Quality vs. Quantity.

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Whenever there are problems to find staff for a village, the common agreement among a chapter board is: Instead of finding a mediocre-quality staff in the last second, let's do less camps instead with great staff. Also at AIMs, every time the number of hosted camps stagnates or sinks, the reaction is that CISV prefers quality over quantity.

This discussion on quality versus quantity misses several issues that I'd like to point out:

- CISV's main goal is education. In a for-profit-organisation the results are easily calculated, and there are common economic markers that can be referred to, if you want to measure the quality of a company. In education it's terribly difficult to measure quality, except by some obscure parameters, like whether all staff was trained. So in fact, we don't even know the quality of our camps. So how the hell can we prefer quality of quantity?

- Critical mass is a main issue when looking at whether a CISV chapter is working well. Only with a certain number of families you can expect a number of active members. Only with several delegations a year you can expect enough leaders interested in staffing. I would estimate 90% of our chapters, even NAs, do not reach critical mass to keep running sustainably. What I'm hitting at is that only with certain quantity good quality can be achieved.

- Human resources and funds needed to run a bigger organisation will probably not rise proportional: If we double the number of villages from 50 to 100, we don't necessarily need an IO that is twice the size. Also AIM won't need to be twice as long or twice as big. So in the end, administation costs are shared by more participants and our fees could be lower.

- If CISV was a bigger organisation, involving more people, it would be easier to reach out to donors, educators and NGOs. More people at the grassroots also translates into more and better people involved in the top levels of our organisations. Better external relation, more fundraising ties and more dedicated volunteers will inevitably lead to better camps.

I strongly believe that more quantity can lead to better quality in several ways.

With the exception of the sllight upward trend in 2007 (2008 numbers aren't out yet), our participation numbers remain static since 1996. But if CISV should grow, who can tell us how? 

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Another aspect to this discussion is "how much quality is enough"? There are many possible approaches, ranging from "we want to be as good as we can possibly get" to "we want the quality to be good enough". Essentially you have as you wrote a trade off between the two; too many requirements to foster quality will most likely harm quantity. For the time being it seems like the organisational view is to increase quality, but I have never seen any strategic thinking about why, and what we expect to gain from it.

My personal feeling is that our programmes require different levels of quality. Village, Interchange and Youth meeting for the youngest require a lot less than Seminar Camp and IPP. One of my key views has always been "it takes a lot to ruin a camp experience for an 11 year old".

Being Staff/Leader on a Village is mainly about the bottom parts of the Maslow pyramid; Physiological and Safety needs, as well as need for love, affection and belongingness. My theory is that rest comes from the kids and their basic interaction. Fancy intercultural games might add a twist to the last week, but the most of the experience is made up of simply living together for a month.

Training is still important; but maybe we should focus more on practical camp-training -- how to lead 75 people, how to be a parent for a month etc.

And at the end of the day, maybe the goal should be a maximized production to a given quality level rather than a maximized quality. Increasing participation and thus also increasing our impact.

Very interesting points, Lars:

I agree that withh all the hype around educational training, many a village staff is challenged with practicals like getting the songbook printed.

A few years ago, I tried to initiate a discussion on "minimal standards", which aimed at the same direction you are mentioning. How much is neough to call a camp a success?

Of course setting a minimal quality threshold also has it's caveats, but it a) doesn't prevent CISVers from doing better and b) would allow to pinpoint "failure camps". Avoiding failures would then probably be the most effective quality measure available.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick published on May 21, 2009 8:07 PM.

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