It seems simple – get feedback from your staff team to help evaluate the camping experience you are providing. Depending on the size of your team and the camp, simply set up any one or more of an online survey, distribute feedback forms, hold focus groups and it’s done.
Well, there are two main problems actually. Firstly, the team will partly be evaluating their own performance. If the experience for the campers isn’t good, then it might come down to what the team members are doing. It is difficult to be brutally honest about such things, even with the most realistic servant heart. If they are delivering well and the campers seem to be having fun, then it is easy to be simplistic or complacent and report that everything is fine.
Secondly and maybe linked to the first, it is very difficult for team members to evaluate another’s experience. What they usually do is evaluate their own experience in providing a service. A simple example: I recently sat in on an evening session where part of the gospel was being presented. It was okay. The following morning the presenter’s report to the staff team meeting about the session majored on, “It was great, we had a great time, the kids listened.” While my evaluation was that it was only “okay,” the staff team evaluated their own experience highly. But it was not that of the campers.
There is no one, simple answer, but steps can be taken to get useful feedback from the staff.
Firstly, make sure their training is based on what the campers are getting, not just on what the staff are providing. Simple I know, but….
Secondly, keep reminding them of that; it is the easiest thing to forget.
Then, work out what you want to evaluate. There is no point getting feedback about something that is poorer than you would like if can’t do anything about it. “The cabins are too small and need ventilation/heating/cooling.” “I know but I can’t change anything this season.”
If your priorities are that the campers are safe and feel safe, are having fun and learning something, then the staff training and the evaluation sought should focus on those things. Include the content of what they are learning – is it all about the gospel or are there other things in there?
Plan (before you ask) what you are going to do with the information you get back. If you want to create pie charts and graphs that will help to make a case for structural change, then ask questions with answers ticked on a scale of good to bad. Even this sort of data will need interpretation. (What does it really mean if something is reported as poor or excellent?) Maybe it is neither of those things, but instead is a problem with the expectations you raised before the staff/campers arrived or the evaluation sought.
If you want to make a change to the lived experience of your campers, seek evaluation of how they feel or respond to something. The interpretation probably needs a follow up question or two, suggesting one form of small group conversation or another.
Putting the bones of a system in place is the easy bit – whether a survey, small group conversation or verbal reports at team meetings. Interpretation of all this is essential and only effective if you know your people and see them in action. Get out of the office and chat, ask the difficult follow-up questions: What does that mean? How do they feel about it?
Evaluate but don’t measure. Seek understanding. Find the things you can change. Don’t worry about the things you can’t.
Dr. Phil Simpson is chief executive of Abernethy, a provider of residential adventure programmes in Scotland. Abernethy seeks to grow the likeness of Christ in people’s lives through helping them to learn about themselves, others and God. Phil and his wife Rosemary make their home by Loch Tay in the heart of Scotland.