Activities and Topics for Your Group
Before Getting Started
Consider general goals and strategies. Here are a few questions that you might ask yourself:
• Who is the group for? And how will you reach them?
• What are the intentions or goals of this group?
• Is the group family-focused or focused specifically on men? Who can attend? Or who is targeted to attend?
• What content will you cover? How will this material be covered? How deeply will the content be covered?
• Do we have staff qualified to facilitate this group? Do we have a male representative to facilitate? Will the group be co-facilitated by a woman or anyone on the gender spectrum (ex. transgender, two-spirited)?
• Where will the group be held? Is the space inviting to men?
• When will the group be held? (Remember community feedback suggests evenings during the middle of the week, and weekends seem to work best).
• Will there be food? This can help to encourage participants especially since evening sessions may otherwise interrupt dinner.
• How will the principles of gender equity, anticolonialism and antiracism (etc) be incorporated into this group?
• Is this group LGBT2SQ+ welcoming and inclusive?
Center meetings around an activity
Many men seem to like gathering and “doing something” rather than sitting around. Participating in an enjoyable, relaxed activity accomplishes several important goals. First, and perhaps most important, it gives men a reason for getting together that is free of stigma and is socially acceptable.
Second, an activity provides something to focus on and decreases the pressure sometimes associated with social situations. Third, because they’re looking forward to it, it gives group members a good reason to prioritize the meeting in their schedule. Fourth, group activities allow men to teach and learn from each other and therefore increases group interaction. Fifth, competence with the activity, or even progress towards competence, fulfills group member’s need for significance. Significance (strength, esteem, confidence, competence) is still viewed as a societal expectation for men and many have internalized this. Feelings of insignificance or a lack of belonging can contribute to men’s sense of isolation and involvement with harmful behaviours to compensate. When this need is adequately met, however, the stigma of weakness and vulnerability is decreased and men are much more likely to ask for help or bring up concerns.
Activities should be appropriate considering the culture, faith, values, age, and interests of the men you’re working with. Also, in maintaining the spirit of support and camaraderie, cooperation should be emphasized while competition between group members should be minimized.
Activities might include
• building projects, fix-it or renovation opportunities in the community
• peer support or discussion groups, film or book clubs
• fishing, hiking or other outdoor activities
• sports like soccer, bocce, softball etc.
• websites, coding or tech-inspired projects
• jam sessions, karaoke or other musical endeavours
• drumming circles or other culturally appropriate activities
It is possible that some men will not be comfortable attending events that may be seen as outside their domain or comfort zone. Thus, just as with exploring the “when” and “where” of planning you group, it is important not to make assumptions about the space in which meetings will be held and what sort of activities men will want to do. Falling into stereotypes or assumptions will leave many men out.
Information is secondary
Always allow group members the choice to participate, rather than making information the primary focus. Even if a formal topic is never presented, men’s well-being is markedly enhanced by simply gathering with other men in a supportive space. To this point, results of the Alberta Men’s Survey show that peer support, mentorship, and role-modelling are all approaches that men believe can positively impact their well-being and enhance positive, healthy relationships. Highly structured information-based meetings may be uncomfortable for some group members while others will prefer learning about the research or “science” behind a specific topic. Best practice, as mentioned previously in this toolkit, is to find out what your group members are looking for.
While it is important that the values of the group are made clear so all members know what to expect, an indirect approach to presenting information or resources seems to be most successful. For example, pamphlets or other written information can be mentioned before a meeting and then placed in one or more areas where it is accessible to group members. Links to online content like videos, music or blogs could be sent out in a group email after meeting (use BCC function to ensure the privacy of members). Social workers or volunteers who are there to provide support can be invited to take part in the group activities and introduced at the beginning of the meeting, as is shown in the following example:
I usually really dislike when “experts” are invited to speak at meetings but it was really nice to have Steven at our last meeting. He didn’t really come off as an expert at all, just a normal guy. I like how he actually joined the meeting and participated right along with us. I had a nice chat with him about some child care challenges I’ve been having with my wife. Just to talk like normal people was really helpful and he also sent me a few videos that I watched with my wife later. I’d feel comfortable reaching out to him again in the future.
Get topic ideas from group members
You may think you know what the men in your group are looking for, but you may be surprised. The only way to ensure the group is relevant and valuable to the men in your community is to ask them directly what topics they are interested in. Group members are much more likely to be receptive to and engaged with topics they themselves have selected. Moreover, some men in your group might be willing or even appreciative to lead one of the sessions, or use some of the meeting to share information with others.
Directly ask for input from group members. This direct approach is especially useful when your group is just starting out.
• In what areas could they use support?
• What topics are they interested in discussing?
• What would they like to learn more about?
• In what areas could they use support?
Select topics based on what comes up in conversation. If you’re encouraging interaction between group members through group activities and a supportive environment, plenty of new topics will likely emerge through conversation. Take note of these topics so you can provide resources or bring in speakers on these topics at a later date. For example, if the topic of consent in the context of dating comes up in conversation, you may consider facilitating a discussion on this or bringing in a speaker with specific knowledge in this area.