With the rapid growth of geocaching lately it’s becoming important to reach out to newcomers and familiarize them with the etiquette and ‘guidelines’ of our pastime. Today anyone with a smartphone and a few hours to kill can be searching for your cache or hiding one in your backyard so how can you make sure they treat the caches and trackables with due regard, or place caches that don’t rile the local authorities?
In reality you cannot ‘educate’ someone who doesn’t want to learn, but most newcomers realize they aren’t playing the game in a vacuum. They can see that there are many cachers out there already, they want to participate with the community and they don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so an out-reach program is usually welcomed as an opportunity to learn more and learn it quickly. The form the out-reach takes isn’t important, and several avenues can be used concurrently.In this article several methods that have proven useful in the Ottawa/Gatineau area will be analysed.
The first, and by far the easiest, way to reach the newcomer is personal contact. Anyone can do it; if you see a new name logging into your cache, or publishing a new cache, contact them! Welcome them and suggest the next local event, or offer to join them for a cache hunt. Establishing a personal connection with a new cacher can be as simple as saying hello in an email or extending a personal invitation to the next event or cache hunt.
The benefit of doing this is that it overcomes any hesitation the newcomer has about approaching the community and opens up a channel of communication they can take advantage of, should they have any questions.
There is little downside to this method of out-reach, but it must be mentioned that not all personal communication is welcomed. For example, when an enthusiastic newcomer has placed inappropriate or just poor caches and the ‘found it’ logs are less than flattering they can become very defensive. An attempt to offer advice must be suitably tactful or it can be taken as another attack. Since anyone can be emailing the newcomer they can get overwhelmed with ‘advice’. Simply inviting them to an event for more discussion might be the best course.
A second method to reach the newcomer is to participate in online communities where your cachers can discuss and debate geocaching. The groundspeak forums are not very useful for this, too much chaff for too little wheat in my opinion, but forums such as the regional areas with the OGA forum, the OGA Facebook page or even other local forums can be very useful. If you Google “geocaching + Ottawa” the first listing of the search results is Canada’s Capital Cachers. Anyone curious about geocaching with their city or region identifier will probably find their local geocaching community exchanging ideas, debating guidelines, discussing developments in the hobby.
The good thing about a social forums is that anyone can participate and gradually a broad consensus can be reached on just about any topic. Ideas and resources can be shared efficiently and questions answered quickly and definitively. ‘Many hands make light work’; most geocaching communities have a diverse membership who are subject matter experts in anything from C+ programming to baking a cake!
The thing to be careful of in social mediums is that proper respect and etiquette must be maintained. A ‘flame war’ of intemperate outbursts isn’t useful to anyone.
A third way to reach out to the many casual cachers discovering the pastime for the first time is to publish regular events. The Canada’s Capital Cachers publish a monthly ‘workshop’ event at a community center. For example see http://coord.info/GC3XE44. It can be an informal question and answer period with group discussions, or a more formal ‘presentation’ or even a guest speaker (we had the local bomb squad commander in for a chat….) but it’s an important way to get people to meet and talk on a regular basis, especially new people who have the desire to learn from those who have made the mistakes already and know how to avoid them. Social events are important too, and the CCC sponsor monthly “Meet & Eat” events too, but active discussion of geocaching topics is best done when you don’t have to chew your food as well. The OGA can assist local groups in locating speakers or providing content for presentations.
More and more people are discovering geocaching everyday. What are you and your community doing to welcome them? How are you helping them to avoid the pitfalls and errors we all struggled through? How can you ensure they’re playing the ‘game’ within the guidelines? We all have a role to play in growing the sport and building the community.