You might know of some “open-house” events hosted by universities to get kids interested in math and science. I volunteered as a guest presenter once because I thought the idea was really cool.
The event is run by a few professors, many student teachers, and several guests like me. There were 2 volunteer coordinators and nearly 100 volunteers. Some of these volunteers set up activity booths so families can do STEM (science / technology / engineering / mathematics) related activities. Other volunteers were not stationed at a particular booth; these teacher candidates’ roles were to go to booths that needed more people and to help out while learning how to teach kids.
Now let me tell you how the event was actually managed: one volunteer coordinator had all the information and there was no task delegation. Nearly 100 volunteers and 300 families had to go through that one person to get any sort of information about the event (where a certain activity was held at, which booths had too many or too few people, where the coat/bag storage room is, etc.). There was no communication going on between the volunteers because nobody had any idea what was going on (they all had to ask that one person and it takes so long to get the answer that many people give up).
My activity station was in a room that didn’t have any signage so I suspect that most families had no idea that there were activities going on in this room. Furthermore, the room started to get used as a coat/bag storage space and there was nobody designated to monitor the space. When the event was over and I had to leave, there was nobody I could hand over the task to. Meanwhile, there were volunteers who clearly looked bored and clueless wandering in other rooms and hallways. Apparently they didn’t know that the room I was in had activities going on, or that the room was also used as a storage space.
Let’s think about the opportunity cost for a moment: the professors, student teachers, and guest volunteers are literally volunteering their time on a Saturday where they could be doing something else instead. Students have assignments and projects to work on. Professors typically have research projects and/or courses to run. I could’ve spent my time preparing for my workshops for the upcoming week. We’re all busy. How many people were overwhelmed that day? One, certainly. How many volunteers ended up wasting their time? Probably many.
This isn’t new, and this isn’t even the thing I’m upset about. There are plenty of events that have really good intentions that end up not running so well due to the lack of proper event coordination.
So the other day, I addressed the event coordination issue for this event to someone who knew about this event, and was involved in it in previous years. The response was:
“At the end of the day, as long as we get more kids interested in pursuing math and science, the goal has been accomplished.”
While I agree with the main goal… this statement suggests that as long as the main goal is accomplished, the means used for accomplishing that goal does not matter. In this school open-house case, it implies that having one colossal information bottleneck and a 400-person queue does not matter. …Really?
My concern is that people who think using this structure might think the same way in other contexts too. Let’s say the school was a company, the volunteers are the employees, and the families are customers: At the end of the day, as long as we get more customers to buy our product, the goal has been accomplished. It doesn’t matter if one manager is clearly overworked and is consequentially really slow at getting things done, 100 employees have no idea what they’re supposed to be doing, and the 300 customers are getting frustrated because they can’t get the support they need.
It is important to have an overarching goal, but it doesn’t make sense to fixate only on that because events, organizations, and pretty much everything that we do have people running it (let’s put aside the robots for now). And if the people who make up the event or organization aren’t doing well (overworked or bored out of their minds), I’m not convinced that the event is well-run or that the organization is doing well. (Note: Conversely, if the people in an organization or event are doing fine but if their efforts are not contributing to achieving the overarching goal at all, that is also definitely a problem.)
Going back to the school open-house case, people may argue that chaos is to be expected because it’s not a business. But doing things like event logistics and team management isn’t about running a business. It’s about respect. It’s about respecting people and the time and effort they put into their work.
For me, good management is the behavioral instantiation of the respect you have for yourself and others. So when I see an event that severely lacks good management (and therefore the apparent lack of consideration for the people involved), I cannot help but question the actual success of that event. This is not to say that the event was bad, period. I just separate the concept and execution when I think about it. So for that event I attended, the execution was sub-optimal but the concept is still a great one. In conclusion, I think it is worth doing more of – and additionally refining how it is managed so that the people involved in it can get the most out of it too.
I'm Candice and I doodle with the intensity of the doomguy.