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Aspen Digital

Expectation Setting & Clear Communications

My Tips for Intentional & Equitable Programming Design

Two South Africans sit in an office video conferencing with their colleague on a desktop computer.
February 23, 2024

Leana Mayzlina

Senior Project Manager

If I’ve learned one thing in designing programs, it’s that you can build the most thoughtful, provocative, responsive plan, but if you don’t clearly communicate and set expectations, it might as well not exist. People are interested in participating in an initiative that not just conceptually excites them but also clearly sets out what they will learn, how it will benefit them, how they are expected to engage, and what success looks like. To build this strategy into our approach, we communicated early and often to set clear goals and expectations.

Programming Guide

Upon launching the Digital Equity Accelerator, we shared an incredibly thorough (36 page!) guide with all participants. The guide was a living document that outlined all upcoming programming, requirements, expectations, and guidelines, as well as an overview of our staff, partners, and mission. 

Sharing all of this information up front helped assuage concerns before they arose, and provide a reference for any questions we received (“Have a question on how many Mentor meetings you should have each month? Please check page 13 of the Program Guide!”).

Letters of Understanding

Each organization signed a document outlining their commitment as well as participation expectations and roles. By asking each organization’s CEO/Executive Director to sign a letter, we ensured buy-in from the entire organization, including leadership.

Clear Roles

While wanting to make our programming available to multiple people from each organization, we also needed to be certain there was a specific person who would be accountable for all of the logistics and communications (registering for courses, submitting reporting, etc.). For this purpose, we asked each organization to appoint a Primary Representative, whose role was to be their organization’s liaison to the Accelerator. This helped to ensure that we were not getting our cables crossed by communicating with multiple individuals from each entity. 

Role clarity was also critical on our end: we communicated early on to participants which staff member to reach out to for what kinds of questions, to ensure they were getting support quickly and efficiently.

Calendar

While we didn’t have the entire educational programming lined up when we launched, we knew it was critical to respect participants’ time by helping them plan ahead. During the onboarding period, we shared a programming calendar with all of the information we had at the time. Over the course of the 6 months, we added faculty names and other details but maintained the dates/times listed on the calendar.

Feedback (systems)

We prioritized building systems for feedback early on in the process. We hired a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) consultant, who helped us survey our participants on a monthly basis and analyze the results. (When I say participants, I am not just referring to Accelerator organizations but also Instructors, Mentors, Technical Experts, etc.) 

And while many initiatives request feedback, few act on that feedback. We made sure to create systems that would allow us to gather this information regularly, which would ensure we actually acted on it sooner rather than later.

In the spirit of transparency, we also made sure to communicate when there was valuable feedback that we (unfortunately) could not incorporate, to assure participants that we were, in fact, reviewing their comments and aware of their needs.

Feedback (relationships)

While feedback systems are critical, they are also not the end all be all. I’m a strong believer that in order to gather honest and direct feedback, you first need to develop trust in relationships. 

This can look different for everyone, but for me it means connecting personally with participants, expressing care, and being open to connection. It also means emphasizing an adaptive leadership approach, where you are clear that your goal is not perfection but rather to try things out, to learn alongside the participants, and to grow and iterate when possible. Creating a culture of humility and adaptability allows participants to feel more comfortable surfacing any issues.

Read On

Keep reading to get my tips for how to engage faculty and help them feel successful.
Programming and Engagement for Faculty

Programming and Engagement for Faculty

The focus of programming design is often exclusively on the learners, but faculty are also participants who deserve a positive experience.

Intentional & Equitable Programming Design

Intentional & Equitable Programming Design

The evolution of the Digital Equity Accelerator. How we refined and improved our programming – and you can too!

Programming & Engagement for Learners

Programming & Engagement for Learners

How to design programming that empowers participants to learn and succeed, and allows them to show up as their whole human selves, with all of their unique experiences, perspectives, and questions.