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Engaging Your Sisters

May 5, 2023 by Sr. Nancy Conway, CSJ

Early on, it is important to determine how you want to engage sisters and at what point in the planning effort. What methods have worked well in the past for you as you sought sisters’ feedback? What form of engagement will generate excitement and hopefully buy-in for the project you are considering? We know that sharing a solution too early in a planning process can generate reactions that are less than helpful if the solution is a preliminary one.

Here are some methods we have used that have yielded good results.

If you are considering using focus groups to invite feedback, rather than seeking it in a large group setting, we think you should start with who might best be grouped with whom. Our bias is that grouping those with similar experiences, interests, and “skin in the game” is the most helpful way to begin forming focus groups. We typically consider 10 people the maximum number per group, allowing everyone to speak and engage in conversation.

Here are some categories of focus groupings you might consider, gathering sisters by:
Age. Particularly helpful to ensure that your youngest members have a voice since they are typically the smallest age grouping.
Location. Those who might be impacted by any change in the building or property typically are more engaged than when they’re mixed with sisters who live outside of or far from the motherhouse. Obviously, the stakes are different by location.
Personality Types. Having a group of all extroverts or all introverts can be challenging.

Quiet folks versus talkers are similar to introverts/extroverts, but often this is associated with age. Some older sisters are hesitant to speak within groups, even when there is a maximum of 10. Thus, it is recommended to use multiple formats when looking for participation from all sisters. Those who are hesitant to speak in a group setting are likely more comfortable with anonymous feedback such as written surveys.

If you are considering soliciting written feedback, here are some things you might want to consider. Do you want to use paper copies for sisters to complete, or can you use electronic surveys? Understanding the capacity of your sisters to work with a computer is of course important, but we have found success in asking a “buddy” to work with older sisters or those with sight issues, to read and complete electronic surveys. The obvious benefit to an electronic survey is that many of them compile the results for you, eliminating the need to labor over written feedback to create summaries, etc.

If you determine that written or electronic surveys will serve you best, time and energy needs to be put into determining what questions you will ask. In addition, asking questions that will prompt responses from the heart as well as responses from the head will be important—especially with regard to beloved places and buildings. Attempting to delve into members’ deepest hopes and highest aspirations is no easy feat, but we have seen many examples of congregations who achieve just that in a focus group or via written feedback.

Figuring out how to ask a question and what kind of responses you are looking for is another consideration. Can you determine how to ask your question in a way that a multiple choice response will be possible? Those are the easiest to combine and summarize, while open ended questions will necessitate the most time summarizing.

As we said in the beginning of this article, knowing how to engage members in the planning process is a shared goal, but knowing how best to do that might be a little more elusive. By providing multiple opportunities and formats in which questions are posed, you are guaranteed a broader response across all members. We hope this article gives you some possibilities to consider.

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