Setting Expectations For Participants, Organizers, and Yourself

Credits DJ, Nick Sera-Leyva Last Updated 2016-03

The task of putting yourself, your training participants, and (sometimes) training event organizers on the same page early on before an event can be a difficult one - this resource contains some helpful approaches for facilitating those discussions.

Accept your own limitations before managing the expectations of others.

Setting expectations for organizers and participants is possibly only after accepting the first set of expectations you need to have in place - what you can reasonably expect yourself to be able to do?

Setting Expectations for Yourself

We do a massive disservice to the people we support as trainers if we are not prepared to be realistic about our own capabilities - this is particularly true in the preparation stage before a workshop.

If you’ve been asked to provide a training for 20 participants, in 2 days, by yourself, the scope of what you can accomplish will be far more limited than if you’ve been asked to provide a training for 12 participants, over 4 days, with a co-trainer. Unless you take pause to consider these personal limitations, you run the risk of not being able to deliver what you’ve promised.

In the worst case scenario, this can result in:

  • Your leading a training that is rushed, or full of errors that increase the risk of your participants.
  • An unrealistic standard for future trainings, wherein organizers or participants come to expect a pace and level of depth that is neither effective nor sufficient.
  • You will increase your personal risk of burning out, which negatively affects both your personal life and your ability to be effective as a trainer.

This is why having a solid sense of your own limitations, and accepting what you can and cannot do before you set and manage the expectations of participants and organizers, is crucial. Take a look at the article on When You Are Out Of Scope from the Security Education Companion as well.

Managing the Expectations of Participants

Managing the expectations of participants effectively can be either very easy or a bit difficult, depending largely on how early on they become involved in your process for the design and content of a training. Frequently, due to limited pre-training communications for safety reasons, or organizers acting as a go-between for trainer and participants for logistical reasons, trainers have little access to maximum participant input leading up to an event.

For this reason, it’s best to always be prepared with ways to create this involvement at the start of a workshop, regardless of how much or how little communication you’ve had with participants ahead of time.

One way to ensure that participants are immediately involved in your event is to start by utilizing an activity that helps you check in with the participants’ expectations and negotiate with them about their expectations and agenda. Giving participants a say in what you’ll cover has at least two benefits:

  • You’ll avoid devoting your time and energy to a workshop that won’t be useful for your participants.
  • Participants will understand at the outset that they won’t be expected to know everything about digital security by event’s end.

This second benefit is especially important for digital security trainings. Trainers must be able to manage participants’ expectations about their digital safety, because the belief that everything they will learn from your workshop is all that they need to know about digital security will put them at risk.

Ideally this will also illuminate the reality that understanding and improving security in all its aspects (digital, physical, and psycho-social) is an ongoing process of learning and implementation.

Similarly, if you overpromise (intentionally or accidentally, by not managing expectations), participants may develop a negative impression of digital safety that can make them more vulnerable in the long run when those heightened expectations are not met.

Some examples of narrative and messaging that can be useful to help participants (and trainers!) manage expectations of training:

There is no such thing as perfect security.

However, this doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless or that taking steps to increase your digital safety doesn’t make a difference. A good example of this is the case for strong passwords. The “security” provided by strong passwords has much less to do with unbreakability and more to do with resilience: the more effort and resource it takes for an adversary to crack a password, the more time it will take. By pairing a strong password with strong password practices (i.e. periodically changing them), you’ve already changed over to a new password by the time this same adversary has come anywhere close to cracking the previous one.

There is no such thing as a permanent digital security solution.

The tools, services, and devices we use will change. Governments and hostile actors have a stake in defeating secure tools and software, and will always employ considerable resources to do so. The popular digital services (e.g., Google, Facebook, etc.) will continue to change their security and privacy policies, usually in ways that reduce protections for their users. The ways we use digital tools and services will always change too — and every change usually brings more or different security risks.

You are as secure as the most “un-secure” person you connect with online.

Secure communications, for instance, depend on everyone involved for them to provide privacy from end-to-end. If you encrypt a document, but the person who will receive it is not ready for encryption, then your encryption won’t work. No matter how much you try to protect your information on social media, your ‘friends’ will tag your photos, reveal your locations, or divulge things about you.

Using these narratives as an expectation-setting framework at the outset of a training, a trainer could now reasonably focus on three main goals:

  • Addressing enough of the basics so that participants will understand the technical side of digital safety;
  • To identify solutions and strategies to respond to current threats and risks;
  • To build a small community, of participants and the training team, that will continue to interact securely online and keep each other informed of new threats, risks, and solutions.

Negotiating the Expectations of Organizers

It’s always a good idea to help the organizers manage their own expectations about the event, long before you start the workshop. As mentioned above, setting and managing such expectations is intertwined with awareness and acceptance of your own limitations. At the outset, you should explain to organizers what makes a successful training, along with what you can and cannot do vis-a-vis established parameters such as time, number of participants, and resources.

Have organizers balanced the goals to be achieved through the workshop against the parameters of time that is available, the number and background of people who will attend, and the financial and human resources they have provided?

These become the variables for negotiating both the training and organizer expectations:

Training Goals

The more training goals that are outlined by organizers, the bigger the training team required in order to accommodate these expectations must be. This acknowledges that it can be quite difficult to find a single person who is an expert in teaching all the topics required for fully-fledged digital security training well. Some trainers are better at a handful of topics, some at others - this is another crucial component of recognizing your own limitations as well. Be realistic about which topics you feel confident training on, and which might be better handled by another trainer or in another, later workshop.

Balance of Participants to Trainers

Similarly, the more participants there are who will attend a training that includes hands-on tools training, the bigger the training team required. In an ideal world, there is 1 trainer for every 3 - 4 participants - this means that 4 participants is the ideal maximum that 1 solo trainer can focus on to ensure maximum learning for each participant. More in-depth, technical trainings require more hands-on exercises and sessions; it is impossible to expect a single trainer to pay attention to 12 participants during such intensive sessions. The further you get away from a ratio of 1 trainer for every 4 participant in a hands-on training, the more you risk leaving participants behind.

Availability of or Budget for a Co-Trainer

Situations like the above will invariably require that less material be covered overall, to ensure that the quality of learning on what can be covered remains as high as possible. This is where having a co-trainer is especially important: a co-trainer can be a participant or a member of the community who’s technically proficient and perhaps familiar with the material you’re teaching. This person can be enlisted to help assist participants during hands-on sessions.

Length of Training

The more days there are for the workshop, the more prep days you’ll need. Each full session generally takes at least 1 day to comfortably finalize: half a day to design, and another half day to source materials, and to prepare presentations and/or lectures. A standard 4-day digital security training with about 6 to 8 individual sessions will require at least 6 to 8 days of preparation for a single trainer - not to mention the time required to incorporate these sessions into a larger overall workshop structure.

…and again, as with other parameters - the more days for the training, the bigger the training team should be. In addition to ensuring the best training possible for participants, this also provides humane working conditions for trainers. Having a single trainer covering a 4-day workshop will drain their physical and mental energy very quickly. When a trainer is exhausted, the less they are able to maintain the patience and energy needed to support participant learning and maximize their engagement.

Language of Training

Ideally, as a trainer you will speak the same language as the training participants; if not, suggest that organizers find a qualified trainer who does. But if the training must be translated, it’s important to establish well ahead of time what kind of translation is available. Translation will cut the amount of time you have for the training in half, as everything that is spoken must then be spoken once more for translation purposes. It is also advisable to find local qualified co-trainers who can also help you for hands-on sessions.

Helpful Planning Questions and Considerations

So, all said and done, some questions that trainers can ask organizers that can help identify the organizers’ overall expectations for the workshop include:

  • What do they want to get out of the workshop?
  • What are their specific goals for this training?
  • Who are the participants and what should they gain from the workshop?
  • How will the participants for the training be selected?
  • How have they done workshops like this in the past, if at all?
  • Which topics or kinds of topics do they want the training team to cover?
  • What do they expect from participants before, during, after the workshop?

Based on that exchange, you should then have a conversation about the time and resources available:

  • With these workshop goals and participants, how much time can the organizers afford for the workshop? For the trainers?
  • How many trainers can the organizers afford? Are there local, qualified co-trainers available to provide support?
  • What kind of internet access can the organizers afford, or what kind is available?
  • What kind of venue will be used?
  • What type of workshop materials can the organizers provide to the training team?
  • If participants use unlicensed operating systems or software, can the organization provided licensed versions?
  • What support can the training team expect from the organizers for logistics? Communications? Other kinds?
  • If there is international travel involved for participants, is the organization able to handle arrangements for visas, travel, housing, etc.?
  • If translation is required for training, what kind of assistance can the organizers provide in sourcing qualified, trusted translators?
  • Will there be a local qualified individual that the trainees can go to for help after the training? If not, what is a reasonable ongoing support and follow-up plan given your other commitments and the resources of the organization?
  • Can you call on other organizations and individuals in your network if necessary?

From Here…

the negotiation can go a number of ways as you work with the organizers to create a training that is as good as it can be given various goals and limitations. Remember to be clear with what you can and cannot do, and what the outcomes of the training are likely to be. For similar guidance and advice, please see the event planning and agenda planning guides.