Learning patterns/Strategic planning retreat
What problem does this solve?
The chapter supported and produced many different kinds of events, and we recognized that, as a volunteer organization, we required improved management and reporting of these events for our funders.
Before this, the chapter functioned on an ad-hoc basis, dealing with events and programming as they came to our attention.
The board recognized that, because of our numerous and high-profile events, we could no longer maintain a haphazard existence. We also wanted to be able to offer best practices to those seeking it on how to start and maintain conversations with individuals and organizations that want to be contributors.
We wanted a more organized methodology than what we had.
What is the solution?
A discussion with our grant officer from the Wikimedia Foundation, Winifred O., led us to consider a retreat with a professional strategic management consultant who could help us focus our efforts and improve our strategic planning. We discussed an out-of-town retreat, but settled on a day-long meeting at a hotel in the area, the Ace Hotel, New York City. We already had a relationship with the hotel, which had been the venue where we hosted our annual Wikipedia Day event and monthly wiki-hackathons.
Through the efforts of of a chapter member, Lane Rasberry, we had volunteer facilitation help from Chuck Bell, programs director at Consumer Reports. Bell has much experience in dealing with non-profit organizations and their various styles of governance. He began the meeting by asking attendees tough questions in an attempt to focus attention on developing goals for the Wikimedia NYC chapter.
We also brought in a partner from one of the institutions we worked with to talk about what partners look for when connecting with the chapter and its projects and events. This allowed us to get a better sense of at least this partner's point of view. This insider's point of view might well benefit how we work with partners in the future.
We also focused on action items to attach to the goals we developed and decided on dates for when those action items would be due. We wrote the action items on a chalk board. Each of the members present volunteered to work on completing an action item by signing their initials to it on the board.
As a result, we left the retreat with a solid strategic plan, committed working groups and timelines associated with the goals of each portion of the plan, and a more cohesive board and team of players. We also decided to host strategic planning meetings of this kind twice a year, from now on.
The day-long meeting provided us with a clear focus and direction for our efforts. Equipped with this new knowledge on strategic planning, we feel strongly that we can move forward, hone our activities and expand/evolve accordingly.
The Strategic Planning Retreat allowed us to re-focus our mission and solidify the important goals of the Wikimedia New York City chapter and its affiliated projects going forward.
While all of the people in attendance at the board meeting had their own project goals, what we all had in common was our desire to make information more accessible to all who seek it.
We see Wikipedia almost as a public amenity, which nearly everyone uses in their daily lives.
As one board member put it, we want to “make Wikipedia as democratic and accessible as the New York City Subway.”
Our first ever strategic planning retreat and the ones that follow, should help us on the way to making this more of a reality.
Things to consider
In order for a retreat like this to work, be sure to come prepared with easy communication tools.
- We used a Google Document that we shared via a screen and someone volunteered to take notes on it as we went (we also had the necessary wi-fi, computer, screen, audio setup to use it as a group).
- We also had a chalk board and chalk, colored Sticket Notes, pens and pencils.
- Necessary also is a group of people who come ready to work and remain engaged for the entire day (in our case about 9 hours total).
- We also had refreshmentsː plenty of coffee, drinks, a breakfast of bagels (useful if you, like we, started at 9 am), and a pizza lunch.
- It also helps to begin the day by deciding together what you want to get out of the retreat, so that precious time is not wasted on tangents.
- Having a moderator to keep the focus on pre-set goals for the gathering also helped greatly.
When to use
The chapter has decided to hold these retreats twice a year. The retreat is great for strategic planning in advance of grant funding requests, deciding programming for the year, exploring solutions for chapter challenges or in the case of the discovery of mission creep.