Introduction to Community Development
A good meeting doesn't just happen. Proper preparation and planning is essential. Below are a few tips:
Before the Meeting
There must be a clear purpose for the meeting. Most people are pretty busy, so before proposing that they take the time to come out, ensure that there is at least the anticipation that something will be accomplished and that it is important that they be there. Ask whether a face-to-face meeting is necessary; maybe the work could be accomplished by phone or the Internet.
If this is a regular committee or board meeting, it is important that the participants understand the broad purposes of the group, the roles and responsibilities of the group and of them as individual participants or leaders. For a meeting to be productive, participants must be interested and motivated to help, they must have some basic interpersonal skills, and be able to work as a member of a team. These are characteristics to be considered when recruiting new members to your group.
The chair or facilitator of the meeting especially needs to understand his or her role and have some basic skills in meeting management and conflict resolution. Training programs may be available through your local United Way, volunteer centre or community foundation. It is sometimes helpful for the chair to minimize surprises by being in touch with people informally ahead of time. If there is a major issue coming up, try to provide background information that explains both sides and, if possible, prepare alternate solutions to propose to the group or a constructive method of dealing with the issue.
Here is a brief checklist the chair or anyone else involved in organizing the meeting can use to make sure everyone is notified and everything is taken care of before the meeting.
• chair/facilitator has been designated
• minute taker has been designated
• time-keeper has been designated
• agenda has been made
• agenda is not too ambitious
• a break has been scheduled into the agenda
• agenda has been distributed to everyone
• special reports have been distributed
• everyone has been notified of time and place
• meeting place is equipped for meeting
Here are some tips to setting an effective agenda:
Ask for input to the agenda; ensure that any burning issues are not left to smoulder, although some issues may be better dealt with individually rather than at the meeting. Ask for agenda items to be submitted well enough ahead of the meeting date that the final agenda can be circulated prior to the meeting.
Keep the agenda focused on the purpose(s) of the group. When considering whether agenda items are appropriate ask questions such as "is it the business of this group to address this item?" and "is this an item that the whole group needs to talk about or it this the concern or issue of one or two individuals?"
Rank the importance of the agenda item, and place the most important ones in the middle of the agenda. This minimizes the negative impact of one or more members coming late or having to leave early.
Set time limits for each agenda item and try to stay within them. If an item is taking longer than scheduled, but it seems to be important to continue with, the group may be able to change the timing of upcoming issues to accommodate it. Otherwise, perhaps it can be set aside and the discussion continued at the next meeting.
Schedule a break about two thirds of the way through the meeting.
Decide in advance what procedures are to be used at the meeting. On the agenda, for each item, it should be indicated if the item is for information only, for discussion, or for a decision to be made. The type of decision-making procedures to be used (e.g., consensus, majority rules) needs to be decided in advance and, if a topic is complex or controversial, the discussion could be formally structured. For example, you could use a speakers list and only allow people to speak when recognized by the chair.
Agendas and any background materials should be sent to participants ahead of time, with enough time allowed that they will realistically have a chance to read them before the meeting.
A sample agenda is provided in the resources pdf
The style of meeting your group decides on, whether formal or informal, majority rules or consensus, collective or leadership-driven, depends on many factors. The diagram below lists some of the factors involved in deciding what type of meeting style is right for your group.
Chairing the Meeting
Primarily it is the chair's responsibility to moderate the discussion, ensure encourage participation, mediate conflict and maintain focus. Here are some tips on effective chairing procedures:
• If there are newcomers to the group, always have brief introductions.
• A few words of welcome and appreciation are usually well received.
• Ensure that the tone of the meeting is one of respect and appreciation for the participants' time and effort.
• Show respect for the value of other's time by starting and stopping on time.
• Explain purpose of meeting and/or review agenda to remind participants why they are there.
• Review the ground rules, especially if newer members are present.
• Maintain the focus of the meeting by sticking to the agenda. If an item is raised that isn't on the agenda, but most members agree is important to discuss, it may be tabled to the end of the meeting, if there is adequate time left, or tabled to a future meeting. If it is an item that required background information or time to think about, it may be best to leave it to the next or some other future meeting.
Chairing the Meeting /cont…
• If people come in late, do not recap the proceedings so far. Doing so is not considerate of those that arrived on time..
• The role of the chair is to facilitate the meeting; normally the chair does not make suggestions or opinions. It is very important that the chair appear to be neutral and giving equal time to both sides of an issue. In a formal meeting, if the chair feels compelled to speak, (s)he should ask someone else to take the role of chair until that agenda item is concluded.
• If someone is disturbing the meeting process; e.g., dominating the discussion, or talking to a neighbour when someone else is speaking, politely ask them to refrain (e.g., suggest that it is time to let someone else speak, or ask them to save their conversation with their neighbour for the break). If the behaviour continues, the chair should talk to the person privately at the break and let the person know that his/her conduct is unacceptable.
• Do not rush into asking the group for a decision; take the time necessary for everyone to feel that they have had their say and have explored the issues sufficiently. At the point that no one has anything else to say on the subject, or people begin to repeat themselves, the chair should restate the motion or question to be decided and call for a decision. It is vital that the group sees the decision as a group decision, not a minority of members imposing their will on the others. Even those that vote against a decision must, for the good of the group, be willing to uphold it as the will of the group, and carry on in accordance with the decision.
• At the end of the meeting it is often useful to summarize the work that has been accomplished and the actions to be taken before the next meeting. Many groups also conduct a brief evaluation, written or verbal, as to how participants felt the meeting went.
A sample meeting evaluation is provided in the resources pdf
Meeting Follow Up
• The minutes of the meeting should be circulated prior to the halfway point between this meeting and the next, so that people have time to fulfil their commitments before the next meeting.
• Minutes are a record of the important content of the meeting, not a verbatim transcript of everything that was said. They must contain the date and time of the meeting, the attendance and a record of any decisions or commitments that were made. Minute-takers are not to add their own comments or additional information to the minutes. If the minutes are kept simple, it avoids error or misrepresentation (and sometimes embarrassment) and will allow the minute-taker to still be able to participate in the meeting.
• If it is crucial that a certain task be completed prior to the next meeting it is probably a good idea for the chair or other appropriate person to inquire as to whether it has been completed prior to the next meeting, in sufficient time that another could take it on if necessary.
Meeting Follow Up
The above table is provided in the resources pdf
In a healthy community, residents understand, respect and appreciate the full range of variation among their numbers, along dimensions such as culture, beliefs, ability, income, age, gender and sexual orientation. Diversity strengthens our communities, as long as we have the awareness and respect necessary for us to live and work together in harmony.
Each person has a unique perspective and a unique contribution to make.
The membership of your group should ideally reflect in a substantial way the diversity of the community you represent. If the group is to be responsive to community needs and issues, it must be aware of and be representative of the breadth of the community. The more diverse the group, the more likely it will be able to improve community well-being for all its residents. Without adequate representation, there will be lack of knowledge of issues, needs and resources within certain parts of the community. Also, greater diversity provides a larger “toolbox” of skills, knowledge and experience; perhaps large enough to provide the solutions we are looking for.
Many groups consist primarily of friends and colleagues. Although it can be more “comfortable” to stay with the familiar, it is important to reach out to parts of the community that tend to be underrepresented in community affairs and organizations, and ensure they feel welcome to participate. There are a number of concrete ways that groups can eliminate or at least reduce barriers to participation:
• actively recruit people from under-represented sectors of the community
• provide a small honorarium or otherwise picking up the costs of bus tickets, parking, and childcare
• avoid activities that are costly for members; e.g., some groups meet over dinner, which may be appropriate for a business or professional association, but would not be for most community groups
• ensure meeting and activity locations are accessible to those with reduced or alternative forms of mobility
• don’t mix religion or other beliefs with the work of your group unless it is explicitly related to the purpose of your group.
When you organize a public meeting there are a number of factors you will need to take into consideration:
• who you expect will attend
• have a clear purpose do you want to inform; train and orient; problem solve?
• how it will be organized (will you give a presentation; have a guest speaker, panel, etc.?)
– determine the amount of space you'll need
– make sure it is easy to get to (e.g., accessible by public transportation)
– make sure it is wheelchair accessible
– check for adequate parking space
– decide if you'll need an eating area
– determine the furniture you'll need
– find out if there is adequate lighting
– make sure there are washroom facilities
• costs involved:
– meeting facilities/parking
– food and/or refreshments
– advertising and promotion
– registration materials
• time involved in planning:
• – determine how long meeting should last and let people know so they can make any necessary arrangements
• resources needed:
• – assign committees to different tasks
• – guest speakers, facilitators.
• – accommodation for guest speakers
• – audio-visual equipment (flipcharts, overhead projectors, etc.)
– create a detailed program to hand out
• follow up:
• – distribution of report
• – identification of next steps
* rollover the highlighted factors to see more detail
In healthy community groups we expect there to be a diversity of opinion and perspectives within our membership. If everyone is committed to seeking solutions that satisfy everyone, members will explore the various factors involved in a difference of opinion, e.g., values, ideology, and past experiences, to try to understand each other’s point of view.
Here are some tips for making this process as productive as possible:
• Recognize the conflict and bring it out into the open.
• Identify the essential issues involved in the different positions being taken.
• Take the time necessary to deal with the situation effectively.
• If tempers are hot it may be best to have a "cooling off" period and table the discussion to the next meeting.
• Collect information from both sides.
• Ask questions and explore the nature of the conflict in an open and accepting manner; ensure both side receive equal attention; encourage members to share their feelings as well as their arguments.
• Ask the group to identify potential solutions and their consequences.
• Consider all available options.
• Work towards finding a mutually acceptable solution without coercion.
• Carry out the decision and ask both parties to assist in evaluating its effectiveness.
Dealing with Difficult People
It is not unusual for there to be one or more members of your group that are difficult to get along with, or who are disruptive to the group process. Consider the following suggestions:
• listen carefully to the person and try to discover if there are underlying issues that need to be resolved, or perhaps there is a personal situation that the person is having some difficulty coping with.
• communicate with people in the way that they are most comfortable; e.g. "action" people need down to earth messages about what is to be done , when and how, whereas "visionary" types may be more likely to respond to a philosophical discussion.
• use subtle forms of feedback to people that are long-winded; appear distracted, start doodling or suggest that you move on.
There are times when a person is clearly not functioning effectively as a member. As a last resort, it may be necessary to ask them to leave. Many groups have a provision in their constitution or by law that allows for termination of a member with a two-thirds majority vote.
Introduction to Community Development
End of Unit:
Getting Organized - Effective Meetings
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