TLDR: What are the most important skills to teach student group organizers & community builders? Please let me know in the comments, or email me at wasil@sas.upenn.edu

I (Penn EA organizer and PhD student in psychology) have recently attended several retreats focused on community building & student group organizing.

I am interested in piloting workshops that equip student group organizers (and potentially other community builders) with useful skills. By “useful” I mean that they either:

  • Improve their ability to be effective organizers
  • Improve their own mental health or productivity

Why might this be important?

1) Directly supporting community organizers. 

  • I think the work of community builders is extremely valuable (I won’t list all the reasons in this post, but many are summarized here and here). With that in mind, efforts that support community organizers seem high-impact, even if they have rather “small” effect sizes (e.g., improving organizer effectiveness or sustainability by 5-10%).

2) Creating a culture of information-sharing & support

  • Student group organizers at different universities often encounter similar challenges. One challenge is fragmentation; in many cases, student group A simply doesn’t know much about what’s happening at student group B. The organizers of group A might learn useful techniques that could save group B a lot of time, but that information never gets shared.
  • I think efforts to create a culture of information-sharing and support between student groups would be valuable. One way of doing this is to have retreats. Another way is to have a group organizer slack channel. And yet another way is to have group leaders regularly thinking “what are some skills or lessons that I could teach to others?” and share them via short workshops, videos, posts, etc.
  • In a world where these workshops go well, I think they would a) provide more settings for group organizers to interact with each other and b) incentivize other group organizers to run short workshops on topics of widespread interest. It’s possible that we could run workshops regularly (e.g., once a month), offering a regular/consistent way for group leaders to meet, share ideas, and learn new skills (of course, I think this would be conditional on receiving feedback from organizers that these workshops are actually useful).

What would these workshops look like?

My current plan is to hold them over Zoom. Each workshop would last 60-90 minutes and involve a mix of: 

  • Didactics (sharing slides and talking at people)
  • Role-plays (in which attendees are divided into pairs and have opportunities to practice skills)
  • Discussion about the role-plays (in which attendees share best practices, concerns, questions, etc.)
  • Reflections (in which attendees brainstorm ways that the skills can be applied to their lives or to their groups)

Why do these need to be workshops? Could you share these lessons via forum posts?

  • Workshops are more conducive to role-plays and discussions
  • Part of the benefit of the workshops will involve attendees meeting each other & sharing their own insights/strategies/experiences with each other.
  • With that in mind, if one or more of these workshops go well, I could envision creating a forum post to summarize some of the key lessons/takeaways.

What are some examples of topics that could be covered in workshops?

  • Effective communication skills (e.g., active listening skills & productive disagreement skills that help organizers improve their ability to lead discussions or have 1-on-1 conversations with promising members)
  • Mental health promotion strategies (e.g., strategies from CBT and positive psychology that can help organizers prevent burnout, manage stress, and support others in their groups)
  • How to run good meetings (e.g., best practices for running engaging and informative general meetings)
  • How to discuss EA with different audiences (e.g., best practices for talking about EA & how to change the framing based on your audience’s values)

What can you do to help?

  • Let me know if you have any suggestions for workshop ideas!
  • Let me know if you, or anyone you know, would be interested in attending a pilot workshop & offering feedback
  • Let me know if you think this is an awful idea (or even just a “meh” idea).

I’m grateful to Olivia Jimenez, Harry Taussig, and Henry Sleight for feedback on this idea. I’m also grateful to everyone who organized and attended community building retreats!

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2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:32 AM
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Thanks so much for this post—I'm excited to see how the pilot workshops go! 
 

Here are some things I have/would find useful: 

  • Effective people management & project delegation. Also how to build up new exec board members’ abilities to independently run programs & events.  
  • Personal productivity tips (especially for university group organizers who are also full-time students and trading off their own career development against running their group) 
  • How to have effective 1:1s (whether for career mentoring or intro talks) and how to train other group members to run 1:1s
  • Effective planning (e.g. plan/do everything possible during breaks before the next semester!) 
  • I really like your idea on mental health promotion strategies! From personal experience, I think it’s easy for many community-builders to neglect taking care of their own mental health and not over-commit themselves. 

A couple other thoughts: 

  • What’s useful for community builders probably depends heavily on the state of the group (e.g. if they’re trying to get off the ground or have a large existing executive board) 
  • If concrete problems need to be resolved in a group, the workshops could also function to help community-builders solve each other's problems? 
  • +1 to creating a culture of information-sharing and support :)

This is very exciting! 

I am looking into creating and running some trainings for group organizers through CEA Scalable Uni Support :).  If you or others would be interested in helping to create these, please let me know at jessica.mccurdy@centreforeffectivealtruism.org.  

I am particularly excited to hear from people who are willing to take lead on creating and running specific trainings. I think winter break is a great time for organizers to take on projects like this. For example, last winter I made the facilitator training for EAVP as a winter break project. It was a good learning opportunity for me to take ownership over a project and it turned into a helpful repeatable workshop. 

Sabrina's comment covers a lot of the trainings I would be excited to see. The one I am most excited to see soon is one to help train people to do 1-1s as these seem to be both particularly valuable to run and somewhat intimidating to do (at first!).  

Others that might be useful could be: 
* Movement building strategy and strategic prioritization for groups 
* Practicing elevator pitches for EA groups
* Applied rationality for group organizers and creating positive epistemic norms