Managing Risk

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / OG_vision

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / OG_vision

Managing risk—these are perhaps two of the most dreaded words in a camp director’s dictionary, rivaled only by the nickname, “Fun-Sucker.” From the onset, the very phrase seems to challenge creativity, combat ingenuity, and completely destroy hilarity—all essential ingredients in the recipe for memorable camp experiences. This article will explore some practical applications for applying sound risk-management concepts, while keeping creativity and fun intact.

Similar to life in general, camps are not—nor will ever be—risk-free or completely “safe.” In fact, well-managed risk-taking is an essential ingredient to providing a healthy and positive camp experience where kids have fun, are challenged, and build life skills and self-confidence. Unfortunately, healthy risk-taking is on the endangered list, succumbing to a premature death at the hands of an overzealous, finger-pointing society.

Consider a landscape of empty canoes, dormant basketball courts, bikes with no riders, dangling belay lines, and vacant diving boards. This is life absent risk-taking, where a certain probability of harm exists, and therefore, is completely avoided. This avoidance in some cases is healthy where the threat is too great, such as the use of “Lawn Jarts” back in the 1970s. (I owned a set, as I’m sure many of you did.) Yet, the camp experience is threatened as camp leaders react out of fear rather than sound planning.

Sound planning demands that camp leaders develop a cultural mindset to balance opportunities with risks. Opportunities consist of fun activities, new buildings, off-site trips, new gadgets, or skits. Each has its own set of unique risks, and the challenge is to discern the value of each opportunity against the risks involved. In doing so, one of the most important concepts a leader must understand is the risk appetite.

Risk appetite designates the level of risk the camp is willing to accept before action is deemed necessary to reduce it.  For example, does a playground need a fence around it? If so, how high should it be, and how far away from the playground unit should the fence be built? Should it be up close or next to the road? A camp leader’s ultimate decision will be based on the tolerance of risk, and an inaccurate interpretation may expose the camp to unnecessary loss.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / barsik

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / barsik

The appropriate level will depend on the nature of the work undertaken and the desired objectives. For example, where public safety is critical (e.g., camp transportation), appetite will tend to be low, while for an innovative project (e.g., built-in Slip ‘N Slide), it may be very high, with the acceptance of short-term failure that may pave the way for longer-term success. Here are five levels of risk appetite to consider with any program decision:

Averse Risk Appetite: Avoidance of risk and uncertainty is a key organizational objective, and thus offers little if any reward. A camp program based “solely” on a risk-averse model may find it difficult to fill the day with fun and challenging activities.

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