Public Meetings

Public meetings are one of the most traditional ways to consult local people; in some cases people may not feel that they have had their say on matters of importance to local communities unless a public meeting has been offered. They are a good way of sharing information with a large number of people and initiating a conversation that is open to all. However, organising a successful public meeting requires thought and effort. Attention should be paid to the management of conflict around controversial issues.

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How to do it

Preparation

  • If the meeting is part of a wider consultation exercise, explain other methods of informing and engaging local people.
  • Publish the agenda in advance so that everyone is clear about what will be discussed.
  • Ensure the chair and speakers are properly briefed and let them know who the opinion leaders or key local activists might be.
  • Don't use inexperienced speakers for critical or controversial public meetings.
  • Agendas: publish start and estimated finish times. Use self-explanatory titles for items. Detail speakers' names and roles. Keep presentations to 20 minutes or less. Make it clear at which points the audience can ask questions (for example Question and Answer sessions).
  • Boost attendance with value-added elements, such as an exhibition.
  • Map key stakeholders and ensure that they have all been invited to the meeting.
  • Pre-registration is a good way to ascertain numbers, support needs, and ascertain who is attending, although many people expect to be able just to turn up for a public meeting.
  • Ensure that simple refreshments are provided. Recognise individual preferences.
  • Ensure that the venue is fully accessible and well signposted.
  • Have extra chairs available for unexpected turnout.
  • Leave space for wheelchairs or people with other physical disabilities.
  • Ensure communications support is available, e.g. interpreters, signers for the deaf, loop systems, note takers, public address system and roving microphones, lip-speakers.
  • Theatre-style seating is good for large numbers, but can create a 'them and us' impression. Consider possible alternatives.
  • Identify a minute taker who understands the subject.

At the Meeting

  • Have people available to meet and greet.
  • Ensure all staff wear name badges and can be clearly identified.
  • Ensure staff know where all the facilities are including toilets and fire exits.
  • Have people available to welcome latecomers and minimise disruption. Consider reserving some seats at the back for latecomers.
  • Have a minimum of three staff for the first 20 attendees, and then an extra one per twenty.
  • For controversial issues use clearly identified stewards.
  • Ensure that presentations are loaded onto the laptop and that speakers know how to use a laptop.
  • Speak directly to the audience rather than read slides.
  • Don't provide too much information but supplement on request.
  • Don't use acronyms or jargon.
  • Check that font size is sufficiently large and can be read from all areas of the room.
  • Be consistent between what is published and what is said.
  • Admit when you don't know something, but commit to finding the answer.
  • Provide a feedback/contribution sheet so that attendees who do not have the chance to make their points can write these down and submit them at the end of the meeting.
  • Concluding proceedings:
    • Thank speakers and audience
    • Request feedback and evaluation forms
    • Clarify next steps and follow up. Tell people how and when they will receive feedback
    • Provide dates for any future meetings.

Immediately after the Session

  • Minutes should be clear, accurate and unambiguous. If something is not clear ask for clarification from chair or speaker.
  • List commitments made at the meeting and who will deal with them.

Pros

  • If well publicised, this method can be high profile and allows a large number to be consulted at the same time.
  • It is a good way of involving other public service providers at local level, for example the local authority and other community planning partners.
  • It gives people an opportunity to 'have their say' in public.
  • It provides an opportunity for the local NHS to share its views with the community.

Cons

  • It may raise expectations about what can be achieved.
  • The meeting may attract only local activists rather than the wider community.
  • No data is collected but strength of feeling is gauged.
  • It can lead to adverse media reports, especially if the topic is controversial.
  • You need to be aware of how to resolve conflict about difficult issues in meetings.

Resources

  • Venue and catering
  • Staff time
  • Publicity
  • Stationery
  • Communications support (interpreters, signers for the deaf, loop systems, note takers, public address system and roving microphones, lip-speakers).

Top Tips

  • Consult local organisations regarding suitable dates and accessible venues for the meeting. In particular, avoid holding meetings in school holidays and in the run-up to Christmas.
  • Consideration should be given to whether people should be able to submit questions in advance of the meeting. This can have particular uses, for example, to protect anonymity on sensitive subjects such as mental health.
  • A good chair is the most critical success factor. He/she is responsible for the following:
    • Starting on time
    • Asking for mobile phones to be switched off or put on 'silent' mode
    • Explaining the purpose of the meeting
    • Announcing the agenda
    • Introducing the speakers
    • Monitoring and controlling timings
    • Explaining 'rules of engagement' such as when questions will be invited and clarifying the need to respect all participants
    • Making it clear to all those present how contributions from them will be invited. When that stage in the meeting is reached they should:
    • Address questions or comments to the chair by raising a hand and waiting to be asked, and given the roving microphone
    • Identify themselves and any organisation or interest group they represent.
    • Limiting participants to a set number of questions
    • Directing personal stories to a suitable person for discussion
    • Managing disruptive behaviour and/or contributions that are not relevant.