How to Make Unit Standards that Work
I recently wrote a post about the importance of unit standards and how they can really help to improve the quality of both your unit and the hobby as a whole. But, I didn’t write about what should go into those unit standards. So, here you go:
One of the biggest pitfalls of having unit standards is the trap of having them be outdated. New research comes out all the time, and new discoveries are made. Heck, just look at the difference between what we thought was “right” about history 30 years ago and what we know now. Even in the 18 years that I’ve been reenacting, there has been a vast amount of change regarding what is/is not acceptable in just about every period/era around. Make sure that there’s a way to have your standards adapt to new information in the field.
Another thing to consider is the degree of flexibility that your unit standards should have. If you want your unit to have a very uniform appearance, you need a more stringent set of rules. If your unit should be more varied and/or you want new members to be able to “ease into” the unit with some extant gear, you may want to have some flexibility written in. This is especially important in units with multiple options and no specific standard like militia or partisan units.
Another reason that standards need to be able to change has to do with vendors. New vendors crop up and older ones can have quality drops, and some may stop making an item entirely. An annual check-in with all the vendors mentioned in your standards is important, so that necessary changes can be identified and implemented. That brings me to the next point:
If your unit does an impression that has vendors who make clothing, equipment, and other items for reenactors of that impression, I strongly recommend having a list of approved vendors as part of your unit standards. One of the things to watch out for, however, is listing a vendor as 100% okay when only some of their items are really appropriate – if this is the case, make sure to specify which items are okay and which are not. If you want to go above and beyond into the realm of awesome, you can show examples from the period of the items being listed, and list variations that were seen. Another thing I have found that helps is having a sort of tiered system for material culture. If you have the time and patience, set up three lists: ideal, okay, and unacceptable.
A well-written material culture guide can be almost like a perfect shopping list and allows easy buying with few questions for those who are new to the hobby or the impression. But, unit standards aren’t just about the material culture of an impression, they’re also about the feel of a unit as well, which is why:
Standards should address unit command structure and member expectations in addition to material culture.
A unit that looks sharp but that behaves like a herd of cats doesn’t fool anyone. Make sure that you address issues of required knowledge such as any drill, movements, or other “expertise” areas of the impression that a recruit should expect to learn (and by what point they should know it). It’s also a good idea to set up how command structure works and how it is determined – whether it is voted on annually or on a per-event basis, and what duties various positions may entail. This can help keep unit drama and politicking to a minimum. This can also help new unit members understand how the unit works and what they can expect. One of the things that can be helpful is if:
There are many good reasons to have a timeline of expectations for recruits. For one, it helps you to avoid having loaner gear “on loan” for years at a time. For another, it helps you to determine who is really serious about the impression and who may only have a passing interest. It also provides a way to jettison apathetic recruits who don’t seem to be putting forth any effort into being an active, participating member of the unit.
I have also found that having a sort of tiered system works really well for material culture. If you have the time and patience, set up three lists: ideal, okay, and unacceptable, along with a timeline in which they’re expected to improve their impression. Flexibility for unforeseen circumstances is of course a must, but be careful about being so lax that recruits have little motivation to get their act together and put together their impression in a timely manner.
The best unit standards, when written correctly, should be able to guide a new recruit through their initiation into the unit and their first few events with very few questions necessary. However, even under optimal circumstances like that, unit standards should be combined with a hands-on approach, and recruits should be encouraged to ask questions and when in doubt, to check with other members before buying something.
In short, unit standards should be common sense, should aid with running the unit rather than hindering it, should help new recruits to join the unit, and should act as a structure (albeit a flexible one) on which to build the unit. Your unit standards should be a guiding document, rather than a governing one.
I hope that this helps, and if you have anything you think I missed in here that you feel unit standards should include, please feel free to mention it in a comment!