Thank you to our author Micah Jacobson for sharing this great facilitation tool from The Check Model: A Guide to Student Led, Advisor Ensured Event Planning by Jacobson and Abbey Levine. This is a student leadership tool for planning extraordinary events, teaching leadership and event management, and ensuring consistent event execution. It is ideal for advisors and sponsors who work with student leadership groups and want to have students involved in planning.
Making Decisions: Open, Narrow, Close
Events begin as an idea. Actually, events typically start with lots of ideas. Everyone involved has his or her notion of which events should be done, how they should go, what components will be necessary, etc. In the Check Model, we want to use the opportunity of event creation to continue to build skills for students as well as enhance the cohesiveness of the planning team. To do this, we follow a meeting skills process adapted from The Interaction Method found in How to Make Meetings Work. Deciding what events to hold and some of the details of those events follows a typical pattern:
The opening stage is where we typically find brainstorming and idea generation. Do you have to brainstorm? No. There are many ways to get lots of ideas on the table. In this stage we are just trying to see what possibilities exist and the group should be free to explore every possibility.
Brainstorming: This is the most common method for generating a lot of ideas in a short period of time. Brainstorming involves one person (often, but not always the Team Leader) facilitating the rest of the group members, trying to get their ideas up on paper or white board so that the whole group can see them, reflect upon them, and add more to them.
Brainstorming must follow a few key rules in order to be successful.
1. All ideas are “good.” This means that every idea should be written down, no matter how outlandish or impractical. Often “bad” ideas serve as a gateway to better ones. Stifling ideas in the brainstorming process can inhibit the group members’ abilities to generate great ideas.
2. No discussion about ideas (no criticism, commenting, cheering, etc.). Ideas have a tendency to create conversation and comment. Group members often have immediate thoughts and judgments about the potential success of an idea. This is not the place for those thoughts. There are two major problems with comments at this stage. The first is that comments can inhibit sharing. The second is that comments can derail the brainstorm, sidetracking the group.
3. Everyone has the chance to participate. Finding a way to encourage individual and group creativity can be tricky. When a Team Leader puts his or her ideas in first, others can be intimidated. Use individual think time or even index card contributions to get ideas from everyone.
4. All brainstorms should be timed. Brainstorming can go on forever if allowed. A time limit ensures two things. First, it limits and focuses the contribution period—although great ideas will continue to bubble up, at some point a group must move from idea generation to event implementation. Second, it can help a group that is having trouble getting started—a time limit ensures that the group does not give up after just one or two ideas but rather forces group members to sit in the process of idea generation for a period of time, making sure they are taking advantage of all the creativity in the room. A good time limit for most student brainstorms is two to five minutes.
The last thing to keep in mind is the ease and speed of capturing ideas. Ideally the Team Leader, or whoever is acting as the facilitator, should keep ideas coming as quickly as possible. This might mean having a separate person available to write the ideas down on the white board or newsprint paper in front of the group. Both the facilitator and the recorder of ideas should refrain from dominating the conversation and instead focus on getting group members to contribute their ideas.
So your group now has a lot of ideas on the board. The challenge is to take that huge list of ideas and quickly narrow it down to just a few reasonable ideas. Most commonly, groups will hold a vote at this point. Often that vote will be some version of “majority rules.” Everyone gets one vote for his or her favorite idea and the one with the most votes wins. This is a bad idea for student leadership groups. Majority rules works wonderfully well for building divisiveness, creating winners and losers, and generating animosity among members—look no further than every democratic legislature in the world for verification. Ideally, you want to avoid this in your group.
Instead of majority rules, use a process called N/3 (adapted from How to Make Meetings Work):
N/3 works by taking the number of ideas you are considering (N), dividing that number by 3 and issuing that number of votes to each member present. For instance, if 20 ideas have been brainstormed, take 20 and divide it by 3, then round to the nearest whole number. In this case, everyone would get 7 votes. Next, quickly move through the list asking people to raise their hand clearly and immediately for their top 7 ideas.
A couple of important things happen with this method. First, because people have multiple votes, their allegiance to any single idea is diluted and some of the passion that occurs when people have just one vote is avoided. Secondly, because people have a limited number of votes, ideas which seem fun, but are likely impractical, don’t get votes.
After going through each of the ideas on the list, the group, with the facilitator’s help, should look for the ideas that seem to be the most supported. Often, you will find that this is the same number of ideas as you had votes to distribute. Therefore, if everyone received 7 votes, 7 ideas will have more votes than all the rest. If you have fewer or more, that is okay. Simply look for the ideas that seem to have broad support and move forward with those ideas.
The N/3 process allows the group to take a large list of ideas and narrow them down to a few workable and supported ideas in a very short period of time (often less than 10 minutes). The group may repeat the N/3 process multiple times until there are no fewer than 5 ideas. At that point, stop the narrowing process.
Having narrowed your brainstormed ideas down to five or less, now is the time to decide upon the idea(s) that the group wants to move forward with. The final decision should be made in a small group of less than six people. That group should consist of the advisor, the Team Leader and the other key decision makers for the group. This group should look at the whole picture of events for the year, considering some or all of the following:
• The group’s energy and desire
• The practical implications of each idea
• Time limits
• Resource and budget limits
• Other events happening at school
• Other events to be planned throughout the year
Remember to look at every possibility, utilizing all the tools you have to work with in the course of coming to a consensus decision.
Combine: Sometimes two ideas can be seamlessly combined into one, or the best parts of each can be put together.
Yes, And: An idea might be very close to working with just a couple of additions. For example, the group might say, “Yes, the dance is a great idea, and what if we add a game room off to the side?”
Go Big: Even with small events, there is often a way to go big or fully show up in the idea. Look for the Wow moment that can be created in all ideas.
Once the small group has come to a decision, focus on how to inform the rest of the group with enthusiasm and excitement!
The Check Model for Event Planning: A Guide to Student Led, Advisor Ensured Event Planning
by Micah Jacobson and Abbey Levine. © 2012, Boomerang Project, 800-688-7578, www.boomerangproject.com
How to Make Meetings Work: The New Interaction Method. Michael Doyle and David Strauss. © 1990, Dove Publishing