“Those who love peace must learn to organize as well as those who love war.” 
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Have you been in groups that spend time talking but can’t agree on what to do? Or groups that take action before thinking things through? 

Student agency organizations can be places of innovation, where young people work together to create new solutions to the challenges facing our society. This is possible when the group has a planning process that balances creative discussion with decisive action.

Here are key tools that help groups stay in balance and develop effective plans:

Establish Democratic Processes | Know Your Environment | Resource Analysis | Map out Division of Labor


Establish Democratic Processes

Many leaders ask: “Why don’t members complete the tasks they agree to do? Why aren’t they motivated to work on this project?” 

Organizations are made up of different people. Each person has a unique experience and something unique to contribute: an opinion, a talent, a skill, a question. Democratic processes invite members to contribute to discussions, decisions, and plans. When this process is in place, the plans of the organization are stronger and members are more motivated. To support democratic processes:

Create Meeting Agreements.

Ask how members would like to interact in order to feel comfortable speaking. Develop a list that everyone agrees on. This could include agreements such as not interrupting others, asking questions to clarify, using gender-neutral pronouns (e.g. “you all” instead of “you guys”), etc.


This process helps generate ideas from everyone. Make sure the topic or project is clear, then ask for ideas and reactions. Write each one down so each comment is visible to everyone.

Ask members to hold off on questioning each other so all ideas can be considered.

After all ideas have been recorded, the group can discuss the results and/or vote to prioritize.

For more on Brainstorming see Activity Sheet 4.

Use Round Robins and Dyads.

If members aren’t talking or a discussion is dominated by a few voices, change the dynamic so everyone can be heard.

“Round Robin” is simple: state the topic or question under discussion and ask everyone to respond, going around the room one-by-one.

In “Dyads,” state the topic or question then ask everyone to find one other person to discuss it with. Each person takes a turn to speak for a specific amount of time (e.g. 3 minutes). Announce when it is time to switch to the next person. When everyone has spoken, bring the group back together and have each pair share what was discussed.


Members can bring bad habits into meetings, such as individualism and power tripping. They may hold up decisions or try divide-and-conquer tactics of talking with select members outside of meetings. This undermines the democratic process by creating pockets of power within the group instead of discussing differences in an open and fair manner.

It is critical to address this dynamic directly and resolve the situation, bringing the group back to its shared purpose. 


Know Your Environment

If your group is active, its work will intersect with people, offices, or organizations beyond the group’s membership. For example, the facilities, funds, or services you need to access are usually managed or performed by other people. How can you access these resources effectively if you don’t know what is available and who to contact? 

Research Services and Deadlines.

List the services your group accesses for projects (e.g. granting funds, processing financial transactions, reserving facilities) and put a face to the service. Who are the people working behind the scenes? What are the deadlines they have in order to meet requests from multiple groups?

Be Aware of Duplication.

Your group may choose a project or issue that another organization or office is working on. If so, contact them and find out what they are doing or planning. Your group can take this into consideration in deciding if it wants to focus on a unique approach or element, coordinate with others, or do something else.

Assess Opportunities and Threats.

When non-profits or institutions do strategic planning, they review their environment and agree on elements that could pose an opportunity or threat to their work.

An example of an opportunity could be a new source of funding that supports the work of your group.

A threat could be a decision to raise student fees which impacts members negatively.

Understanding these as a group opens up possibilities and grounds you in reality.


Resource Analysis

Many organizations have long lists of projects that they want to do. Organizations with a social justice focus are especially driven to do more, given the urgency of the issues our society faces. 

Deciding what to do and not to do is challenging. It’s even harder when a few members are passionate about an idea and the group doesn’t want to turn them down. But to be effective and achieve goals, groups need to make choices.

First, ask if the proposed project supports the purpose of the organization. If it does, the next step is to ask what resources will be needed. Analyzing your resources helps the group choose projects that it can complete successfully.

Identify Essential Elements.

Every project is different. Brainstorm the essential elements of the project, e.g. printing, technology, facilities, electricity, sound, performers, food, volunteers, etc. Estimate the cost and availability of each.

Determine Costs. 

Estimate a budget. If the group doesn’t have sufficient funds, make a list of fund sources that might give funding to the project. 

Draw Up a Timeline.

Do a “backward timeline:” start with the date of your event or when your project is due. Work backwards from that date, figuring out each task that needs to be done before then. Include the deadlines of the fund sources or offices you need to interact with.

For a sample backward timeline, see Activity Sheet 5.

Check Your People Power. 

Go through the list of elements and ask who can be responsible for each one. Ask members to keep in mind other things they have to do (e.g. finals and midterms). Ask volunteers if they have experience doing the task or if they will need help.

See Activity Sheet 6 for Resource Analysis in Action.


Map Out a Division of Labor

A high functioning organization uses the talents, time, and interests of all members. Not only does this get things done efficiently, but all members are encouraged to contribute and to explore their interests. Broad participation strengthens organizations. 

Identify the tasks.

Brainstorm a list of all the tasks the group can think of. Get it down to the smallest detail. If there are a lot of tasks, group them together. For example, group together all tasks related to food.


Ask for volunteers to take responsibility for a task or a group of tasks. If someone takes a group of tasks, this person can head a committee or delegate to others.

Clarify who decides what.

Brainstorm a list of all the tasks the group can think of. Get it down to the smallest detail. If there are a lot of tasks, group them together. For example, group together all tasks related to food.


Some members think they know the best way to do everything and therefore should be in charge or involved in everything. Talk with them and explain that new members will gain motivation if they are trusted with responsibilities and encouraged to take charge.

For more on Delegation see Activity Sheet 7.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
-  Margaret Meade