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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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!