Community meetings are an important way for public agencies to share information and gather critical feedback from the public. Civic Edge has been running community meetings in the Bay Area for well over a decade, and we’ve learned a few best practices along the way.
Here are our top 10 tips for planning a successful and engaging community meeting:
This might seem obvious – you want public input. But on what? And what will you do with it? Take the time before your meeting to think through what questions you want to ask and how you’ll use the answers. Communicate these goals to the public and within your own team, too.
You’re going to want to know exactly where to drop off materials, the easiest way to get in, where to set up, and most importantly, if the venue is ADA accessible. This can do a lot to dial down the stress during the actual setup of a public meeting.
Bring more sign in sheets than you think you need. Make sure to have cleaning supplies and extra pens. And scissors. And heavy-duty tape. Seriously – you never know when you’ll need some sturdy tape.
Meeting is at 5:30 PM? Be ready to roll at 4:45 PM. In our experience, there are always early birds and being kept outside waiting can only make a crowd more antsy.
Make it easy for attendees to find the meeting location. Post directional signage leading the way from nearby transit stops, key intersections, and parking lots. If you can swing it, have staff outside greeting and directing people in.
Bring coloring books and crayons for children. Make sign-in sheets large enough for people to easily write their names. Bring snacks, or at least a water pitcher and cups. Use branded table cloths if your agency has them. These touches add an extra layer of polish to your meeting.
Provide the Welcome Table team with a roster of the staffers and their respective expertise to help guide attendees. Being able to direct guests to the right staff person makes life ten times easier at the sign in table.
Assign one of your team members to float around the room and help attendees find the right station or staff member or to help manage difficult conversations.
A plan is great, but sometimes you may need to adjust. Being responsive to attendees can ease any tensions that exist.
Finding spaces to hold community meetings can be tough. Show your gratitude by cleaning up the space and thanking the host. They’ll remember it the next time you request to use their space.
Public meetings are a lot of work but taking a few key proactive steps can help alleviate stress and prepare you for the unexpected.
A few weeks ago, a dinner party conversation turned to a particularly awkward icebreaker forced on a friend at her new job. A colleague asked everyone to share their favorite childhood camp experiences. My friend said the resulting conversation was painful, as one by one, it became apparent that this icebreaker leader was the only person in the meeting who grew up with enough resources to go to summer camp. All of my friend’s colleagues gracefully shared a nice childhood summer memory in lieu of a camp experience, but she said the rest of the meeting was challenging because of the careless icebreaker.