are not expecting money to play and instead give up their money to game.

I've embedded a video at the end of this post that explores the effect games have had on our lives. Some of the insights shared in this talk discuss the ability of games to drive or elicit emotion in a player. This is accomplished through the game environment, the framework of the game, the story within the game, and the tasks assigned. Done well, all these elements combine to grab the player, pull him into the game, and drive his emotion. And because the purpose is to keep the player coming back, those emotions are not designed to be negative. Instead they are set up to create the most epic, incredible emotions that can be felt.

To successfully gamify training in our field, we need to capture these components along with elements from our industry and apply them to our courses. The environment and tasks that make up our workplace are probably the easiest to translate into this method. However finding our story and weaving it throughout the training session and into each task is more challenging. The same approach and challenges exist for developing civic courses for citizens. And in each, a successful course will be dependent on the ability to bring the player into the game, encourage them to accept and become a part of the story, and develop the confidence, skills, and engagement necessary to achieve epic wins in the game and in "real life." And have them return for more.



(The symbol at the beginning of the post is one of many that can be generated at the BrainHex website. Anyone can visit the site and take a quick test to see what gameplay behaviour they exhibit.)