Wednesday, January 28, 2009

PART III: Time Involved in Organizing a NW Group

I look forward to comparing notes with others about the time involved in organizing -- sustaining, really -- NW groups. Our group began meeting approximately 3 years ago. We recently (finally!) worked out a system that I hope will make it a bit easier to keep the watch group rolling.

Before I tell you what we're doing now, let me tell you how we operated previously. In the past, the meetings tended to rather reactive -- if something was happening in the neighborhood, we quickly cobbled together fliers, pleaded with our Crime Prevention Specialist to put in a last-minute request an officer for the meeting, and hoped people would show up. Although attendance was spotty, the meetings usually turned out pretty good -- spirited conversations, sharing of information, etc.

The meetings would typically end with a question: "Who is willing to organize the next meeting?" After a minute or so of pleading ("Really, it is important we all share responsibility for our watch group") and attempts to avoid eye contact, somebody would eventually volunteer. The plan was always to get together "sometime within the next month."

Months would roll by; urban tumble weeds (i.e., plastic grocery bags), rather than NW fliers, arrived on the stoop. Eventually, neighbors would start asking me, "Hey, when is the next meeting?" I'd reply, "So and so said he'd organize the next one; I'll touch base with him to see if he's had a chance to set a date." Still, no meeting. Eventually, there would be another "event" in the neighborhood. Stew and I, feeling irritated that the organizing responsibilities were again falling on our shoulders, would whip up some fliers, beginning the cycle anew.

Alas, this reactive model took a lot of emotional energy and time. We needed a better approach.

Here's the current model: We meet the last Saturday of every month at 3:00 PM. The location changes depending on the weather (if it is nice, we meet in the park) and the willingness of neighbors to host. Prior to the meeting, we ask our Crime Prevention Specialist to prepare fliers for the next meeting. Then, at the end of the meeting, we ask for volunteers to simply distribute the fliers for the following meeting; given the fliers are already prepared, we can hand them over "on the spot."

We recently acquired bright yellow lawn signs that say, "Neighborhood Watch Saturday at 3:00." Whoever has a sign places it in their yard the Sunday before the meeting, providing both a reminder to participants and a signal to ne'erdowells that we are an active group.

Now, here is what it takes to organize a meeting:

1. An e-mail to the Crime Prevention Unit to request fliers and officer visits

2. A call to remind neighbors to put out their yellow signs and/or distribute fliers

3. Calls to any guest presenters to coordinate their visit

4. It seems a call to remind people to take down the yellow signs may also be needed (yup, some of the signs from last week's meeting are still out)

So far, I'm finding this new model much more humane than the old. We've got built-in redundancy in the advertisement efforts (a stable meeting time, fliers, multiple yard signs), so if somebody drops the ball on a given month, the chances are good at least a few people will nevertheless show up to the meeting.; in other words, Stew and I don't need to find more time in our packed schedules to do tasks other people said they would do. We have more lead time now for coordinating our efforts with the police department and lining up interesting and relevant guests; having lead time really helps our Crime Prevention Specialist support the group's efforts.

And, most importantly, this new model makes it easier for everyone to play a role in sustaining the group.

1 comment:

  1. I hope this system works out! And great blog!