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Success! Weekend SGA Retreat Benefits from D&D

For my first post, I’m excited to share with you a success story from this weekend: a 24-hour retreat for a university’s student government association complete with opening ice breakers & team-building, OrangeBand, World Cafe, Open Space Technology, Conversation Cafe and a “nominal group technique.” It may sound like a lot to put into a weekend, but these methods flowed seamlessly into each other! The result was spirited and authentic conversation and a rich list of priorities for their academic year.

These methods and NCDD have wonderful resources that explain how they work, so I’ll just briefly focus on the role each had to play.

Ice breakers & team-building at 4pm Saturday provided a “get to know you” experience and a group challenge that invited reflection on the importance of communicating.

After a dinner, explaining the purpose and intention of The OrangeBand Initiative provided encouragement for everyone to share what was important to them during the retreat. “OrangeBand” became a term to describe the type of respectful dialogue we were hoping to have.

Five 12-14 minute rounds of World Cafe provided everyone the opportunity to explore in small groups reasons for the successful events on campus, new ideas for SGA activities, and their role in organization.

Open Space Technology was introduced at 9pm Saturday evening, with the first session at 10pm (college students!), then 9am, 10am, and 11am. The Marketplace was quickly filled, and revisited over breakfast for some minor changes. Two session topics lent themselves nicely to Conversation Cafe, which was happily accepted by the session attendees (apologies to the Open Space purists!).

In order to bring some focus to the at times disperate (though always spirited!) Open Space sessions, we formed a semicircle after lunch and filled the wall with all the project ideas people remembered being mentioned. Twentyfive ideas went up, I asked everyone to choose their top five, and score them 1-5 (5 being the most important idea). A talley of the scores provided a quick and dirty indication which had the most energy.

Lastly, after a round of closing reflection with a talking stick, I asked everyone to go to the wall of ideas and write their names on those they wanted to help implement – and to star (*) their name if they were willing to coordinate that group. They mobbed the wall!

The retreat ended with excitement and anticipation of the work to be done. In addition, a few students seemed intent on using OrangeBand and Conversation Cafe in the future on their campus. Using the D&D methods also had the senators thinking about new and innovative methods to involve the student body in dialogue and deliberations about campus issues. The experience shifted the paradigm of more than a few!

As a new practioner, I have found considerable success being creative in pulling together different D&D methods to provide depth to a particular part of an event. I’m looking forward to exploring NCDD’s Learning Exchange to add more colors to my palette – and encourage all new practioners to do the same!

I’m honored to be able to communicate with you my discoveries, questions, and experiences on the spankin’ new NCDD blog!

Kai Degner
Kai is a member of the Harrisonburg, VA city council and previously Harrisonburg mayor. As mayor, Kai brought his passion for public engagement to the forfront of his service and continues to do so as a leader in the Harrisonburg area.

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