by Bruce Feustel
Effective new member orientation programs play a key role in helping legislators transition from campaigning to governing. Many legislatures are putting more thought and planning into their new member orientations, focusing on determining what knowledge and skill training will best prepare the new lawmakers.
For over a decade NCSL has been collecting ideas and best practices for successful new member orientation programs from the legislators and legislative staff that coordinate these events. Here are some of their top tips for orientations:
- Plan well ahead.
- Get leaders' active support and involvement.
- Don't overwhelm the participants.
- Focus on the essentials.
- Make it hands-on and interactive.
- Give participants time to get to know each other.
- Be flexible and make adjustments.
- Provide training in segments that allow time for reflection.
- Custom fit your computer training for a wide ability range.
- Give participants materials that allow them to continue learning.
- Get feedback and adjust future programs based on that information.
In our most recent survey of new member program coordinators, a variant of "don't overwhelm them" prevails: Don't give them too much information. One survey respondent described it as "too much territory covered results in less retention." Another mentioned that the hardest part of NMO planning is figuring what to keep out of the program. A third cautioned fellow coordinators to remember that it is "an orientation. The details will work themselves out" as the freshmen start the actual session. This "don't overwhelm them" goal is even harder now, as there may be added pressure from many sources to add more to their orientations.
To counter this, many coordinators like Terry Anderson in Wisconsin are improving the training materials that give the participants a chance to reflect and review the key information. Numerous programs also include some lower-key receptions. Effective legislating involves building trust and relationships, and that often starts with a lawmaker's fellow new members. Legislators begin the process by understanding their colleagues and what makes them tick. These receptions often give the participants a chance to unwind and reflect on what they've heard and what their peers are thinking about heading into the session.
More information is available on NCSL's new member orientation web page.