The Importance of Plover and Open Steno

Open Steno was developed by Mirabai Knight, a CART writer in New York City. I first got to hear her speak about it years ago in the context of the stenographer shortage. She explained that this was a matter of statistics. We knew and still know that stenography is hard to do at working speeds. Only about ten percent of people that embark on the journey make it all the way through, and at that point, there’s almost 100% employment. The concept was simple. We cannot force people to pass steno programs, but if we introduce steno to more people, more people will find out they’re good at it and maybe want to make it their career. We can also tear down barriers for people that simply cannot afford student software, taking a different but equally important approach to something like Allie Hall’s Paying It Forward project. People that believe the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve may be surprised to learn that Mirabai pretty much figured it out over a decade ago.

The Open Steno community has brought things into creation like Plover, a free translation software that allows people to understand the basics of maintaining a dictionary without spending a dime. It has also brought Art of Chording by Ted Morin, a free way to learn steno.

The Open Steno 2021 survey results were released recently, and they are remarkable. Out of 100 respondents, almost half had been learning for less than three months, which means lots of people have been introduced to steno very recently.

Again, nearly half heard about steno from the internet, a blog, or website. This gives stenographic reporters a real peek at the power of the internet for recruiting court reporters. Television and online video is a distant second.

Social media is our friend.

On the flip side, most Open Steno participants do not intend to attend formal school. This is a trend that we should pay serious attention to. Communities like Open Steno are going to attract the people the court reporting schools cannot.

About half of the respondents use steno heavily in their normal computer use and over 60 percent of those that use it heavily intend to use it on a regular basis.

Not a single person said no. They love stenography.

Nearly 75% of respondents intend to use stenography exclusively in day-to-day computer use!

Again, skewed by people like me, who would’ve answered “no, and I do not intend to.”

The Open Steno community also has different people learning different theories, including Plover, StenEd, Magnum, and Phoenix. A variety of steno softwares are also used, including CaseCAT, Eclipse, and DigitalCAT.

11 respondents use CaseCAT!

Professional reporters, this is definitely one of many groups deserving of your support, whether you pop into the Discord chat to offer advice or even make financial donations, this is a chance to make a difference and contribute to one project that’s focused on putting an end to the shortage through tool creation and even free games like Steno Arcade.

NCRA 2.0 May 2019 Survey

Truly, NCRA has continued its commitment to being inclusionary and making changes to benefit all stenographers and members. Today we got an email that asked us to share our thoughts. That means you, reader, can participate in shaping the discussion for the field. You can be pretty sure that your words are going to reach somebody. Feel free to discuss it here, but before you do, go answer up, because your feelings matter, and the NCRA has taken an important step in letting you know that by asking. I encourage everyone, from the people that I am regularly in correspondence with to my anonymous readers to check in with your ideas for the future and how to make an NCRA that you want to be a part of.

And here are my own answers, to the extent they may be helpful or act as a beginning for bigger, better ideas.

What’s your GREAT idea?

“Most of our fights are won or lost at the state level. NCRA has historically taken on a supportive role and/or a federal, national approach. It is probably time to put at least some focus on states, particularly the big four identified by Ducker, Illinois, California, New York, Texas. Ducker said over 50 percent of court reporting was out of those states. If we lose in any of the four, it’s over.  I understand there is a committee for this type of thing now, but it will take some more press to get this knowledge to the members that have left / stopped renewing. As a very sad example, a friend of mine formerly worked with the Workers Comp Board of New York, which was gutted by electronic recording. When that person called NCRA, that person was told something along the lines of it’s a state matter and that NCRA is federal — of course, that was the NCRA then and not today’s NCRA 2.0 — but today that means one fewer member for NCRA. We can’t change the past. We can make the future better.”

How can YOU help?

“I can write. I can research. Perhaps one avenue to go down is to build a strong case for federal educational grants, see what Congress has passed in relation to other industries and begin building a strong case for stenographic education funding. NCRA has been efficient at this type of federal lobbying before and that can continue.”

Other IDEAS?

“1. Perhaps a reworking of the bylaws is in order. Leadership in NCRA is limited to Registered members, but this ends up being more exclusionary than other methods. The unfortunate truth is that there may be qualified leaders among your participating members. We had this issue in New York. In our case it was that retired and educator stenographers could not join the board. We voted on it twice, and both times, members stepped up and said if they want to lead, have them lead.

2. Inclusionary leadership. There are infinite ideas in the world. Perhaps it would be beneficial to NCRA’s image to come out with two or three big ideas that are being discussed, and either formally vote or informally poll members to see which is most important to them. I wouldn’t bind the board to the vote, but it’d probably make people, even the people that cannot donate time or effort in other ways, feel they have a voice. And to those that “lose” the vote, you can tell them this issue is still on our radar. You matter. Ultimately, memberships are selling the organization, and with regard to sales, feelings matter. 

3. If the time and data is available, make an effort to reach out to those who have not renewed. Perhaps talk to them about their beliefs or why they left. Thank them, encourage them to give NCRA 2.0 a try, and make a note of common themes. For example, if you found that 25 percent of non renewals were for a specific organizational reason, wouldn’t it be worth addressing?”