Chapter 12: Listen to Truth
10:30 AM. Nyla and Silas have wandered from the trailhead through deep snow to the gurgling sound of a mountain creek. The creek can’t be seen, but we can hear it running under towers of snowdrifts and rock outcroppings. The creek runs between two mountainsides, pivoting around large evergreen trees and a trail that crisscrosses the frozen waters. Up ahead, a bridge invites us deep into the forest. With more than a foot of snow blanketing the trail, this alpine landscape appears like a winter wonderland, and seems like the perfect place to explore with our club. But suddenly Silas has stopped moving.
It’s hard to know when to step back and give children space so they can grow, and when to swoop in for the rescue. The emotional exterior of my son, Silas, swells up and down like the ocean. He sheds a tear after asking to be picked up and his wishes were not granted. Moments later, he stubbornly stands and continues walking in the snowy mountains for another hour. Later, when I reminded him of how sullen he was, he smiles like a rascal, and smugly reminded me that he had wanted to be carried. While our scouting expedition was not entirely smooth, we’re excited to have discovered a new place for our family nature club, and we owe it all to one of our members who suggested the spot.
Listening to your members is one of the best ways to generate vitality for your family nature club. Besides listening during events to ensure people are having a good time, you can solicit feedback from your members on ideas for future activities and locations. If you listen and then act upon this feedback, you will create events that families will want to participate in, and generate the vitality needed to keep your group going.
How to Solicit and Use Feedback to Shape Your Family Nature Club
The process for getting and using feedback from your members will vary depending on your personality and the personalities of your members. It will also vary depending on the purpose of your club, in that not all feedback you get will be aligned with the goals of your activities. There are different types of questions that you can ask, different ways to ask for feedback, and a variety of approaches for acting upon this feedback. Each one is discussed here briefly.
Here are two types of questions you can use to gather feedback:
A close-ended question is a format that limits responses to a fixed list of answers, such as a yes or no question or multiple-choice question. This is an effective question format when you are trying to decide between known alternatives. For example, if you want to gauge interest in specific types of events, you can ask members to give input on what events they want to see organized from a given list of options. The responses to close-ended questions can help you better understand the interests of the majority members, and prioritize events. I find it especially helpful if I want to plan an event that requires fees or equipment and I’m not sure if my group is interested in paid events or has the necessary gear to participate in an event.
An open-ended question is a format that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” or with a specific piece of information. This is an effective question format to discover new ideas or unknown preferences of a group. For example, if you are not sure what kind of events or locations to plan, you can ask people to share ideas for events. You can also gather suggestions for how to make future events more hassle-free. The responses to open-ended questions can help you in the brainstorming process to shape future events, and also as a starting point for close-ended questions.
How to ask the questions:
There are many ways to pose questions to your group, and often a combination of several approaches is most effective to get the widest range of possible respondents. Here are some of the ones that work well:
- Ask members in person. This can be a casual conversation, such as bringing up an open-ended question during an event, or it can be more formal, such as passing around a clipboard with a short comment and suggestion form at the end of an event.
- Ask members via an announcement. You can include questions as part of an email newsletter, or on a webpage. Some group management tools like Facebook and Meetup have poll features that you can use for close-ended questions. You can also post a discussion thread in most websites, and ask people to write responses to close-ended or open-ended questions by commenting on the thread.
- Ask members via direct digital communication. You can send an email, chat, or post a direct message in a forum. This can be made more efficient if you’re using some kind of email service that sends out the question in bulk to users.
- Ask members via an online survey. There is a wide variety of free survey tools you can use to get feedback on open-ended or close-ended questions. You simply create the survey and then send a link to people directly, or by posting it on your community webpage. This can be an effective way to survey larger groups of people with minimal effort.
How to use feedback:
Getting feedback alone is not all that helpful. But you can act upon this feedback to make your next event more fun and hassle-free, making feedback very profound.
Here’s how to use the feedback that you get:
When you discover the majority interest in something, this allows you to effectively plan future events and know that they will appeal to the majority of your club members. This is a big confidence booster, because people will self-select their participation, and you know that the event will draw interest because people have told you so.
When you discover a minority interest in something, this allows you to prioritize events properly. Depending on your lineup of events, you may decide that too few people are interested in an event, and you’ll put it on the back burner. Or you can use this information to plan the low-interest-type events at a less frequent rate than other events.
When ideas are aligned with your group’s purpose, you now have a great list of things you can plan for upcoming events! You can still test ideas with your group by doing a multiple-choice survey or poll to understand how much of the group is interested in this new idea.
When ideas are not aligned with your group’s purpose, you now have a better understanding of the different interests of your members. You can use this information to decide what direction to grow your club, or you can use it as an opportunity to remind those specific members of the purpose of your club, and why you do or do not want to plan a certain type of event or activity.
The value of soliciting and using feedback from members cannot be overstated. This is a great way to ensure that you plan events that members enjoy, and makes your job easier in coming up with great ideas. If your club is associated with a larger organization or one that has a specific venue for activities, you may have less opportunity to shape events from this feedback—in which case, it is a great opportunity to remind those members of the purpose of your club. As well, you can also point members to other nearby clubs or associations that might better meet those specific needs.
I’ve been very fortunate to have a group of folks who share my interests and also have different knowledge of good activities and locations for our events. I tend to talk to my group a lot during our events, asking both close-ended and open-ended questions to participants out in the field. This has led to great brainstorming sessions during snack time, and has given me many great ideas for upcoming events. Sometimes I will share specific problems I’m trying to work out. One time, some of my group expressed an interest in visiting an indoor climbing gym. While this is a bit outside of my group’s purpose of getting into nature, it presents a good way to build skills that the children can later take into nature, sort of like learning to swim at an indoor swimming pool. I asked members if they knew of any good climbing gyms, and learned of a fantastic one that we now visit frequently. The other thing I do is post polls on my Facebook group pages to get a sense of what people are most interested in. In these polls, I’ll present just three or four event options, and ask people to rank which ones they are most interested in doing. Since some of the event options require gear (such as backpacking and boating), it is very effective to see who is interested in going. I also use my newsletters to post general thoughts about upcoming event types (such as introducing naturalist or primitive skill-building events), and ask for feedback in the email. I’ve found that I’ll get responses to these emails, and also that the topic will come up in conversation at a later event. Besides talking in person with folks, I will chat with them via instant message at times, about ideas for upcoming events. I even had one father ping me late at night saying he’d love to have more hiking events to get his kids some exercise. I used this as an opportunity to convey to the member that getting exercise wasn’t a sole focus of the event, and that at the current age of our children I thought unstructured nature play was a better value for them, and included some exercise. Since I hike a lot and know the local area, I shared a few ideas for hiking that that member could do outside of our group events. It also prompted me to plan a hike as an upcoming event.
What You’ve Learned
In this chapter, you’ve learned how to listen to what your group is saying and use that information to increase the vitality of your family nature club.