It's also important to get your invitation out in a variety of ways. We put up posters around the reserve, put this avatar on our Facebook profile, put posters and reminders in our community's newsletter, and then sent notices to every house the day before. On the day of the event, I posted photographs to the Facebook page to remind people to come check it out, and posted a reminder on several different Facebook groups.
Creating A Joyful Space
I think it's also really important to bring colour into a space. Tons of colourful balloons, big colourful posters, tablecloths, flowers - whatever you can do to make the space happy. Here's a picture of the sign-in table from the open house, with a tablecloth I just picked up in Mexico, some balloons, and a big poster in the background. Oh yeah, and kids LOVE balloons, we give them all away after the event is over :)
This can be challenging in a very large open house setting, since there are multiple conversations happening in many places all at once. My favourite activity for open houses is called "Booth Bingo" (see the picture below for a sample of the handout) and it goes like this:
- Put together a grid (I just use Microsoft Word, and create a table with an even number of rows and columns) and, inside each square, put a question that can only be answered by going to each booth and talking to the staff person there. (I ask the staff that will be running booths to give me their questions a couple days before the event)
- Give your bingo sheet a title, some instructions, and space on the bottom to write their name and phone number
- During the event, people come in the door, pick up a "Booth Bingo" sheet, and then have to walk around to each booth finding the answers to the questions. Once they have the answer, the staff person signs the sheet, or puts a sticker on it, in the appropriate square.
- When the community member has enough squares (I usually ask for at least two lines) they sign their name on the bottom, and that becomes their entry for the prize draw.
I like this activity because everyone loves bingo, it's a fairly simple activity to understand, tying it into the prize draw ensures great participation, and if the staff are savvy with their questions (and how they choose to answer them) it can be a great teaching tool.
For example, we have a new waste depot on our reserve, and it's really important that people understand that it will only be open a couple of days each week. So, for the booth bingo question, we put "What days will the new waste depot be open?" (the answer was on a poster at the booth, Tuesday & Saturday) - this reinforces the key message that we have a new waste depot, and it will only be open for two days each week.
We had a guest speaker from another community, and a Q&A session on Treaty was planned. Some of the issues with this type of plenary session is that if people are shy they won't ask their questions, or it can take a long time to walk around with a mic and get people to ask their questions. So, I came up with these little handouts that were scattered on the tables during the Q&A session, along with pens. People wrote down their questions while Roy did a 30 minutes presentation, and then we collected them (and continued to collect them throughout the Q&A portion.)
I stood up front (we only had one microphone) and read the question aloud, then handed Roy the microphone so he could respond. A couple of times I paraphrased his answers to make them more applicable to our community, or to simplify it a bit.
This activity worked great, we had a lot of questions asked, but we were able to devote more time to answering them and less time to walking around. People who are shy were able to ask their questions, and we have a written record of the questions asked so that we can include them in future newsletter articles.
Making It Worthwhile
At our open house we had maps, short films, architectural drawings, questionnaires, TONS of brochures and pamphlets, graphic posters, large 3D displays, and even a bunch of groceries (my sister, who runs our Good Food Box & Nutrition programs, had brought one $10 Good-Food-Box's-worth of groceries (totalling $32 at the store) to show the value of signing up for the Good Food Box program - she got 11 new people signed up!)
It's also important to have a variety of booths. Our Treaty program funds this whole thing, but we take care to invite any and all staff and other programs that want to have a booth, to make sure the event is as well-attended, interesting, and enjoyable as possible.
Making it Accessible
We had child minding at our open house, all day long, so that people could bring their children and still take part. We were supposed to have snacks and drinks all day long, although there were some glitches with that, but at least we had bottled water and juice and I made sure to walk around and hand out water and juice to the elders. We had extra chairs for people to just sit and talk, and at the end of the day we served a big delicious dinner. These things should all be a part of every community event, so that we take care of our physical well being.
I try to always have a suggestion box, where people can write down any random rants or queries or suggestions, and it's also great to take some time to debrief with your staff team after the event to talk about what went really well, and what could be improved next time.
So, don't be afraid of community interaction! Take some of these tips, add your own, and get out there and have some fun.
*A note on Booth Bingo: The idea for using it like this has an interesting history. At a CCP workshop a few years back, I developed a bingo sheet as an ice breaker activity. The Skidegate community members who were there were then inspired to use it for their upcoming community open house, just like I've described in this post. I am Skidegate's CCP Mentor, so I was at the open house, and in turn was inspired by their application of the activity and have now used it for a couple of years in my own.*