Documentation & Institutional Memory
Many student groups, from fraternities to religious groups like Campus Crusade, have had a presence so long on their campuses, that they have established an institution on that campus. In your role as the chapter's advisor you provide one of the best ways to institutionalize your campus’ secular student group. Documentation and institutional memory are two of the biggest ways that SSA chapter advisors can help to facilitate the long term survival, and success, of their group.
Documentation is very important in order to foster successful leadership transitions and to make sure that new leaders retain as much information as possible from previous leaders. Chapter leaders often underestimate how much information regarding processes, methods, and best practices they retain only in their memory. This information needs to be put down in a form accessible to other leaders of the chapter, both current and future. Google Docs is a free resource that many of our chapters find useful as a place to aggregate the history and procedures of your chapter. It is also important for you to help the chapter pass along the access to these documents to future leaders. We encourage you to retain the usernames and passwords of important accounts such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. If there is a gap in leadership, you will be able to share this vital information with the next leader, as needed.
Specific types of documents you may want to work with your students leaders on include:
- Annual goals - There are a range to things your chapter may want to accomplish. Setting goals ahead of time ensures that your chapter is focused on the things it intends to do rather than simply producing one event after another.
- Event reports - Encourage the group leaders to record their processes when creating and producing events. This will make future event planning much easier for everyone involved.
- Succession folders - These can be physical or digital. Before a chapter leader steps down they should record relevant insights about their experience for the next leader. This can include technical details like how the fiances are managed to more general observations about what was success and why.
Institutional memory is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences, and know-how that is held by a group of people that transcends an individual and requires transmission to new leaders and volunteers.
Institutional memory is most often held by a chapter's advisor because advisors tend to be around much longer than chapter leaders. The current leader might know almost nothing about their chapter when it was founded 6 years ago by leaders who graduated 3 years prior. But you do! You can provide a sense of history and pride that current student leaders might not be able to.
Think of how churches and other religious communities transmit knowledge. They tend to maintain a sense of pride because of their historical legacy and the accomplishments of past leaders. We don’t need to create rigid, unchanging traditions as so often happens in religious group, but we do want to make sure the group remembers and fosters a desire to build on its history. Perhaps there is an unique even that your chapter has been doing annually. You can help that legacy continue past one chapter president.
You also serve in an important networking position. You can form and maintain long-term relationships with other group advisors, off-campus groups and resources, and other staff on campus, and even media contacts. This can make it easier for new leaders to set up, plan, and run successful events because they do not have to start from scratch when reaching out to other groups or people on the campus. You may also be able to remain in contact with student leaders after they have moved on, building a bridge to current leaders.