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Managing risk through participant engagement

By: Kate Farthing, Broadreach Director of Dive and Sail adventures

Risk management in the experiential education industry is constantly evolving, so it’s important that as standards and best practices change, program designers and managers are perceptive enough to change as well. At Broadreach, we work with students from the point of enrollment and throughout their program experiences to educate them on how to be active risk managers within supportive program environments that encourage adventure and discovery.

Before a summer adventure begins

Prior to a Broadreach adventure, students are introduced to the responsibilities and risks they may encounter on their summer programs. In our experience, it can be tough to effectively engage with and keep the attention of participants – but feedback from our alumni families has taught us that using visual communication to explain topics, from the structure of programs to how to pack for living on a boat, tends to work well. Listening to previous participants has guided us in how to build knowledge students need for safe and successful experiences abroad.

When planning for a Broadreach adventure, families are informed about specific regions to be visited, any special health considerations, and relevant and real-time health and vaccine information provided by the CDC. This information is frequently requested by both parents and students when preparing for a program and is necessary for student wellbeing.

What students will do on any Broadreach program, when they will do it and how it will happen is vital for student and parent comfort around possible risks. Our customized, detailed itineraries help shape expectations around program activities, accommodations and any special considerations. Itineraries make students and parents more aware of what to expect of their programs in order to reduce shock, discomfort or unnecessary risk. This process helps create a supported space on all programs for students to explore freely and try new things.

The next step in our pre-program management process is one we love: connecting directly with families on the phone. Communication by phone starts shortly after a student submits an application and families set up calls around their own schedules so they can be prepared to ask specific questions and address any concerns. We encourage families to join calls together to be sure everyone feels informed about potential challenges and confident about their chosen programs.

Though the initial call is completed with multiple people, a solo student interview is also scheduled so we can communicate program expectations directly to the student and ensure the summer adventure is a great fit for them. Students then fill out a questionnaire about their personal goals for the program that instructors use to get to know their students and to reference in navigating any challenges that might arise during the summer.

During a Broadreach summer adventure

The first 48 hours of any Broadreach program are crucial for student success and enjoyment. During this stage students learn what they need to know to be safe, successful and empowered in order to manage their own risks and the risks of the group. Orientation includes community acclimation, overview of goals, safety information, and academic and cultural components.

One of the most successful ways we’ve engaged students in their own risk management is by choosing a student leader each day. This student has the opportunity to help with activity briefings, scheduling logistics, safety and more. Leaders of the day inform their groups about what activities are happening that day and provide context about various decisions made, creating a sense of ownership and freedom in any activity. The leadership position actively practices the role of being a risk manager, pushing students to think critically and be aware in a group setting. It also encourages students to grow their leadership abilities in relation to others in a small, close-knit group.

While group dynamics are crucial for the success of any program, attention must also be given to each individual student and Broadreach instructors meet with every student regularly. These meetings allow instructors to provide emotional support, track goals, discuss any challenges students are experiencing and make sure they are healthy – all of which strengthen the student experience.

After completion of a Broadreach adventure

There are endless ways to engage participants after a program is completed, and we are excited to continue to grow in this area. Within 48 hours of their return home, students receive an email from Broadreach to check on how they’re feeling and to address any specific issues or concerns if necessary. We also give families the opportunity to provide feedback to Broadreach through an end-of-summer survey and calls with instructors, helping to inform our program design and future interactions with families. Full-time Broadreach team members then conduct follow-up calls in the fall to review the overall experience of every student – an effort that helps students process their Broadreach experiences and transfer what they learned during their programs to their everyday lives.

Want to speak with us about a Broadreach adventure? Connect with us directly

Kate Farthing, Broadreach’s Director of Dive & Sail Adventures, has been with Broadreach since 2007. She’s led and scouted numerous student programs around the world and is passionate about creating meaningful experiences for students. This article was adapted from Kate’s presentation at the 2019 Wilderness Risk Management Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.