Wednesday, May 10, 2006

An Open Source Organization for Reenacting Groups

Part I - Introduction

A couple of days ago, I wrote an article that was yet another rant on the state of the hobby. After giving it some thought, I figured that anyone can rant, but few seem to act. I've decided to act in my own way - by throwing out my ideas to the reenacting world.

A couple months ago, I wrote out what I thought would be a better type of organization for a reenacting group. Nothing overly-complex, but more than your usual reenacting group. I took what knowledge I have of the hobby, and added in a bit of wishful thinking to come up with I thought was a viable reenacting organization. I was pleasantly surprised with the end product - a group that would catch and hold my interest for the long-term. But I quickly realized that I'd probably wouldn't have the time to implement it. So, I've decided to just put it out to the people who read this blog as an open source idea.

If anyone decides to use the Open Source Organization for Reenacting Groups (OSORG), all I ask is to email me and tell me how you're using it and if it works in your own situation. I'll publish results and suggest alternative solutions, keeping things in the spirit of 'open source'.

Part II - Overview
Reenacting groups are typically organized with a sole purpose; to gather like-minded reenactors together to attend events. Some groups live a long and fruitful life, some rise and fall, and some never get off the ground. The main factors for longetivity seem to be based on how well the group is organized, how hard members work to keep the group going, and how many members are engaged in group activities on and off the reenacting field.

Most groups are of the "rise and fall" kind, they have a defined life cycle that can last from a couple of weeks to years. They usually have an initial organizational period followed by multiple or sustained periods of growth. Eventually, recruits become harder to come by, some members begin to drop out, growth begins to stagnate and eventually membership slides downward. Depending on group organization and the hard work of members, this period can stretch out to years. But eventually the downward slide comes. Members quit because of many reasons, including ill-health or personality conflicts, but the most common reasons seem to be waning or changing interest, change in group vision or goals, financial difficulty, or family obligation. Then finally, the group disbands when the effort is no longer worth the time invested.

Since most reenacting groups are centered around the premise of getting member reenactors to events, they're ill-equipped to offer anything more to members who become bored with the group or the hobby, have a change in financial status, or must divert more time to family matters. To keep these members, groups will sometimes make compromises that undermine their initial goals, sometimes creating friction with other members who can dedicate the time and effort. Sometimes a group will strike on an idea that keeps a few of these members in the fold, but these solutions seem to serve to delay, but not prevent, their exit.

A problem that goes hand-in-hand with member retention is over-dependence on a few members willing to do necessary work within the group. Most groups have members who are the 'drivers'. They take executive or leadership positions like president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, or chair group committees. More often than not, the 'drivers' almost have an exclusive hand in these positions - not through ambition - but through member complacency. The 'drivers' tend to be the only ones willing to do what needs to be done to keep the group going. In some cases, this eventually leads to resentment or burn-out on the part of the 'drivers'. Often, this resentment or burn-out is the beginning of the end for some groups. Many have disbanded because the members willing to do the work dropped out, and no one else was willing to step in to take up the slack.

A prevalent problem that is usually a cause of retention problems and member over-dependence is a changing or vague group vision and goals. Reenacting groups usually form with an idea of what side they want to portray, what regiment they want to represent, what level of authenticity they wish to achieve, and what events they want to attend. Then things change. The group can't get into desired events, not everyone shares the same vision about authenticity, some members play politics within the group, new ideas emerge, and so on. At some point, some members come to the conclusion that the group no longer is going in the direction they want, because there are no goals, or no provision to adjust goals with changes in the hobby. This point soon becomes a critical juncture for the group. This is where new groups are made, where old groups fall apart, and where the well-organized groups stick to their guns.

The most important issue that is problematic to a reenacting group is recruiting. This usually begins when the members decide that growth will help the group sustain itself. In some cases, some groups eschew recruiting altogether, depending only on the core membership for consistent event turn out. Usually this is done word-of-mouth or in some instances advertised online or via publication. When a recruit comes into a typical group, a rough form of mentorship comes into play. If one member or group is well-equipped or well-connected, the recruit can borrow his extra gear, or can negotiate with a friendly unit to lend gear. Some groups have a similar, but more elaborate ways of inducting new members. All this is done with an eye of getting the new recruit on the field as fast as possible. But from induction, the new recruit is expected to put things together and collect an impression. Most groups do publish guidelines; some even give the new recruits time estimates on when they should have their gear together. Sometimes, there is no real reasoning why a recruit should have particular accoutrement, it's simply on the list. This is a make it or break-it time for the new recruit. Depending on the experience new members receive from their new group, the recruit will come back, or throw in the towel.

OSORG is my attempt to improve on existing methods that groups use to form, organize, recruit, and retain members for the long-term. The result is a concerted effort that engages more members, allows participation on many levels, and introduces flexibility for diverse interests. OSORG addresses the concerns I mentioned, hopefully introduces a new and more effective type of organization that group can use from the very beginning. I'll get into the nuts and bolts of OSORG starting next week.

NEXT: Part III - Preliminary Planning and Goal Setting

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