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Public Meeting

A Public Meeting is a coming together of people for a specific purpose. The meeting can involve a large number of people, or a smaller number of people (under 10) who focus on a specific problem or purpose. Public meetings generally have a facilitator who encourages two-way communication, and a recorder who records suggestions and issues that are revealed at the meeting.

Public meetings provide a good focal point for media interest in an event, and photos can provide a visual indicator or levels of interest and the range of people who attended. Public meetings are often the springboard for a movement or for the establishment of a common-interest group which will continue to act on the issues raised and suggestions made.

Public meetings are familiar, established ways for people to come together to express their opinions, hear a public speaker, or plan a strategy. They can build a feeling of community and attendance levels provide an indicator of the level of interest within a community on a particular issue.

Smaller focus group meetings can be made up of people with common concerns who may not feel confident speaking up in a larger public gathering (for example, women, those who speak English as a second language, Indigenous groups). In a separate venue, these people can speak comfortably together, share common issues and a common purpose. The findings from focus group meetings can be presented to larger group meetings, giving a 'voice' to those in the community who are unable to speak up in a larger meeting. (See also Focus Group) FAO Informal Working Group on Participatory Approaches & Methods (http://www.fao.org/Participation/ft_more.jsp?ID=640)

Objectives:

  • Public meetings are held to engage a wide audience in information sharing and discussion.

Outcomes:

  • Public meetings increase awareness of an issue or proposal, and can be a starting point for, or an ongoing means of, engaging further public involvement.

Uses/strengths:

  • Allows the involvement and input of a wide range of people.
  • Can develop consensus for action on complex issues that affect the broad community.
  • Disseminates detailed information and decisions throughout the community.
  • Provides opportunities for exploring alternative strategies and building consensus.

Special considerations/weaknesses:

  • Unless well facilitated, those perceived as having power within the community, or those who are most articulate and domineering in their verbal style can dominate the meeting.
  • Participants may not come from a broad enough range to represent the entire community.
  • Organizers must be aware of potential conflicts.
  • Community members may not be willing to work together.
  • May not achieve consensus.
  • Can be time and labour intensive.

Resources required:

  • Venue rental
  • Catering
  • Staffing
  • Engagement of moderator/facilitator
  • Overhead projectors
  • Data projectors
  • Video
  • Slide projector
  • Projection screen
  • Data projectors
  • Props for working in groups (pens, paper, pins, etc.)
  • Children's requirements

Can be used for:

  • Showcase product, plan, policy
  • Communicate an issue

Number of people required to help organize:

  • Medium (2-12 people)

Audience size:

  • Large (> 30)

Time required:

  • Medium (6 weeks-6 months)
  • Short (< 6 weeks)

Skill level/support required:

  • Medium (Computer & other expertise)

Cost:

  • Medium (AUD$1,000-AUD$10,000)
  • Low (< AUD$1,000)

Participation level:

  • Low (Information only)

Innovation level:

  • Low (Traditional)

Method:

  • Establish why you need to consult the community; do not hold a public meeting or consult unnecessarily; this wastes
  • people's time, and may create disinterest for the future.
  • Consider the circumstances of the community and the issues.
  • Schedule a series of meetings. A suggested series follows:

Meeting 1

  • Introduce project and key personnel
  • Supply project information
  • Allow the community to ask questions and identify issues of concern
  • Provide contact pointsIdentify groups with specific concerns for targeted consultation

Meeting 2

  • Break between meetings allows participants to consider views and concerns
  • Reintroduce project
  • Activate good listening skills
  • Clarification and expansion of issues

Meeting 3

  • Information and feedback on how issues and concerns are being met
  • Presentation at the conclusion of a project or make recommendations for the community's consideration
  • Discuss ongoing participation in the process
  • Publicise and advertise the meeting
  • Advertise weekly in local media
  • Book a venue and arrange catering with flexibility as to numbers as attendance is difficult to predict
  • Venue should be neutral territory
  • Provide no alcohol.
  • Provide refreshments at the conclusion of the meeting
  • Timing: Conduct the meeting at a time where the largest number of participants can attend
  • Inform participants of Chairperson, Facilitator, Guest speakers

Determine the conduct of the meeting:

  • Work closely with the chair
  • General format is presentation followed by question time
  • Present agenda
  • Field questions
  • Record comments

Considerations

  • Widely advise the ways feedback from the community is being incorporated into the projectAvoid allowing the meeting to be taken over by a vocal community
  • Be prepared to change tack during the meeting
  • Cater for people with disabilities or from non-english speaking backgrounds
  • Never lose your temper
  • Set up early (Source: Sarkissian, W et al, 1999 & Ontario Guide to Public Participation)

References:

Many of the resources in the “Participatory Practices” category originated in Coastal CRC's Citizen Science Toolbox (www.coastal.crc.org.au/toolbox/). With permission, NCDD included the resource on our wiki so practitioners could expand upon the listing.

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