(Pictured: Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code (an organization that encourages Black girls to learn more about technology and computer science), and her daughter Kai during a workshop)
I’ve seen many community groups and organizations develop workshops and programming in the hopes of attracting higher youth engagement. While their intentions are always in the right place, the results were often not very good. How so? Through feedback from participants, a decrease in participation (either by not returning to the program or not being actively engaged in the workshop), and funders choosing to no longer support them by taking away their funding. Of course, there are a variety of factors at play, and some factors you may not be able to control. But you do have a greater amount of control in how your programs and workshops are designed than you think you do.
Here are 4 ways to help you create successful programs and workshops in order to engage more youth. While these tips aren’t youth-specific, per se (and you may be familiar with them), these tips will get you thinking more about how you can tweak certain aspects of your programming and workshops. And you don’t have to be a director of programs to use these tips. All you need is the desire to improve what you do so that you can do it well, and your youth will reap the benefits:
1. Be S.M.A.R.T.: Also known as Achievement Based Objectives, S.M.A.R.T. is a mnemonic that tells your participants what they can expect to learn in your program or workshop. S.M.A.R.T. goals are useful because they can be applied to not only developing a workshop or program, but also for setting personal goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for:
*Specific– Hone in on what you want to achieve, and avoid being too broad. From one of my past workshops, I developed this objective: “By using interactive activities, storytelling, and skill-sharing, this workshop will help Black girls, women, and the organizations that serve them to think more critically about the importance of prioritizing self-care and leave with tangible tools to incorporate self-care practices into their lives.” While not the best example, I think this shows the importance of being as specific as possible.
*Measurable– How will you know that your program or workshop was successful? For example, “I want to make good grades” is not as measurable as “I want to earn a 3.5 grade point average by the end of the spring semester”. How will you know if you’ve achieved your goal? Teacher evaluations, a final transcript, and final exam grades are some ways to measure your success. In the context of a program or workshop, how you measure your progress depends on several factors, such as the length of your program. Some programs last for 6 weeks while others only last a few days.
*Achievable– Does what you want to do even possible? Again, this may depend on the length of your program or workshop. One thing facilitators tend to do (and I’ve done in on many occasions) is cram in as much information as possible when you find out how much time you really have. Do you have the resources necessary? Do you have the monetary and staff support? Do you have adequate time to do what you want to do? Do you have the skills to do what you want? If you’re developing a program that will span several sessions, you can break down a particular topic and discuss one aspect of it in one session, another aspect in the second session, and so on. If you’re only doing a workshop, continue to focus on one aspect and consider creating another workshop on a different aspect. Or, you can touch on one aspect while providing resources for other aspects of your topic (hand-outs, websites, contact information, etc.)
*Relevant– Is the goal of your program or workshop in alignment with your mission or the “bigger picture”? If your workshop focuses on helping youth share their stories of being bullied, how does it fit into your mission of bullying prevention? Make sure your objectives fit into your overall goals.
*Time-specific– How much time do you have to meet your objectives? Is it a 4 week program or a 90 minute workshop? Knowing this will help you get as clear as possible on what you need to do or if you have the luxury of spacing things out.
2. WWWWWWH?: Global Learning Partners, Inc. has created a 7-step design progress used to get you thinking more about developing your program or workshop. WWWWWWH also ties into the S in S.M.A.R.T. What does WWWWWWH stand for?
*Who?- Who will be attending? What is the age range? How much do they know about the subject matter? These questions will guide you into creating content that is most relevant.
*Why?- Why are you developing this program or workshop? What is happening now for you to believe that a program or workshop in the subject matter in necessary? Has there been a spike in sexually transmitted infections among teen girls in your community? Is there an increase of queer young women of color becoming pregnant in your school? These are just some examples. After the completion of the program or workshop, what will the participants do differently?
*When?- What time of day do you plan to conduct your program or workshop? How often? What’s the duration? The time of day is one of the most important factors in developing a program or workshop. Will it be during school hours, after school, or on a Saturday morning? If you have more flexibility, you can ask participants for their preferred time, especially if you’re doing a program. When it comes to a workshop, you can always request a certain time but be prepared that you may not get the time that you want.
*Where?- Will it be in a classroom or a conference room? Is is accessible for individuals who may need wheelchair access? Is it near public transportation? Do you need permission to use the space?
*What?- What content will be taught? Does the order of the exercises involved make sense? What skills, knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes will help you to gauge if the content you’re sharing is being well received? Remember this: Even if you have all the time in the world to do what you want, it’s probably best not to overwhelm your participants.
*What For?- What do the participants have to do in order to demonstrate that they’re getting the information? (Hint: S.M.A.R.T.)
*How?- What is the best way to present your content that is engaging and informative? Which brings us to #3…
3. Creativity is key: Develop your program and workshop in a way that honors the ways in which people process information. Some people learn better when they see something (PowerPoint presentation, video clip, detailed notes, visualizations) while others need to use their hands (artwork, puzzles) and others prefer to hear what they’re learning (music, reading aloud information). When you develop the content for your program or workshop, consider having 3 separate exercises that speak to each type of learning style.
4. Gather feedback before, during, and after: When we ask for feedback, it’s typically after the program or workshop is completed. You can gather feedback in a variety of ways, including pre-tests and post-tests and verbal feedback. Outside of a pre-test, feedback typically isn’t gathered in the beginning, and no one really thinks to gather feedback while the content distribution is in progress. Here are 2 creative ways I’ve used for gathering feedback during a portion of a program or during a workshop:
*Poll Everywhere– This is one of the most creative ways to gather feedback from participants, and it utilizes something that young people tend to do often: sending text messages.It’s a fun, creative way to gather feedback, and it’s very customizable and it allows for your participants to be anonymous. It’s also free for an audience number of 40.
*Temperature gauging- Throughout the content sharing, you can ask the participants for their temperature, meaning how are they being influenced or affected by what’s being shared. Are participants feeling calm, or are they aroused? Are they bored? This will allow you to see if you need to go to move on to another exercise or spend more time exploring.