Editor’s note: Fire practitioners need to get together for workshops and planning meetings regularly to share ideas, brainstorm actions, and visualize a fire adapted future. But even “planning meetings” require planning themselves. What’s important to keep in mind in order to ensure a productive and enjoyable workshop? In this blog, Keegan Fengler, a Program Associate with the Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (WAFAC), shares some lessons learned after helping put together WAFAC’s 2022 Annual Workshop. Blog cover title: WAFAC Members exploring the Grant Mt Preserve on San Juan Island, WA. Photo credit: Kara Karboski, Washington Resource Conservation and Development Council (WRCD).
While attending and teaching at a university over the years, I have experienced many different types of meetings and taught using many class styles. My biggest issue with many of the traditional teaching styles was how often an instructor lectured while students took notes – and the same can be said for many workshops/conferences. The one-sided sharing of ideas can lead to an overload of information with little or no action, besides a few shared resources at the end. This can leave attendees with lots to think about, but no clear direction for how to include this newfound knowledge in their work. Without the attendees being actively involved in the content, I believe there are missed opportunities for connections in the material.
In October 2022, the WAFAC staff hosted the first in-person workshop for WAFAC in three years. Since the last in-person workshop in 2019, our network has doubled in size and many members have transitioned to new positions within wildfire. In most aspects, our workshop was a relaunch of our network as many of our members had never met in person. They only had a superficial idea of what each other was working on – and many had never experienced a WAFAC workshop, including me!
Our workshop took place in Anacortes, WA over 2.5 days in mid-October of 2022. Finding a venue in the area was a challenge, so we decided on something unconventional and chose a place called Wisteria Gardens. The barn space and beautiful grounds were very welcoming and helped our attendees meet and connect. Each day of the workshop had a focus. Day 1 was about connection and sharing our work, the challenges and successes, at the barn. Day 2 was a field trip to San Juan Island to learn about treaty rights from Tulalip Tribal Members, and about the work of San Juan Island County Conservation District (SJICD) and San Juan Island Conservation Corps. Day 3 was in Anacortes at the barn again to participate in a skill building session around engaging collaborators and volunteers.
The Most Successful Aspects of Our Workshop
Our Approach in Planning
As Hilary Lundgren, the WAFAC Program Director, and I began thinking about our annual fall workshop, we approached the planning very differently than I had ever done before. As we began considering if 2022 was the right time to bring back the in-person workshop, we spent a lot of time talking about the “why” of bringing everyone together. Why do we want our members to meet in person? Why is it important to do this now? When asking our members to take time out of their busy schedules, step away from family commitments, and travel, we wanted to be firm in our conviction that this was the right time to ask this of our members.
To get at the heart of our “why,” Hilary and I lead each other through an activity from Liberating Structures called the Nine Whys. During this process, both of us came to the same theme – home and creating resilience in our place. This was the first of many times during the planning of the workshop that we paused and re-evaluated not only what we planned to do but why we were doing it. This was a very important activity for us as the facilitators to ensure each session would be beneficial to the attendees and build on the earlier sessions.
Reflection, Connection and Collaboration Time
With so many of our network members being new to their positions and/or new to FAC work, we wanted them to have a chance to think about their own work and learn about others. With the theme of “home,” we kicked off the workshop asking the attendees to consider “What does home mean to you?” and “What factors/people have enabled you to be here this week?” Each person received a notebook to write down their thoughts, and then share with at least 3 different people. The intent of the session was to help everyone center themselves and become more present for the day – and meet some new people!
The second session of the day was to introduce our network’s FAC Graphic. It was modeled to look like FAC Net’s FAC Wheel. For our workshop, each section of the circle was filled by the network member. They were instructed to draw or write about their work including their location, coverage area and priorities. They had 20-30 minutes to complete this activity before they shared with the rest of the people at their table. The purpose of this activity was to help each person define their own work but also to learn about what others are doing.
As the day progressed, the group continued to reflect on a range of topics from the challenges they are facing in their work and the success that they have had both big and small. During each activity we provided time to consider the topic, share about our own work and provide insight or feedback when asked for by others. We ended our first day writing article headlines for another person’s success from the past couple of years. Ending on a positive note for the day allowed us to end feeling energized and connected – especially after we had covered so much ground.
Here are some great headlines that were shared from this activity:
“Local Partnerships Help With Successful Implementation of Large Federal Grants”
“Making Lemonade out of Lemons with Partners”
“Communities Build Their Networks to Breathe Easier”
As I continue forward and plan other events, I will always reflect back on this first network workshop as a reference point. This workshop was one of the best examples of how good planning and defining a purpose can positively impact the workshop outcomes. Attendees left not feeling like they were talked at for several days and left to process it on their own, but feeling like they contributed to an ongoing and collaborative conversation.
This workshop was made possible through support provided by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Department of Agriculture United State Forest Service (USFS), Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC) and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (HF) to the Washington Resource Conservation and Development Council (WRCD). Transportation support was provided by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.