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Chapter 4 —
Developing Group Identity and Activities

Every group forms its own identity in a different way. Some evolve organically; others take time to decide who they are and carefully plan what they want to do. If the parent group is to be effective, the leaders and members will eventually have to decide together if they want to be a frustration venting group, mutual support group, service group, advocacy group, or some combination. To do this, the group will first need to determine their most important common needs, then choose activities that most effectively address those needs.

After your group has had several meetings, you may find yourselves ready to formalize who you are and what you want to accomplish. This chapter will help you clarify your group's needs and identify activities that will meet those needs. The brainstorming and planning described below should include your leadership team and any members you have recruited. Taking time to plan is valuable—groups that become involved in activities without planning can seem unfocused and unresponsive to the group and risk losing people.

While you are undertaking the planning process, continue to have group meetings that meet your members' immediate need for socializing and support. The planning process can be taken in stages as you and your members are ready. If you need to break the process into stages—take on a stage every three months or so.

The planning process involves four major steps:

  • clarifying identity—Who are we? What do we care about? What problem do we want to address? What are our needs?
  • building a foundation—What should we call our group? What is our mission?
  • choosing activities and developing a work plan—What can we do to address the needs we identified? Who will do what when?
  • tracking progress—How do we know if we are meeting group needs and making the difference we wanted to make?

Some groups will agree quickly on their needs and activities, but others will require many discussions. Be patient and work through the planning process together. Keep in mind that many groups will need to go through planning again over time—as new members join and needs change. In the future, if the group decides to change (shifting from providing mutual support to offering services, for example), it will have to reassess members' needs and make sure any new activities reflect those needs.

Clarifying Your Identity

Use the brainstorming exercise below to start your planning process. It will help clarify who you are and why you have come together as a group. During the discussion, you will also identify the underlying needs or problems you want to address.

Exercise: Identify Your Purpose

Have everyone in your group answer these questions individually. Allow 5 to 10 minutes.

  1. Who are we? What do we have in common? (for example: transracial adoptive parents, kinship care providers, parents raising children with special needs)

  2. Why are we here in this group? What needs or issues do we want to address? (for example: I feel alone, none of my friends understands adoption, I'm having problems with my child's school, my child has been discriminated against, the system isn't working for kids, my child's behavior is out of control)

  3. What difference do we want to make? (for example: we want adoptive families to have other families to rely on, teachers to be aware of children's special needs, the local agency to provide post-adoption services, parents to have effective strategies for managing children's behavior)

After everyone has had time to formulate opinions, list all ideas and the number of people who gave each response. Discuss the responses, making sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate and prioritize. During your discussion, you will need to narrow your focus by identifying the issues that are most important to the entire group. You will use this final list of needs and issues later when you brainstorm activities for the group. Keep in mind the difference you want to make—your goal is to make a change that solves a problem or meets a need.

In many cases, the leader of the discussion will need to help members explore why they want to be in a parent group and keep them from jumping ahead to the activities they want the group to undertake. Many people express their needs in terms of activities or solutions they think will help, rather than getting to the root of the problem. The chart below demonstrates a parent's possible initial response and the underlying problem that a facilitator might help draw out.

A parent says, "I'm here because I ..."

The underlying issue or problem might be that the parent:

want to talk with other parents

  • feels isolated
  • needs suggestions from other parents
  • feels crazy; needs to normalize adoption experience

want training

  • is looking for resources, ideas, parenting strategies
  • feels isolated
  • needs to talk with other parents who share the same experience

am a transracial adoptive parent

  • wants child to have friends of color
  • wants connections with people from the child's culture of origin
  • needs help dealing with racism

If you identify the underlying issue, you can later identify many solutions that are potentially more effective than what the parent thought she needed. For example, the parent cited in the chart at the right who wants training because she needs ideas or parenting strategies might be equally well served by a fact sheet, book, or resource manual instead of training.

By the end of this discussion you will have identified a common purpose, in the form of prioritized needs your group wants to meet, and will be ready to move to on the next stage of the planning process.

Building the Foundation

Once you have identified common ground and the issues you have joined together to address, you can begin to formalize your group's identity by choosing a name and writing a mission statement. These steps often begin with group brainstorming sessions and then are continued by a smaller committee who develops recommendations to bring back to the whole group. Whenever possible, try to keep the process fun and engaging for all group members.

Choosing Your Name

When you are ready to formally name your group, have members shout out words or phrases that they think capture the essence of the group's identity. Encourage everyone to contribute and gather a large list of possibilities. Think about the image or message you want to project to prospective members and the broader community. Do you want a name like South Minneapolis Adoptive Parents Association, describing that you are adoptive parents from a specific geographical location? Or, do you want a name like Adoptive Parents United or Together Forever? Don't rush your discussion and be creative; you want to find a name that fits your group well.

Writing Your Mission Statement

A mission statement is a sentence or two that describes who you are and the difference the group wants to make. When you and other group members draft the statement, boldly state what you hope to be rather than simply describing what you are now. It can be helpful to address the following three questions in the statement:

  • Why are we here?
  • What do we believe?
  • What do we do?

The following two fictional examples demonstrate how a mission statement can answer these questions:

Louisville Family Support Group believes strong families are the foundation of the community and is committed to strengthening families by providing a network of support to transracially adopted children, their siblings, and parents.

  • Why are we here?—to strengthen transracial families
  • What do we believe?—families are the foundation of the community
  • What do we do?—provide a network of support to transracially adopted children, their siblings, and parents

Forever Families believes all children deserve a permanent family. We are committed to improving the way the child welfare system serves children and families and will advocate for necessary changes at the local, provincial, and federal level.

  • Why are we here?—to improve the way the child welfare system serves children and families
  • What do we believe?—all children deserve a permanent family
  • What do we do?—advocate for changes in policies and practices at the local, provincial, and federal level

As stated in chapter 2, it is common for groups to change over time, from offering support to offering services, or from offering services to becoming an advocacy group. In the future, if the same need or idea is expressed often and by many group members, then it might be time to revisit the mission statement and make changes to reflect that new direction. Changes happen within groups, but generally a group would not want to significantly change its mission statement often because that would reflect a lack of direction.

Tips for Developing a Mission Statement

When the time comes to develop a mission statement, you need a strategy. We recommend a lot of group participation, with one person in charge of shepherding the process. Groups can:

  • identify a strong writer with good organizational skills to lead the statement development

  • host a brainstorming session with all leaders and members—have participants suggest any words or phrases that reflect the group's possible identity, beliefs, and actions; write every statement down on a flip chart and don't critique anything at this stage

  • have participants vote on the ideas that most reflect their needs and goals for the group; rank statements in order of relevance and importance

  • ask the writer to take the ideas produced and come back to a future meeting with a well-crafted statement that captures the most important ideas

  • allow the group to read the statement and comment as a group—talking over what works and what doesn't; agree on a final draft (if necessary, have the writer come back with another version)

  • share the statement with several others outside the group to determine if they understand what the group is about; if many do not, you may want to fine tune your statement to make it say what you want it to say.

 

Planning Group Activities

Identifying Primary Activities

Before you begin to plan your groups' primary activities, display your mission statement for everyone to see along with the list of underlying needs or issues identified earlier. At this stage, your group will further narrow its focus by connecting priority needs to possible activities that address each need.

Each idea or potential project your group takes on should be measured against your mission statement. To stay focused as a group, emerging ideas that reflect your mission should be pursued, whereas ideas (even good ones) that don't reflect your mission should be set aside. Most groups have more ideas than they can realistically follow through with, and your mission can help you choose which projects to pursue. The exercise below will help you develop a preliminary list of activities and then determine which activities are the most valuable—but also realistic—for your group. In this way, your group can narrow down its focus to a reasonable number of activities.

Exercise: Choosing Activities

On the left-hand side of a flip chart, write the final (narrowed down) list of needs or issues your group identified earlier. Ask participants to think about possible activities that the group can undertake to address each need. Allow 5 to 10 minutes. Remind members that one activity might address many needs. (See sample below.)

After people have had time to list their individual ideas, come together as a group and list every suggested activity on the right side of the paper.

Draw a line that connects each activity or strategy to the need or issue it will address. This will help you see which activities meet multiple needs.

Next, narrow down the possibilities to what feels right for your group. As a group, analyze which activities meet the most needs and seem realistic right now. Discuss each possibility, answering several questions:

  • How important are the needs it is designed to meet?
  • How many members will it help?
  • How much expertise, money, or time will it take to accomplish?

As before, accept all ideas without criticism and then list and prioritize the activities. Be sure to think about whether each strategy meets the needs you identified earlier.

 

Let's walk through the exercise using the Louisville Family Support Group from earlier. The group's mission statement is:

Louisville Family Support Group believes strong families are the foundation of the community and is committed to strengthening families by providing a network of support to transracially adopted children, their siblings, and parents.

The chart below shows how the group brainstormed sample activities that met their underlying needs.

Underlying issues or problems:

Possible activities to address the underlying issues are:

wants child to have friends of color

  • have monthly children's groups
  • organize whole family social activities
  • pair family with similar parents and kids (buddy program)

wants connections with people from the child's culture of origin

  • provide lists of culturally specific community events; organize trips to activities hosted by child's community of origin
  • host multicultural festival, parterning community organizations
  • invite speakers/trainers from various cultures

needs help dealing with racism

  • pair family with mentor from child's race/culture
  • host trainings (including one on combating racism)
  • develop library (that includes materials on race, culture, and racism)
  • have monthly meetings with other similar families

The chart below shows how the group might continue the exercise—listing all needs and activities, and then linking each activity to the need it is designed to meet.

 

Louisville Family Support Group's mission states that they will provide a network of support to transracially adopted children, their siblings, and parents. When the group identified their needs and matched them with possible activities, they found the most efficient use of their time and efforts was to:

  • provide monthly family meetings
  • host an annual multicultural festival

The monthly meetings addressed three needs and was the easiest of the activities to accomplish. Of the remaining activities, the multicultural festival addressed every need and was manageable for this small group. The group wanted to pair families with mentors from each child's culture, but realized it needed to build relationships with community groups before it took on this activity.

Developing a Work Plan

After you agree upon your primary activities, you will be able to devise a plan with specific action steps and deadlines. Throughout your group's life, you will want to use this planning process to translate your activities into manageable tasks.

Both the meetings and the festival that the Louisville Family Support Group wants to provide have their own set of tasks, with a mixture of short- and long-range deadlines. Below is a list of duties that will help the group make sure the meetings and the festival happen.

This partial list demonstrates the many responsibilities that go along with helping the group achieve its ultimate mission. Each task listed below includes many steps to ensure success. For example, whoever plans the entertainment for the festival will have to find performers that the group can afford, and find out what kind of staging and set up the performers will need. If it is an outdoor event, the group will need an alternative plan for rain.

Group Meetings

Festival

  • recruit transracial adoptive families (ongoing)
  • keep an updated membership list with phone and address information (ongoing)
  • locate and secure meeting space (2-3 months before)
  • find guest speakers (1-3 months before)
  • plan activities/materials for meetings (1-2 months before)
  • publicize the meetings (1 month before)
  • assign someone to facilitate the meeting (1 month before)
  • plan for child care and activities (1 month to 1 week before)
  • provide snacks (one day before)
  • partner with individuals and organizations representing a variety of racial and culture communities (1 year before)
  • elect co-chairs (1 year before)
  • solicit donated prizes (throughout the year)
  • plan publicity (6 months before)
  • invite community celebrity guest (3-6 months before)
  • plan entertainment (3-6 months before)
  • plan activities (3 months before)
  • plan food (3 months to the day before)
  • set up booths (the day before)

You can download a sample sheet to show how groups can take an activity that fits their mission and then assign tasks for group members to achieve within an established time frame.

Dividing the Work

Once your group is invested in its mission and agrees on activities, take time to ask each person to commit to helping the group succeed. Find out the talents of your membership and rely on people accordingly. Ask volunteers to lead or co-lead committees, organize activities, and recruit members to do various tasks. Most importantly, share the duties to keep the work fun and stay energized.

Tracking Your Progress

The final stage of your planning process is deciding how you know if your activities are addressing the needs you identified. Think about questions you can ask your members (or participants) to determine if you are making the difference you wanted to make.

You will want to collect information that:

  • describes the benefits or services members receive
  • rates the quality of those services
  • allows members to offer suggestions for improvement
  • opens discussion of new ideas

Your group then needs to tabulate the results and make sense of the collected information. The feedback you receive becomes part of your group's ongoing planning work. If you see low participation, for example, you need to re-check whether individual needs have changed or your activities are not meeting the needs as you expected.

You should collect data in three areas:

  1. the number of services you offer and the number of children, parents, or families that use and benefit from your group's services (Download sample PDF forms—contract tracking form, completed sample meeting and activities form, blank meetings and activities form.)
  2. the quality of the services your group provides (Did participants like the services? Would they recommend them to others?)
  3. the results of your services (Did the services help a family obtain needed resources? Did the services help families avoid disruption?)

Not only do you want to provide services that show high attendance or use, but you want to make sure that families benefited from the services. A group that offers monthly meetings and an annual multicultural festival, for example, could collect data on the number of children and parents who attended each meeting and the annual festival.

In addition, the group could seek information about how the festival or meetings helped enhance children's racial or cultural identity. After the festival, leaders might ask older children to describe any changes in their cultural understanding. Parents might be asked to identify new tools they have to combat discrimination on behalf of their children. As a group, your job is to ask questions that determine if your activities are making the difference you hoped to make.

 

Ways to Gather Information for Group Evaluation

There are many ways to gather information and evaluate how effective your group is at accomplishing its goals. Below are some of the easiest approaches to incorporate into your plan:

  • Asking the group what they think—Asking group members at the end of each session if the meeting was useful for them or if they are better able to handle their children's special needs is a simple form of evaluation. Asking if the time of the meeting is convenient or the facilitation was effective also helps evaluate how your group operates.

  • Surveying participants, particularly after trainings, special events, or guest speakers, about the effectiveness of the event—Surveys are a simple, quick way to find out if parents are learning what you hoped they would learn from participating in the event. An evaluation form (download a PDF sample) will take just a few minutes to complete but will provide data that will help you evaluate the group's process and effectiveness.

  • Conducting individual interviews with a representative sample of participants—Through 10– to 15–minute conversations with a few group members once or twice a year, you can learn things you might not hear at a group discussion. By selecting a few participants, you help ensure that what you hear is not simply one person's opinion. During interviews, you can learn about individual results and group process outcomes by asking group members if they have benefited from membership (reduced isolation, increased access to resources, found somewhere to turn in a crisis, etc.) and if they think the group is headed in the right direction.

 


North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: 651-644-3036
fax: 651-644-9848
e-mail: info@nacac.org
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