Holding the Annual Planning Conference
The annual planning conference can be held at any regular meeting place in three or four hours on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. However, if you have access to a cabin or retreat center, you might consider turning the conference into an overnight retreat to allow time for fellowship and team building. If the conference follows closely after unit elections, some units also combine the planning conference with the Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops (ILST) or Introduction to Leadership Skills for Crews (ILSC), the first step in the youth leadership training continuum.
Most adults should not play active roles in the planning conference. Instead, they should give their input ahead of time to the unit leader for program. If extra adults attend, keep them busy by putting them in charge of cooking and cleanup, and allow the youth leaders to focus on the task at hand.
Besides the materials described above, you might prepare poster-size calendars for each month that will be planned. (Office supply stores offer a variety of products that will work, including wall planners with erasable surfaces.) Pencil in the dates from the draft plan, as well as other important district, council, community, school, and chartered organization dates.
Another useful tool is the program planning chart, a worksheet for recording by month the program features, activities, courts of honor, service projects, leader meetings, and more. This worksheet can help ensure, for example, that leader meetings are scheduled every month and that courts of honor and service projects are evenly spaced throughout the year.
The outcome of the conference should be an annual calendar, a list of monthly program features (e.g., hiking, engineering, wilderness survival), and a set of unit goals. The amount of detail in the plan will vary. For some months, the group will decide both where it wants to go and what it wants to do. For other months, the group may choose either the destination or the outing’s focus.
Ideally, the calendar should include a mix of familiar and unfamiliar activities and destinations. A few traditional outings each year are fun; more than a few can make the program feel repetitive. Even traditional outings can benefit from occasional tweaks, such as doing a favorite activity at a new location.
While discussing ideas at the conference, use these ground rules.
- It is important to respect one another’s views. Listen and don’t interrupt.
- Keep focused on the task to plan the unit’s annual program. Don’t get sidetracked.
- Write out ideas so everyone can see them.
- Be in agreement.
The Annual Planning Conference, Step by Step
Step 1—The Unit leader leads a discussion on the unit’s goals for the coming year. Write the goals on a flip chart or eraser board, and agree to that list of goals.
Step 2—Share with the rest of the meeting attendees the printed draft of the calendar that shows the dates researched (or review the dates listed on poster-size calendars around the room) and events planned. Ask if anyone has other dates and events to add.
Step 3—Take a few minutes to discuss these dates and events. Once you feel comfortable with this stage of the calendar, you might take a vote to approve the dates and activities listed so far.
Step 4—The top youth leader shares updates from members about what they want to do. This exercise can be the most challenging in the program planning conference, so take as much time as is needed. The program features could be used as a foundation for the group’s desired programs or themes. You might take it one month at a time. Don’t forget to include advancement opportunities. The flow of the program is up to you and could be driven by your goals. As an example, if one of your goals is for the unit to take a wilderness trip to Alaska, some of the programs could focus on traveling to Alaska, wilderness survival, trip planning, wilderness first aid, and van safety.
Again, as the group agrees on a monthly feature or program theme, write it on a flip chart or board and take a vote. Designate someone to record all this on a master calendar, and take good notes!
Step 5—Add other important dates such as:
- Unit meetings and leadership meetings
- Boards of review
- Courts of honor
- Open house
- Service projects
- Webelos Scout joint outings and transition ceremonies
- Any other activities that can be scheduled this far in advance (for example, fundraising events)
Step 6—Hold a final discussion on the plan, calendar, and goals, and then take a vote for approval. Once youth members approve the annual plan, it will go to the unit committee for final approval. Work with the chartered organization representative to make any facilities reservations at the chartered organization. As soon as possible, begin making campsite reservations for the dates and locations selected.
Step 7—To make this plan a truly valuable tool, it must be shared with each unit family, the chartered organization, and all other interested parties. The unit must follow its plan, share it with everyone, and review it regularly to see if modifications are needed.
Author: Utah National Parks Council | Information from the introduction to the new Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews: A Guide to Program Planning