Section 9.3: How to Plan a Successful Program
There are a number of different strategies to use to help ensure a successful program. Please consider the following steps when planning your programs:
STEP 1: Assess the Residents' Needs
Needs assessment can be handled in several ways. Many educational programming teams in residence halls begin the year by administering an interest survey, which lists a number of possible programs for students to evaluate based on their interest. You can generate your own list of ideas for an interest survey. Interest surveys can be particularly helpful for gaining an understanding of the common interests of your residents. They can give you an idea of the scope of programming and how you should direct it. People respond on surveys according to the options you provide.
Brainstorming at a floor meeting is another way to generate ideas for programs. Brainstorming is a very simple technique that requires a person to ask questions and facilitate the flow of conversation and ideas. The key to using this technique is a small group is to allow a free-flow of ideas, no matter how bizarre, without any limitations on their feasibility. It is an idea-generating time. You may use the following format:
- A small group of people are called together, and the topic of programming is introduced. This is usually done best on a large sheet of butcher paper.
- The facilitator chooses an assistant to write down all the ideas that are generated. Generally a time limit is placed on the length of this brainstorming activity.
- The group is instructed to imagine any possible program in which they or others might be interested.
- The facilitator asks the basic question, “What programs, activities, or interests would you like to see us undertake this year?”
- The facilitator may offer a few ideas but should encourage the group to generate most of the ideas. The facilitator should reinforce people who offer ideas with comments like “That’s a good idea; let’s get that one down,” or “Great idea!”
- When the time limit is reached or the group has run out of ideas, the facilitator brings the brainstorming session to a close.
- The groups is then asked to rank those programs in which they would like most to participate.
- Feasibility of the programs may be discussed at this time, relative to the rank order.
- The top three or four programs are discussed and selected consistent with the group’s rankings.
Step 2: Set Objectives for the Program
An objective is a statement that describes the process by which a goal should be attained. It describes the expected performance and the conditions under which the performance is expected to occur. Objectives are useful in defining exactly what you intend to do. They are particularly helpful in communicating to others what you are attempting to achieve and why. Objectives are important because they state for you and others exactly who is to be affected, what specifically will be done, how it will be done, and how you will know that it has been accomplished.
Step 3: Involve Others
As an RA, you are in a position of responsibility requiring organizational and coordinating skills. However, you should not feel compelled to do all of the work in designing and implementing programs yourself; if you do, the programs then become your programs. Ideally, the programs should be collective efforts. People are more likely to participate in programs to which they have contributed.
Part of educational programming is that sometimes no one wants to help. This will occasionally happen and the responsibility falls on you to ensure the program takes place. Programming may be easier to do yourself, but doing so deprives others of the opportunity to learn important skills associated with this activity.
Strategies to Involving Others:
- Delegate! Always ask a specific person to assume responsibility for a specific task. This is preferable to asking for volunteers, which communicates that the responsibility is not very important and that anyone could do the job. Selecting a student communicates that they have a special talent that the group needs.
- Coordinate! The responsibility of the person organizing a program is to coordinate the program. This means attention to detail and continual follow up with people who have responsibility for various parts of the program. Even though others have been delegated tasks, the success of the program is still your responsibility.
- Abdicate! Try to put someone else in charge of designing, organizing, and coordinating the program. Become a true advisor. Advise your residents on how they can accomplish what they need to do, but do not do it for them. Use the beginning of the year to role model good organizational and programming skills to give your residents the opportunity to learn from you.
- Motivate! Encourage, support, and reward those in the group who are helping with a program. Mention in front of others the accomplishments of these students and tell them how much you appreciate their contribution.
Step 4: Preprogram Planning
By this stage, you have discussed the needs of the group, determined your specific objectives, and involved others in the formation of the ideas and organization of the program. You are now ready to plan the programs general format, and examine the feasibility of the proposed program. Draw up a tentative plan, making sure the plan meets the needs of the group.
Step 5: Plan the Program
At least two weeks in advance, plan for who will help, who will present, advertising, and equipment, if necessary. Discuss your plans with other RA’s and staff members. Ask yourself:
- Are facilities available?
- What resources will we need to accomplish this program?
- What tentative dates would be possible for this program? Are there any conflicts?
- What monetary support is necessary for the success of this program?
- What special equipment or facility is available for this program?
- Does this program comply with university policies regulating residence hall activities?
- Who will attend the program? (Co-ed group, people from other buildings?)
Step 6: Publicize
Publicity is a KEY element in the success of a program. Good publicity that motivates and encourages people to attend helps bring people in contact with that your program has to offer. Poor publicity turns people off or doesn’t reach them in the first place, and limits the success of your program. Preparing and distributing the publicity is not easy; it is hard work and takes a lot of time. This is one reason sharing responsibilities is key- If you find someone who is interested in doing publicity, they can help ensure the success of your program.
Don’t forget the importance of a positive attitude and word of mouth. A group of people who communicate excitedly about having a program can often be the most effective publicity.
Step 7: Final Checklist
Simply check what you have done. Go through every step and make sure you have accomplished what you need to accomplish. The checklist should be a review of your program. This is the time for you to check with everyone who has agreed to do something for the program to confirm that they have done it or will do it.
Step 8: The Day of the Program
On the day of the program be sure to check and follow-up on:
- Your speaker
- Program material
- Any other resources to see that everything is ready
- Make sure facilities to be used are clean, neat, and usable
- If you are having refreshments, confirm that they will be delivered or someone will pick them up
- Have special publicity prepared for the day of the program and the day before the program. People usually notice mirror notes and new items on the bulletin board, so this is a good publicity technique to encourage attendance.
- Be at the program at least a half hour before the program is scheduled to start. This will enable you to fix any unexpected problems or to answer any last minute questions. Make sure someone meets the speaker, if there is one, or brings the material necessary for the program.
Step 9: At the Program
If the program has a speaker, somebody needs to introduce them. Make sure the speaker is introduced to any administration representatives, and make sure the speaker has the opportunity to meet as many students as possible before the program begins.
Before the program, think of some questions to help stimulate discussion. You may wish to provide a few members of the audience with questions ahead of time. People ask questions when they see others doing it.
Step 10: After the Program
Once a program has concluded, evaluate the degree to which it met your goals. A survey given at the end of the program is probably the most common, although people often do not like to fill out surveys at the end of a program. Surveys are useful in that they give you a collective reaction.
Another form of evaluation is an informal discussion that occurs later that evening or directly after the program. Make a point of asking people what they thought of the program- ask what they liked or did not like. Ask how they think the program could have been improved and if they would recommend it to others.
Reinforce those students who helped with the program. This is best done publicly. Recognition and reinforcement are the two key ways of communicating your thanks for their help. There is nothing worse than leaving a program to which you have devoted your time without some expression of thanks. If your program planner did not do well, reinforce what they did do well and privately make some suggestions to them on what could have been better.
Send your presenter a thank you note. Never invite a speaker to your living unit without sending a formal thank-you letter. If it was a large program presented to the entire residence hall, it may be appropriate to send a formal thank you letter to the speaker and a copy to their supervisor. Always check with your AD to determine when this is appropriate.
- Programs presented early in the fall semester help to establish residents' expectations for more programs. FRONTLOAD and students will come to accept programs as a natural order of life in residence halls.
- At your first floor meeting, get feedback from your residents about what programs they would like to have and help execute. Their input will give them a sense of ownership and therefore help increase attendance and participation at programs.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your residents for help when organizing a program, you may need it and it gets residents involved and invested in programming.
- Collaborate with other RAs, student groups and organizations if they can help meet resident needs.
- Invite faculty/staff members to attend or speak at a program.