The EXCO Organizer Handbook
Draft 4, September 2009
Table of Contents:
Mission, Goals, and Vision
Structure and Decision Making
EXCO Member and Chapter Expectations
The Work Part 1: Task Areas
The Work Part 2: What an EXCO Session Looks Like
The Work Part 3: Tools We Use
Welcome to EXCO
Hello Wonderful Person! Are you ready to be an Organizer for the Experimental College of the Twin Cities, a grassroots educational community that is both a critique of the existing educational systems and a model of what they can be? While that might seem daunting, remember that you already use all sorts of organizing skills in your daily life.
Do you know how to…Throw a party? Get help, or energize a friend to do something? Make sure you have enough money to buy groceries? Keep track of your family? Explain things to people? Meet someone new? If you are good at any of the above you have the skills it takes to be a great organizer, and hey, learning to organize can help make your daily tasks easier and more enjoyable.
While this book is not an organizing training manual, it should give you a great sense of what we do in EXCO, how we make decisions, where we want to go, and how you can get involved.
Organizers are the backbone of our organization, working and reflecting to ensure that EXCO as a whole is doing well, growing, and ever-deepening its impacts based on its visions and values.
But hey, no pressure! We’re here to support you in this process. As an open, democratic, and all volunteer organization, there are few places where your contributions can be as important to making change in the world and where people are as likely to understand and take into account the needs and goals of each other.
Have a question? Ask it. Something going on you don't like? Bring it up at a meeting or talk about it with someone in private. Have an idea? Bring it up! Without people like you EXCO wouldn’t exist so speak up! We are more than ready for you to be a full contributing member of our organization, and to listen to what you have to say!
EXCO Core Values
The Experimental College of the Twin Cities is dedicated to transforming education on the principle that everyone can teach or take classes and all classes are free.
We believe education is a powerful tool for social change, one that can build equality and justice in our community when we value the knowledge of each and every person, particularly those whose voices have been historically marginalized.
- • To expand the definition of education
- • To increase opportunities for lifelong teaching and learning
- • To deepen and strengthen the connections between institutions of higher learning and Twin Cities communities
- • To recognize education as a force to create equality and justice
Started in Fall 2006 in response to an admissions policy change at Macalester best understood as affirmative action for people with money, EXCO was inspired by the institution of the same name at Oberlin College, and seen as a way to promote educational access, expanding opportunities for lifelong learning, empower self-managed education for communities and movements in the Twin Cities, and have lots of fun. A second EXCO chapter started at the U of M in the Fall of 2007, in response to the AFSCME strike, an event that served as a catalyst for re-thinking the U of M as a public university. The third and fourth chapters are beginning at MCTC and among a group of Latin@ folks in the Phillips neighborhood. Expanded through responses to labor struggles, community outreach, and cross-campus organizing, EXCO has grown through a history of struggle and is committed to building infrastructure to strengthen current and future fights for liberation, justice, and equality in the Twin Cities and beyond.
EXCO Structure and Decision Making
The Experimental College of the Twin Cities is a collaboration between the various EXCO Chapters, who make democratic decisions in the framework of their responsibilities to each other and our common mission. As the formal decision makers Chapters make decisions individually at their meetings or together at citywide meetings.
EXCO holds monthly citywide meetings, where Chapters come together to check-in and make decisions together. Unless someone calls for a decision by breaking out into Chapter groups, citywide decisions are made by consensus or if necessary by a 2/3rds vote of those present. If someone calls to make a decision in Chapters, Chapter members consult in the meeting and come back with a decision. Consensus in such instances will be met unless a Chapter as a whole is against a decision.
Consensus is a decision-making process whereby decisions are made after a proposal has been made acceptable to all present. While facilitators are responsible to run meetings by consensus all members should ensure we do it well. Consensus works as follows:
- 1. Someone brings an idea or proposal to be discussed.
- 2. The idea is talked about, identifying both positive aspects along with problems and concerns. We may also use a straw poll where people express with thumbs up/down/sideways how they feel about the proposal. This is a good way to see where people are at without talking about it.
- 3. The idea is improved to maximize the good parts and minimize the problems or concerns
- 4. Consensus is called for, like a vote, and people may support the proposal, stand aside (remain neutral), or block (veto the proposal). The proposal passes if no one blocks.
- 5. Blocking is very rare, and should only be done to present a significant objection that hasn't yet been mentioned or if the proposal is drastically opposed to the values and visions of EXCO. If someone blocks, their concerns are discussed and incorporated, or in the last resort the proposal is decided by vote, with a 2/3rds majority required to pass.
EXCO Member Expectations:
While it is essential that EXCO organizers follow through on the spirit of these expectations, please note that we strongly encourage all levels of involvement and will do what we can to ensure that you can be involved at whatever capacity you are able.
-Attend Chapter meetings and monthly citywide meetings
-Put in 3-5 hours of EXCO work each week
-Take part in yearly and seasonal planning and reflection processes
- Make an effort to attend monthly EXCO events and organizer gatherings
Communication and Accountability:
-Commit to and follow through on doing specific tasks, and alert other members in advance regarding changing situations, travel, etc
-Ensure that you understand EXCO's mission, vision, and keep up to date on what is going on
-Focus your energy on growing your organizing skills and mastery of certain EXCO tasks or task areas
-Ensure that reflection, evaluation, and celebration is part of all Chapter processes, including ongoing interrogation of power and privilege
-Pass on the knowledge, ideas, or relationships relevant to EXCO prior to leaving
-Do at least one 121 a month with potential new organizers, facilitators, or community leaders
-Ensure ongoing interrogation of power and privilege within EXCO as an organization and in its relations in the world
The Work Part 1: Task Areas
The work we do can best be understood as being made up of 4 areas. All areas are essential to making EXCO run and achieving our visions and goals. While it is helpful to have someone making sure we are on track in each area, most organizers do some work in all task areas:
- 1. Publicity/Outreach: Finding facilitators and participants to teach and take classes and building the human connections to create a strong and lasting community presence
- 2. Facilitators : Supporting facilitators in making their classes successful specifically finding class spaces, building community, and developing facilitator skills and critical awareness
- 3. Events: Planning, publicizing, and holding citywide events to bring together the EXCO Community
- 4. Administration: Running meetings, working with schools administrations, raising and allocating funds, keeping track of class and participant data, and ensuring that the website, email lists, and databases are up to date
The Work Part 2: What an EXCO Session Looks Like
EXCO officially runs three sets of classes a year, though it is up to facilitators when their classes run and if, or how they fit on our schedule. Fall session begins in late September and ends in early December. Spring session begins in early February and ends in early May. Summer session begins in mid-June and ends in early August.
The basic EXCO timeline is as follows:
1. Facilitator publicity begins
2. Facilitator application deadline
3. Facilitator orientation
4. EXCO Kick-off Event
5. Classes Begin
6. Reflection Dinner (facilitator publicity begins)
7. EXCO Celebration Event
To spell it out a little more, prior to each session:
- • Chapters apply for funding
- • Organizers and volunteers do two sets of outreach, first for facilitators and then for participants, with each chapter responsible for a different section of the city.
- • As we receive applications we begin working with facilitators to find spaces and ensure successful classes, divided between chapter by connection, geography, or interest, though these are all in some ways dependent on the citywide class approval and budget meeting
- • Before doing publicity for participants we have a citywide budget meeting to accept classes and to allocate money to them.
- • At the beginning of each session we run a facilitator orientation and the EXCO Kick-Off event. The end of classes are celebrated by an EXCO Showcase event.
During the session organizers:
- • Hold weekly chapter meetings
- • Have monthly citywide meetings
- • Get together for organizer socials
- • Build relationships with campus and community allies and partners
The Work Part 3: Tools We Use
While most people don't think of reflection as a toll, one of the most important ways we evaluate, approve, and move forward with EXCO is through intentional reflection and visioning, at chapter meetings, citywide reflection and visioning sessions, organizer hang-outs, and in conversations between people. Reflection is also a powerful way to ensure that what we are doing is sustainable and to take a moment to celebrate the good work we are doing.
Building Relationships Through Personal Communication
Much like reflection, relationship building is an essential but often overlooked part of any organizing process. At EXCO, we pride ourselves on building our organization and movement primarily through face-to-face conversations, both to find new organizers, reflect with and support facilitators, and build connections or partnerships with community leaders.
While there are lots of ways to do this, a particularly effective and practiced way of doing this is through an intentional and intentionally brief person conversations which we call one-to-ones (or 121s). One-to-ones are actually a very simple and rewarding practice, though they do challenge us to be intentional and deep with our time, to maximize our effectiveness and deepen our humanity.
Set up a 121 by asking someone in person or by someone you have been suggested to meet by phone or email. This request should be short and sweet, letting them know who suggested you talk, the basic of what EXCO is, and ask for a short (30-45 minute) meeting time with specific times/dates. At a 121 it is essential to FIRST learn about each other, where you come from, how you got into the work you’re doing, and most importantly, what someone is invested and driven by in their life and work. This will establish a pre-business human connection and give you a clear understanding of what they care about and where a sincere collaboration could be—around common interests, values, and resources. While this takes practice it is mostly about listening, identifying with this person you are hearing, and being creative in finding common goals.
Once a personal connection and trust is established, at EXCO we are specifically looking for the following types of collaboration:
- • People to get involved as organizers, facilitators, volunteers, or participants
- • Space, access to space, sharing of space
- • Publicity, publicity sharing, more ways of getting the word out
- • Money, and other resources
- • Connecting to individuals, populations, or movements with which we would like to have deeper or broader relationships with, specifically in relation to finding: facilitators, organizers to join existing chapters, participants, and those who know lots of people or might create their own chapter or other EXCO organizing unit
- • Some other type of specialized knowledge: critical pedagogy, anti-oppression work, website, design, artistic skills, fundraising, etc
...Be realistic in what you offer and ask for, we have limited capacity!
Finally, in ending make sure you have:
- • The person's contact info, phone AND email
- • Suggestions for people to connect to and spaces to use
- • Next steps, even if it is just “we'll keep in touch”
...then add the person and their suggestions to the DATABASE! and add it to your report backs for your next Chapter meeting.
We have found that planning ahead actually makes for less not more work, and that the results are more intentional and impressive. As such, we have begun planning yearly, and each year create a yearly schedule at the annual EXCO retreat in late August or early September. This schedule is also checked near the beginning of each Chapter meeting to ensure that we know what is coming up and that consequently our planning efforts have not been in vain. All members are expected to bring a copy of the yearly schedule to all Chapter and citywide meetings.
Communicating: Posters, Flyering, Press, Website, Newsletter, Email Lists
As well as face-to-face communication we also keep track of and do mass communication through putting up posters, handing out flyers, listing information on our website including a place where people can register for classes, sending out monthly email newsletters, and keeping email lists specifically for past, present, or potential facilitators and volunteers. Moreover, when people sign-up to the EXCO website, they give us a variety of information that is useful for expanding our programming and demonstrating our usefulness to our funders. Lastly, we are always working to get the word out about EXCO through a variety of press sources, both in print, online, radio, and television.
Keeping Track: Databases, Google Maps
We are constantly getting new ideas for people to facilitate classes, spaces to hold classes, press people to contact, and people who would be interested in volunteering or organizing. As such we have a series of databases, each dedicated to these different things where we keep track of such information and can therefore refer back to it as we need it. For publicity we also put location information on Google Maps so we can see the spacial arrangement of where classes are held or flyers put up.
Passing On Knowledge: Handbook, Trainings, Wiki, and the Cheat Sheet
In order to ensure that new members are able to do their fair share of the tasks, the tasks they would like to do, and to fully understand how EXCO works, we are intentional about passing on knowledge through this handbook, through trainings on request—specifically for doing 121s, and the various technologies—and finally by compiling what we do and how we do it online at our Wiki at http://excotc.wetpaint.com which you will have to ask to be added and in paper copy in our Organizer Cheat Sheet.
Do you want more?
Want even more? Talk to your Chapter-mates and specifically ask for your copy of the Yearly Schedule which you should bring to every Chapter meeting, and to get a copy of the various Cheat Sheets, both for administrative tasks and for each task area.
Lastly, you are welcome to explore the history of EXCO emailing through looking at the archive of emails at our Google Groups. This can be viewed most easily if you have a gmail account, simply sign in and click the button on the top that says “more”, click on “groups” and then selection your email list. Past emails are archived as “discussions”. If you don't have a gmail account you can sign in through your non-gmail email.