Yale Retreat Handover Doc

post by jessica_mccurdy · 2019-11-07T19:36:10.822Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · EA · GW · 1 comments

Contents

      Yale ‘18-’19 Retreat Handover Doc
  Overview
  Goals
  Example Timeline 
  Numbers/planning
    Number of nights: One
    Number of participants: Roughly 18
    Target Audience: Board members, past fellows, and engaged community members.
    Timing
  Budget and Financing
    How to get funding from CEA 
    Fall ‘19 Budget (one night retreat)
    Fall ‘18 Budget (one night retreat):
    Spring ‘19 Budget (two night retreat):
    Member cost
  Finding a Location
  Lyfts
      TLDR:
  Signup Form and Advertising 
      TLDR:
    Sample materials from previous retreats:
    Must have info
    Who we invite
    How We Advertise
  Program
      TLDR:
    Planning an arc
    Putting people together
    Ice Breakers
    Nightly Survey
    Discussions
    Sprinting
  Pre and Post Retreat Survey 
      TLDR:
  Food and Drink
      TLDR:
    Type of food
    Getting food
    Snacks and Drinks
  Sleeping Arrangements
      TLDR:
  Info email
    What attendees should pack
  Actually running the retreat
      TLDR:
    The start
    Other lessons learned
  Workshops
  Packing List for Organizers
None
1 comment

Special thanks to Aaron Gertler for edits and Alex Barry for sharing his Cambridge retreat handover which I originally based this off of.


Yale ‘18-’19 Retreat Handover Doc

This post is an adapted version of Yale Effective Altruism’s handover document for retreats, which we pass down to new retreat organizers. It describes our experience putting on semester retreats in Fall ‘18, Spring ‘19, and Fall ‘19. Additionally, it provides timelines, lessons learned, materials lists, and other resources that groups can use as they plan retreats of their own. This handover is written in sections as to be easily referenced when planning. It is not necessarily meant to be read from top to bottom and does not read as one continuous post. This post is written in the spirit of sharing resources, and we don’t intend to make claims about how best to run retreats. Therefore, please take all recommendations with a grain of salt.

I believe this document will be most useful for university groups in the US who are running retreats that are lower budget than most professional organization retreats but hopefully some of the advice and lessons learned can extend beyond that. I think this document could be particularly helpful for university groups who are running one of their first retreats. An organization or city retreat will most likely require a higher budget and significantly more preparation and materials.

Our retreats seem to have increased the dedication of our members and the strength of Yale’s EA community (based on qualitative data), and our members rate them as highly valuable even months later, in our end-of-semester survey. Therefore, we encourage other groups to try them and hope to share what we have learned so far.

We are still exploring how best to run university group retreats. We have not tested too many variations and thus can’t compare what we have done to other practices. We appreciate feedback and suggestions on how to improve future retreats.

If you have any questions about retreat planning, or anything else group-related, feel free to reach out to yaleeas@gmail.com.


Overview

Yale EA has put on 3 retreats for its core members. We define “core members” as including, but not limited to, board members, past fellows, and regular attendees. Both of our Fall retreats were one night long, and our Spring retreat was two nights. We had around 18 attendees at each retreat. We have picked Airbnbs that are less than 60 miles from campus as venues. All of our transportation to and from venues has been via Lyft. During the retreats we have had structured activities during the day then socializing(/afterparty) in the evenings. These retreats have been run as a mix of EA education and fun community building with a focus on community building.

Goals

These have been our goals in the past

Example Timeline

*This is my realistic timeline - an ideal one would have all of these done even further in advance

ASAP

~2 months in advance (absolutley no later than 1 month in advance):

~1.5 months in advance :

~1 month in advance:

~2 weeks in advance

~ 1 week in advance

Day Before

Week after

Numbers/planning

We have spent some time thinking about how many people we would like to attend our retreats and what kind of audience we are going for. This allows us to all be on the same page when advertising and to craft specific goals for the retreat.

After 3 retreats this is what we have come to recommend to our new retreat organizers

Number of nights: One

Number of participants: Roughly 18

Target Audience: Board members, past fellows, and engaged community members.

Timing

Budget and Financing

How to get funding from CEA

This page goes over the funding application processes for CEA.

We have been playing around with our budgets, but it seems like asking for about $1,400 from CEA is a sweet spot

Fall ‘19 Budget (one night retreat)

We ended up spending: Total = $ 1,660 - $250 (from members’ contributions) = $1410 (covered by CEA)

Fall ‘18 Budget (one night retreat):

We ended up spending: Total = $1950 approx - $550 (from members contributions) = $1400 (covered by CEA)

Spring ‘19 Budget (two night retreat):

CEA gave us $1,400 after we applied for a project proposal.

We ended up spending: Total $1600 approx - $1,400(from CEA) = 200 (covered by member contributions)

Member cost

In the past we made the retreat fee be $50 per person for commitment and to cover extra costs. In Fall ‘19 we lowered it to $25. This produced less financial burden on attendees, but we did not see any significant differences in attendance. I imagine we will raise member costs if we start to get nicer AirBNBs in the future where everyone can have a bed. We offer a pay what you can option for those who noted that the cost would be prohibitive.

Finding a Location

We have always found the locations for the retreat by looking on air bnb. We use it to search for all venues within 60 miles of campus that sleep the appropriate number of people (sorting sleeps high->low then scrolling past the ones that sleep too many seems like the easiest way). For each of the venues this would throw up, we would then look at each individually to see how well they fit the below criteria:

Our criteria have been:


This can take some time and the best places are quickly booked so take that into consideration. Start months in advance!

We usually ask hosts:

At the Fall ‘19 retreat we spent a few hours outside in a park, which was nice but is weather dependent. If we want to do this again we should maybe find somewhere that is outside but covered, as in a big gazebo or something similar. Also, we learned that it is important to remember to bring water if meeting outside!

Lyfts

TLDR:

We prefer to stay fairly close to campus as the rides are cheaper and lyfts are easier to come by. During our Fall ‘18 retreat we were in a rural area and had a very difficult time getting lyfts back to campus which caused a lot of confusion. We typically use Lyft instead of Uber because it more environmentally friendly and often get XLs.

We have found it important to make sure to plan the groups going in each car in advance, not just groups going at the same time. For instance, if 9 people are leaving at the same time, we plan who will be in the 4 person car and who will be in the 5 person car. It may seem like you can just figure it out when calling the Lyfts but we have had a lot of problems with trying to sort this out last minute. This was necessary for leaving campus and getting back to campus. It seems like splitting a group of 15 or so people into cars would be simple but it can be confusing and frustrating if you are rushing it while trying to clear out the house (This happened on our Spring ‘19 retreat and some people ended up leaving their belongings during the hustle and bustle). We think it is also good to plan who all will be calling the lyfts ahead of time as well.

We typically don’t schedule Lyfts ahead of time simply because people are sometimes unreliable and we don't want to waste a car if someone is late. Especially since there is often a cancellation fee. Usually Lyfts pick us up pretty quickly, especially from campus. However, we do set a cutoff time for when we will leave without people.

However, if we end up with a venue in a more rural area, we prefer to schedule rides ahead of time since lyft availability can be hard to come by in those locations.

We have found it important to try really hard to get everyone there at the same time. At our Spring retreat we had a group go earlier than another but we did not want the second group to miss out on the actual content so we just did ice-breakers. The problem is that when the second group came we basically had to do all of those ice breakers again. So now when we have separate groups we plan an activity for the first group that we are okay with the second not doing.

Signup Form and Advertising

TLDR:

Sample materials from previous retreats:

Must have info

We make sure to have this info for every attendee before leaving:

Who we invite

We always make sure to invite board members, past fellows and dedicated community members (have done a concepts workshop or have attended many events).

We try to limit the number of people who we do not already know well. While there may be someone who becomes very involved, we prefer not to spend too much time and money on someone who never comes to another event. We have had this happen before when we allowed very new people to come. We have found that everyone having a similar knowledge base in EA (have done the fellowship or a concepts workshop) is very important so that we can dive deeper into more difficult topics. Inviting new people tends to lower the quality of discussions.

Additionally, we found that it is nice if everyone knows at least one other person but not everyone. This way people are at least comfortable with someone but have plenty of people to meet.

How We Advertise

We send out an email ahead of time to these target groups and post in our community group Facebook page. Before we do any large advertising details are approved by the executive team.

Direct messaging on Facebook or through text or talking in person have been the best ways for us to get attendees. We try and make sure to send out a personalized message to everyone in these main groups. For our Fall ‘19 retreat we split up a list of dedicated members amongst our executive team for personalized messaging.

Since our retreats are right after breaks it can be more difficult to reach people. Last summer we had some skype calls with members and past fellows just to check up on them and would plug the retreat during the conversation. I think this worked out fairly well and would recommend doing it again if you can. Checking in before the start of a semester can be a good way to make sure people stay involved/ know if they don’t want to stay involved.

Program

TLDR:

Here are our manuals with schedules:

We have found that it is important to build in extra time and be flexible since things always run late or have hold-ups. We make sure to build in breaks so it is not exhausting but have found that we can get away with a denser schedule for a one-night retreat than a two-night retreat. The Spring ‘19 Retreat may have had a bit too much free time.

Here are some resources we refer to when planning gatherings -

Planning an arc

We try and build up to a climax (usually bonding games at the afterparty) and also end on a good note, since people usually remember how they felt at the end. We found it helpful to make people clean up before lunch on the last day so that they clean quicker and then we can have a nice fun final activity after lunch. This way, cleaning won’t be the last thing people remember. Another option which we might steal from MIRI/CFAR is to have periodic 2-minute tidys where everyone stops and cleans for 2 minutes .

Putting people together

We have had a lot of success with randomly or semi-randomly making groups for dinner and partners for 1-1 walks. We let people know their groups and give them a discussion sheet that they can start from but do not need to follow. We have found it necessary to stress what time people need to be back from 1-1s.

Ice Breakers

We have found it important to really fill the start with icebreakers and ways to get to know each other.

Some icebreakers we have done before:

We have found that the start of the retreat can be really awkward without these icebreakers.

Additionally our Spring survey showed that some people really enjoyed sharing personal stories. We don’t want to force anyone to share if they don’t want to but creating games that incentivize sharing have been good. Unrivaled is a board game that we have used for this.

Nightly Survey

For the spring retreat we had people fill out a quick survey each night. This was mostly so that we could fix any ongoing problems. I think this can be really useful but probably not necessary for a 1 night retreat. It seems instead like it might be a good idea to have an anonymous feedback survey that they can fill out at anytime. If you do nightly surveys in the future we will add “What is something you learned today?”, “What is something you found useful today?”, and “What is something you changed your mind about today?”

Discussions

In our Spring survey people said that they wanted more focused discussions (ie: more focused than just community building or x-risk). In our Fall ‘19 retreat we offered three different discussion topics and had people split into groups.

We use this to advertise our discussion group. Here is our google folder with planning documents for our regular discussion group.

Sprinting

In our Spring ‘19 retreat we did one sprinting session to plan the discussion groups and socials for the rest of the semester. I found this to be super productive but there were some hiccups (see below). I think using this time to get a full plan for the semester (when discussions will be and when socials will be) is really useful. Limiting to these topics is also good because they are relevant to everyone not just board members.

Problems we have encountered with sprinting:

Pre and Post Retreat Survey

TLDR:

We are working on improving our surveying practices. We know that we must take these results with a grain of salt because of small n sizes and potential error. Additionally there are many methodological errors when running and evaluating these surveys simply because we do not have the capacity to run full tests. However, we can use theses to notice general trends. We find that the comment portions are typically more helpful than the numeric portions

Past surveys

Spring ‘19 Retreat Survey Results

These are our most robust results since we set aside a time where we made everyone take the survey

In our community survey at the end of the semester which is several months after the retreat :

77% said the retreat was valuable or very valuable

15% said it was moderately valuable

8% hadn’t attended the retreat

Fall ‘19 Retreat Survey Results

Unfortunately, we had a mishap that led to there not being set aside time for filling out the survey. This led to a very small sample size. However, those who did fill it out were very thorough in their suggestions for the future.

Food and Drink

TLDR:

Type of food

In the past we have made a great effort in only serving vegan food (the only slip ups were due to not planning food in advance). We have not had any complaints about it all being vegan and have even had some people switch to veganism after the retreat. However, we ask if anyone needs serious food accommodations and to work with them.

Getting food

We found that it is very important to at least know your order if not ordering in advance. Even if you know the resturaunt you should also know your exact order. We have had a few slip ups where the person in charge of food did not actually do this and ended up scrambling to figure out what to order at the retreat. Now we check ahead of time to make sure that this has been done and do not assume that it has been.

Chinese takeout has been a big winner in the past. We usually order an entree for almost everyone and a lot of vegetable fried rice. We found tofu and vegetable fried rice to be the most popular. However, when ordering tofu and vegetables we have to make sure to get a confirmation that there is actually tofu in it because we have several times just gotten vegetables. This usually provides enough food for dinner and leftovers for lunch.

For the spring retreat we ordered some catering from this place and just ordered what the restaurant recommended for 18 people and it was not enough so plan to order extra. During this retreat we also ordered Indian food but discovered that the naan and vegetable samosas there were not vegan.

We like to use grocery delivery services for groceries and snacks but found that we must order these well in advance.For the Spring retreat we tried tried to order two days in advance and there were none available. Now, I recommend people to order it at least a week in advance and really staying on-top of whose job it is to make sure they have done it.

In terms of general principles however, we err on the end of having too much food, since we don’t want to run out of any specific thing. If leftovers are non-perishable we use them at future social events. If they are perishable we usually distribute them amongst members. The Cambridge retreat handover that I based this one off of recommends 4000 calories per person per day of food.

Snacks and Drinks

We try to have plenty of snacks etc. available the rest of the time along with tea and coffee and a range of vegan creamer and milk. Fruit has been a good option as well as chips and popcorn. Individually packaged things can be easier for people to grab and go.

Shopping list

Here is our shopping list from the two-night Spring retreat with some extra things we needed/wanted

Sleeping Arrangements

TLDR:

We have had a lot of problems with sleeping arrangements in the past when we did not assign people beds. Typically people are absolutely fine with sharing a queen sized bed but have a difficult time finding someone to share it with if this is not pre-assigned. This has led to some people sleeping in less comfortable places because they did not arrange a bed to share beforehand.

For the Fall 2019 retreat 2 out of 17 participants requested to be in a single gender room.

I have recommended this procedure for future retreats:

Usually Yale EA members have been super understanding and accommodating when it comes to sleeping arrangements. For a one-night retreat people have been much more okay with sleeping on the floor and random places. Still to make sure that a couch does not end up empty with people on the floor we sometimes make a sheet with all of the available comfy spots and send it out through the group chat - having people choose a place to sleep. I tried to do this on paper and pass it around but it did not work out very well. I think an online form would be easier in the future. Another option is to assign these places as well.

Info email

Several days or so before the retreat we send another email containing all the information that was in the survey, the manual, where to meet, what to bring, and other relevant information. We also invite people to fill out a give&take spreadsheet. Here people can read a description of attendees and see what they can help others with/ would like help with.

What attendees should pack

Here is the packing list from our Spring retreat:

Also depending on the time of year people might want to bring extra warm gloves (for snowball fights!) or a bathing suit.

Actually running the retreat

TLDR:

The start

When we first get there we make sure to put post its notes for sleeping arrangements on the doors and to orient ourselves with the place. While the organizer does this others have helped put away the delivered food and drinks.

Afterwards we pass out name tags and give everyone a tour of the place and establish a common naming scheme for the different group spaces. For instance one place might be “the living room”, one might be “the green room” etc. This way when you tell people to go to certain places they know what you are talking about. We have also found it important to make sure everyone knows where the bathrooms are.

We have played around with different ways to open the retreat. Last Spring I printed out the CEA Guiding Principles and went through them with everyone - having different people read them and then hang them somewhere. We also use this time to have an intro talk where we set boundaries and make sure everyone knows what to do if they ever need anything or feel uncomfortable (for us this is talking to the organizers or filling out the anonymous feedback form). We found it necessary to spell out rules at beginning even ones we thought are obvious such as “don’t go on other people’s property”. One time we had some people walk into the neighbors lawn during their 1-1 which upset the neighbor. Besides that, I am a big fan of the pac-man rule and try to have everyone practice it.

In the future we might have a session at the start with a group activity about why people are there and what they hope to get out of the retreat.

Other lessons learned

We have found it useful to have everyone on a single Facebook group chat so that we can easily send out messages and documents and people can ask questions.

Yale EA members are usually very helpful but have to explicitly be told what to do. Ideally we will have someone in the future who can explain clearly what all needs to be done (ie: not just “clean up the food” but “rinse the dishes” or “put extras in the fridge”)

We have found that we need to have a time set aside towards the end of the retreat to fill out the post-retreat survey. This makes sure that everyone actually fills it out.

Workshops

We have not done formal write-ups on our workshops yet but I am adding links to resources that we use for them. Our concepts workshop is much more complete than our several attempts at career workshops.

Concepts workshop slides:

We have added speaker notes for each slide, which could greatly help you determine what to discuss.

We also link to a “workbook,” on the first slide.

Career Workshop from Fall ‘19 Retreat

Most people were already familiar with 80k so this was a bit more advanced. We walked through 80k’s career planning guide.

Career Workshop Itinerary:

From a study break we had but is sometimes used in retreats

Packing List for Organizers


1 comments

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comment by Alex_Barry · 2019-11-08T16:57:18.190Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for taking the time to write this up and share it Jessica!I just also want to highlight a couple of other resources available for those planning retreats:

Often each doc is written from a fairly specific perspective, so it can be useful to look through a few different ones to get a feel for the different options available.(I think there are also some more floating around, but I am doing a bad job of tracking them down at the moment).