Docent Educator Logo

A Model for Planning and Implementing

This past November, my sister and I had the pleasure of planning  and hosting our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Over the several months prior, we initiated e-mail and phone conversations with eighteen family members to bring the upcoming celebration to the forefront of their minds. We determined what we needed and how we could best meet the needs.

Our cousins had hosted their parents’ 50th anniversary the previous November, so we had a successful model to use for planning purposes. However, with a vision of what would make our celebration a unique expression of our parents, as well as goals for this multi-family get together, my sister and I collaborated on a plan of action to make it happen. We figured out how to manage the process, and we recruited help, assigned tasks, provided instructions, and thanked profusely. Feedback both during and following the event—comments, cards, and e-mails—was heart-warming. We congratulated ourselves on what we did right, and made mental notes about what we might do differently for the next family gathering.

Without realizing it, my sister and I had implemented all seven stages in the National Association of Partners in Education’s (NAPE) Partnership Development Process, demonstrating that a good solid process is invaluable and broadly applicable within a wide range of contexts. Perhaps you will find nape’s Stages of Partnership Development helpful whether you are starting a new docent program, invigorating a current one, or launching a new initiative within the context of an ongoing program. Following, I have adapted NAPE’s process specifically for docent purposes:

  1. Create a Climate for Success: Awareness

In this foundational stage, the docent program’s champions — those most enthusiastically committed to its success — initiate an exploration of a potential program/ initiative intended to address a particular issue or set of issues.

In order to create a climate in which the program can take root and flourish, a group of key stakeholders should be gathered together as an advisory body. Individuals representing any groups that will be involved in or affected by the docent program/ initiative — or whose support/ approval is necessary — should be identified as “stakeholders,” and, as such, should be included in awareness-raising. Stakeholders might include museum staff, trustees, representatives of organizations from which docents might be recruited, representatives from the primary constituent groups served by your organization, and/or, if this process is aimed at a new initiative for an existing docent program, current docents.

  1. Identify Needs, Resources and Models:

a) Needs

Next, the advisory group should assess each of its member’s needs in relation to the program/initiative. A thorough needs assessment generally employs multiple methods such as interviews, observations, focus groups, and even community forums, as appropriate. Program champions may initially assume that the need is obvious and one-dimensional, e.g. the institution is in need of docents to lead tours in the galleries. However, once the needs of all stakeholders have been assessed, the real need will likely take on more texture, subtlety, and complexity, as it is defined from multiple points of view.

For example, far from solely providing tour guides, docent programs serve a wide range of needs, both the individual docent’s and the institution’s. Therefore, a needs assessment may reveal that docents are interested in the program largely because of the training provided by the museum staff, while trustees may value the program largely for the ambassador role that the docents fulfill on behalf of the institution.

b) Resources

A skillfully planned and facilitated needs assessment process may begin to reveal both resources and models. (Models are program designs that have worked for others when addressing similar issues.) As needs are expressed, a clearer understanding emerges of the resources needed to meet them in both the near- and far-term. The advisory group should consider human, financial, and material resources.

c) Models

When researching effective models, it is wise to cast the net wide, considering not only those efforts that have worked effectively in museums, but also in other educational institutions, non-profit organizations, businesses, government, and the military. Though the final design of a museum’s docent program/initiative should be based on local needs, resources, and relationships, adaptations of existing programs often prevent the duplication of effort and the inefficient use of time associated with “reinventing the wheel.”

  1. Develop Vision, Goals and Objectives

At this stage, the advisory body “gets real” about what the decent program/initiative will accomplish, keeping in mind alignment of their desired outcomes with that of the museum overall. It is important for these stakeholders to understand the difference between visions, goals, and objectives. According to, a vision statement is a reality-based, guiding image of success formed in terms of a contribution to society. Usually there is an affective dimension to a “vision,” around which people can be motivated to work together. While a vision statement answers the question, “What will success look like?”, a goal is a broad statement of purpose, and an objective is a measurable and specific statement of intent.

  1. Develop an Action Plan

The action plan, put simply, is the “who, what, when and where” of the docent program/initiative. It should be closely aligned with the program’s/initiative’s visions, goals, and objectives. Keep in mind that each set of goals and objectives may require the development of a corresponding action plan, which is most effective if stated in writing.

  1. Develop a System for Maintaining and Managing

In order to achieve the desired goals, there must be, in addition to a written action plan, an organizational chart, job descriptions for key participants, a set of administrative procedures, and a budget. These too should be put in writing and reconfirmed or renegotiated on a regular basis.

  1. Recruit, Assign, Train and Recognize Docents

Implementation of the new docent program/initiative will likely begin with recruiting docents or by recruiting current docents for new or expanded roles. When recruiting, the advisory body must decide how narrowly or broadly to target its efforts, e.g. notification in the docent newsletter, the museum newsletter, or the town’s newspaper. Once docents have been recruited, they need to be assigned a specific role and oriented to it within the setting in which they wall perform it.

Adequate training must follow and should provide the docents with both knowledge and skills, as well as opportunities to practice the delivery of significant content using the skills they have acquired. In terms of recognition, those who manage docent programs should generally ensure that there are both small, on-going recognition of docents’ contributions, as well as a major annual and more public recognition. Keep in mind that effective assignment, training, and recognition are very closely linked to retaining satisfied docents.

  1. Monitor, Evaluate and Improve

This stage completes the cyclical volunteer development process. Formative evaluations are on-going assessments that occur during the year and, as such, allow for mid-course corrections. Summative, or end-of-year, evaluations need to be compared with baseline data gathered at the beginning of the process to determine whether the program is making progress toward accomplishing the stated goals and objectives. A simple. but effective, evaluation instrument widely used within our school system is the “Plus/Delta.” To create this instrument, divide a page into two columns. Give one column a “Plus” heading, and the other a “Delta.” Under the former, list all of the positive aspects of the program/ initiative. Under the latter, rather than listing the so-called “negatives,” list instead what you might do differently next time. (Though the distinction is subtle, it is significant in terms of keeping the tone positive.) The results of both summative and formative assessments should be shared with the key stakeholders in order to celebrate progress and garner additional support. Finally, regardless of whether the results match expectations, they should be used to guide the next cycle through this seven-step process with an eye toward making necessary modifications and building on achievements.

As you read through these seven stages, I would imagine that you were reminded of occasions when you, perhaps inadvertently — like my sister and me with the anniversary party — were engaged in the seven-step two-step. And, regardless, perhaps the next time you tackle a challenge, whether it be an entirely new program or a new initiative within an existing program, you will find that the framework provided by nape’s seven steps will assure that you don’t misstep on your way to success.

Betsy DiJulio, Ed.S., is a freelance writer and is the partnership coordinator for the Virginia Beach City Public Schools, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

DiJulio, Betsy. “A Model for Planning and implementing,” The Docent Educator 13.2 (Winter 2003-04): 4-5.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *