Phase 2: Engage and Develop Oasis Members to Build Community
Host an Initial Oasis Building Information Session
A preliminary information session was held in each building shortly following discussions with the landlords and building staff. The information session was advertised in different ways, depending on the rules and regulations of the building. In most buildings, we were able to post flyers (see Appendix 2a, 2b) in common spaces (i.e. laundry rooms, social rooms); some buildings even allowed us to hand out flyers to each unit within the building, a practice which was facilitated by the residents themselves. In one case, a group of five residents went around to each unit to place an informative flyer under the door of each of the 108 units in the building. Early in the process, we also spent time onsite advertising the upcoming information session – this also acted as a way for people to ask some preliminary questions about the program. We found these “drop-in” sessions did not make a noticeable difference in how many residents came out to the initial information session so we did not continue this practice at some of the newer sites.
Example of the Oasis information session flyer handed out in Quinte West
The information session was held in a common space in each building, typically the common room or in the lobby; a brief presentation outlining Oasis and the expansion project was given by the research team, but much of the session was spent answering questions and bringing forward ideas residents had for activities. An example outline of a preliminary information session can be found in Appendix 2c. Following each information session, we passed around a signup sheet (Appendix 2d) so residents could provide a phone number and/or email address so we could connect them with updates and for following program development meetings. At this point, residents began to self-identify as Oasis “members”.
Hold Twice Monthly Oasis Program Development Meetings
At the initial information sessions, we decided to hold program development meetings every two weeks as a next step, and typically planned them for the same day and time of the initial information session to develop a regular schedule. Flyers announcing upcoming member meetings were posted in common spaces in the building, as well as on dedicated Oasis space (i.e. Oasis bulletin boards in the common room, the door of Oasis Lounge, etc.). An example of these flyers can be found in Appendix 2e and Appendix 2f. These meetings were facilitated by the Community Developers and, to begin, focused on interactive activities in which members could share ideas for the programming they would like to see based on the initial consultations.
As time continued, biweekly meetings brought forward new ideas and progress updates on Oasis programming. While the Community Developers facilitated these meetings, members were encouraged to take the floor and bring forward meeting topics. After approximately four months of biweekly meetings, some sites decided to reduce meetings to once a month, as you can see in Appendix 2e. The structure in these cases also changed so that the Community Developers would no longer take an active role in the meetings, but rather, Oasis members would be responsible for creating the agenda and representing topics and ideas themselves. At some sites, a document like Appendix 2g was posted on the board to allow members to list agenda items in order to prepare the monthly meeting. However, a formal meeting style did not work for all sites, so meetings were adapted to suit the needs and interests of the members, while still focusing on improving and adding to current Oasis programming. Therefore, there was no formal meeting agenda template created or distributed to members. In most cases, the agenda items were listed at the beginning of the meeting or typed up and projected on a screen prior to the meeting for all to see and members could add additional items to the agenda before the meetings started.
We strongly recommend starting with two planning meetings a month, in order to allow for sufficient planning and discussion of proposed activities. As the weekly calendar begins to fill, you will find the meetings become shorter and focus more on reflecting on programming or planning larger outings or activities. One of the biggest challenges is transitioning to the Oasis members leading the meetings themselves, rather than looking to the Coordinator for leadership. One technique for the Coordinator is to volunteer to keep minutes or support in other ways, which require a more “behind the scenes” role. As mentioned, some sites did not benefit from a formal meeting structure. In those cases, we recommend creating a more conversational setting or planning brainstorming activities to get members more involved in voicing opinions.
Create an Oasis Site Newsletter
Oasis site newsletters were slower to develop than anticipated; because so many members were attending the regular meetings early on, they decided there was no need to reiterate the information again to the group. However, as meetings naturally reduced over time to monthly gatherings, the members liked having the new information on hand to refer back to throughout the month. They requested the newsletter be attached to the monthly calendar, since then the information would be all in one place. Though one site was interested in leading the creation of newsletter content themselves, most sites looked to the coordinators to assist in compiling the information and attaching it to the monthly calendar. To start, the coordinator simply added a summary of the monthly meeting notes to the reverse side of the following month’s calendar (see Appendix 2h). For example, a brief summary of June’s meeting minutes would be added to the back of July’s calendar so that members were aware of any ongoing discussions or changes agreed upon by the group at the meetings. Over time, the newsletter adapted to include important announcements about upcoming events and photos from the month’s activities, but remained an essential component of the monthly calendar package. The newsletter and monthly calendar were printed out and distributed to each member, either hand delivered to their apartment or handed out at group gatherings. The hand-out of the monthly calendar was critical for the members; further information about the creation and distribution of the monthly calendar can be found in Phase 5: Co-Develop and Implement Oasis Social and Activity Programming.
We recommend starting with a similar format to include monthly meeting notes on the reverse side of the calendar hand-out. This will ensure that members are aware of updates and upcoming events. As part of your initial meetings, you can see how strongly the group feels about leading a newsletter and support the organization of a group who can subsequently meet separately to develop content and format a monthly newsletter. For some sites, this may be better distributed via email, though in our experience members prefer a paper hand-out at the beginning of each month.
Create and Implement an Oasis Membership Executive Committee
At the beginning of our project, we identified an Oasis Membership Executive Committee as a key component related to the success of the program. At the original site, a committee did not exist per se, but a regular monthly meeting was open to all members, as was a monthly board meeting hosted by the volunteer Board of Directors. Two member representatives elected by the Oasis membership gave updates to the Board of Directors at this second meeting. We imagined the Executive Committee would be a way to formally gather representatives from each site to come together and report on each of their sites and promote cross-site collaboration. However, the creation of this committee was challenging; it was difficult to identify members who were willing take on a formal leadership role on an ongoing basis and rarely were there volunteers. That said, the development of committees naturally took place among each group when it came to hiring the onsite coordinators. In Kingston, 1-2 representatives from each of the new Oasis sites came together to discuss the key skills and attributes they were looking for in a candidate, to interview the candidates, and then to choose an appropriate candidate for each of their sites. At the Quinte West site, a committee of approximately 6 individuals was formed, a larger group since they were representing a community of more than 400 homes. They also led the interview and hiring process for their site in collaboration with the research team.
Because of the geographic dispersion and travel limitations of members, moving forward to host regular in-person meetings with all groups present was not feasible. The idea to meet virtually to present regular updates across sites also received a lukewarm response from members who were not confident in the use of video conferencing or other online methods. It was also not pushed by the coordinators or research team, who anticipated that an online connection may develop over time as the sites became more established individually. We presented an additional opportunity to form a more formal member committee across sites when we hosted a knowledge mobilization event in Toronto in January 2020. Representatives from most of the sites attended and were able to connect with the intention of reconnecting regularly, but some sites were not represented due to travel limitations and technological barriers. By this time, sites had been established for at least a year and members were far more receptive to the idea of having regular cross-site meetings held virtually and supported by the coordinators. Unfortunately, this coincided with the end of the grant funding and not all sites were able to keep a coordinator position moving forward.
A member representing their site at the January 2020 Oasis convening
Following the hiring of the coordinator, members continued to attend regular meetings and actively provide input into programming. By project’s end, each coordinator could identify a handful of individuals at each site who were leaders of the group and would naturally take on some of the coordinator’s role to keep the program running smoothly, though members preferred to use the term “Ambassador” rather than Executive or other more formal title. The tasks they would take on primarily consisted of organizational tasks like creating the calendar, posting signs, setting up movies, keeping in contact with guest speakers, etc.
We recommend trying to establish an Executive Committee in the early stages of Oasis development. Think carefully about what language is used to describe members’ roles and what the expectations are for each member. Our membership preferred terms like “ambassadors” to “executives” or “leaders”. In our experience, members are hesitant to take on large responsibilities on an on-going basis. There may be different reasons for this, perhaps they are still developing relationships with the other members and may be hesitant to take on a role where they are representing others’ opinions. They may have other responsibilities (i.e. caregiver, volunteer) or have experienced a recent life event (retirement, loss of a spouse, illness). The hiring of a coordinator is a great starting point to encourage members to volunteer for such a committee.
Phase 2 Key Take-Aways:
At the beginning, hold twice-monthly program meetings to keep members involved in co-developing programming until the calendar begins to fill and meetings can be held less often
Coordinators should take a “behind the scenes” role in meetings and encourage members to take leadership roles
Including the monthly meeting minutes with the monthly calendar handout (see Phase 5) is a great start to a newsletter which keeps members informed about activities and group decision-making
Try to establish an Executive Committee early on, or at least a few “Ambassadors” or volunteers who take on a leadership role within the group
Be sure to involve members in the hiring of the on-site Program Coordinator so they have input into the person and skill-set they are looking for (more on this in Phase 5)