How to REALLY Background

Dr. Mary Brumbach, CFRE, Associate Vice Chancellor, Strategic Initiatives, Dallas County Community College District  (DCCCD) did the best job of Background for a Trustees’ retreat I’ve seen. Without exception. Best job for any CP session ever.

Here are the infographics Mary used with the DCCCD Board of Trustees:

Demographic Issues
Economic and Workforce Issues
Poverty Issues

The background information was ‘spot on’ because…

  1. Trustees understood it instantly (the facts hit them right between the eyes).
  2. Participants asked that the infographics be posted on websites for the public to see.
  3. The infographics became “intellectual property” the moment they were shown to the trustees.
  4. The infographics were constantly referred to during the two-day retreat.

Large placards of the material were printed and displayed for common references, observation and discussion on breaks.

All participants had a set of the same materials at their seats, which were well worn at the end of the retreat.

The purpose of the Background in a design is:

  • To prepare participants with appropriate information so they can be effective participants in the session
  • To present the information in a format that participants can easily grasp and understand
  • To be able to refer back to the information during the CP session

Some observations about the infographics Mary developed:

  • They represent over 100 hours of research and development
  • Data are fiercely pruned to get to the essence
  • They are visually attractive and easy to read
  • Extensive use of ‘white space’ is used to set apart key material

We often hear that CPers wish they had been more selective and diligent in providing Background.

Do you need to go to the extent Mary did to background every group?  No, not every project or session requires it. However, if you follow the principles as she did, your session can’t help but be more effective.

Principle #1: Share the absolute most crucial information participants need to know to effectively participate.

Principal #2: Stay factual. Data driven. Stay away from lots of opinions.

Principal #3: Make sure the information is from impeccable sources.

Principle #4: Present your information in the simplest and most visual way to grasp.

Principle #5: Make the information colorful, visually engaging, and appealing.

Litmus tests for Mary’s infographics:

  • One trustee asked for a link to them to post on her own organization’s website.
  • Another asked for them to be posted on the DCCCD website.
  • Participants constantly referred to the background information.

When we teach Background in our Institutes, we’re always amazed at the difficulty in getting some people to take it seriously.

After they lead a CP session it’s not unusual for those same people. . .while debriefing their session. . .to say, “I wish my Background had been more rigorous.”

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