At the very last Winter Blues, I taught a class for the Organizer Track called Visioning. Which sounds like some hippy-dippy nonsense, but was actually a primer on what types of events to plan and why. I’ve gotten a few nudges to turn it into a blog post, so here it is!
Organizers should always start with why. Why do you want to have an event? What gap are you trying to fill? What kind of event will fill that gap? Planning an event is really asking, then answering, a very long series of questions. This blog post is structured as a practical exercise. You can answer the questions for yourself, and your scene, as you go. Should you choose that approach, be as specific and concrete as possible in your answers.
In community development literature, visioning is actually a very specific process (my background is in Urban Planning and Community Development). It goes like this:
- Inventory: Where are we now?
- Trends: Where are we headed?
- Vision: Where do we want to be?
- Action plan: How do we get there?
- Implement & Monitor: Are we getting there?
This process can be used to advantage in a few different ways. If you are organizing a large, national-level event, you can use this process to hone in on what *your* event brings to the table.
If you’re a local organizer, you can think about your city’s scene as a whole, and get a big picture sense of where the scene is going and how to get there. If you’re one of several local organizers and you’re thinking about starting something new, this is a great way to determine whether there is space and demand for what you want to do.
So let’s do it.
It is essential to recognize what you *already* have. Chances are, you have resources you tend to forget about. What are people already doing? What events are already established? Every little thing counts – list them. What about resources you have? Things like: that one person who’s really good at spreadsheets, the band you heard once and have been meaning to get in touch with, the new person who is super excited about getting involved, the physical spaces you have access to.
This often gets covered when doing Inventory. Given what’s already happening, without any new inputs, where is your scene (or the national scene) going? What will people get better at? What might naturally evolve from current activities?
The visioning stage has two parts, and it deserves lot of critical thought. Whether it is just you thinking about things, or it is a conversation you’re having with other people, take some time with this one.
Part one is the vision. This the fun part, but there’s also a lot of potential for becoming unfocused so STAY FOCUSED. Talk about 1 year goals, 3 year goals, 5 year goals. Be specific – where do you want your scene to go? If you’re thinking about a national event, what do you want to offer that doesn’t already exist?
Part two of this stage: Why? Why are the goals you picked important to you? What about to your scene members? Who would be into what you want to offer?
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Now that you know what you want and *why* you want it, how can you get from where you are to where you want to be. Use your list of resources. Think in terms of your 1-, 3-, and 5- year goals, and think in terms of what is actually doable. Be as concrete as possible.
For larger events in particular, this is the point at which having concrete goals for your event becomes incredibly helpful. What are your goals for the event? What do you want people to get out of it? Who can you hire that will further those goals? Which types of venues will further those goals?
Implement & Monitor
Once you’ve got a plan for moving forward, put a check-in on your calendar 6 months or a year from now. When that rolls around, take a look at what’s changed. Do you have more or different resources? Have your priorities changed? Does that change your action plan?
For me, the best events are always the ones that have a clear, focused vision. bluesSHOUT!, Austin Blues Party, Sweet Molasses, and North Star Blues (what? I’m not biased) all come to mind; each has a specific focus and clear message that they send to the scene as a whole.
On a more local level, going through this process has helped me and my scene to a) not burn anyone out, b) keep tabs on what people *actually* want, and c) steadily grow our pool of intermediate dancers and our planning board.
If you went through this as an exercise, I’d love to hear what conclusions you came to! Put ‘em in the comments!