Step 5: Develop a Meeting Plan

The fifth step focuses on anticipating everything required to successfully deliver a meeting.


A conservation authority was updating their watershed management plan. The watershed included a major urban river that connects to a large lake.  The watershed crossed more than one municipality, a series of major highways and roads, and included parks, industrial and commercial uses, and thousands of residents. The existing watershed management plan was several years old and a number of things had recently changed, including population growth, urbanization, and a heightened awareness of the impacts of climate change. The update of the watershed management plan was intended to revise the strategic directions for managing the watershed into the future.

a. Identify the meeting objective(s) – this involves both educating participants as well as hearing from them.

The purpose of the meeting is:

  • To introduce the watershed management plan project and what it is intended to achieve
  • To seek feedback on the priority issues to be addressed through the update process

b. Decide on the overall meeting structure and timing.

It was an evening meeting from 6:30 – 9:30 pm on a weeknight using a workshop format that included:

  • Brief welcome from the conservation authority leadership (3 minutes)
  • Agenda review and participant introductions (12 minutes)
  • An overview presentation (30 minutes)
  • Questions of clarification (15 minutes)
  • Discussion among participants seated at small tables (30 minutes)
  • Reports from each table on the results of their discussion (30 minutes)
  • A wrap-up facilitated plenary discussion (25 minutes)
  • Next steps and adjournment (5 minutes)


Meetings can take a number of formats. Our experience is that the process followed in the case study above (i.e. workshop approach with self-facilitated small table discussion) is by far the most effective. A few notes on consultation formats:

  • Workshops (with rectangular or round tables set up with 4-8 chairs around each, and no head table) are the default approach we use for all meetings. This approach enables all participants to receive an overview presentation, and then enables facilitation and discussion both at small tables and among the full room. The small table discussions typically last anywhere from 10-30 minutes and provide an opportunity fro participants to share ideas and perspective. Tables are tasked with finding the common ground among their views, and to also identify where opinions differ. This is a critical part of the process of finding the common ground required to move projects forward. It is at these small table discussions that people get a first-hand experience of what it's like t view a project through the "lens" of another participant. Small tables also enable everyone to get involved, particularly those less comfortable speaking in front of large audiences. When tables report to other tables on the results of their discussion, the process of understanding the range of opinion in the room, and ultimately the opportunity to identify the common ground, continues. This full room plenary discussion is as critical as the small table discussions because it is important to give participants the opportunity to address the full room.

  • Town hall meetings (with a head table, theatre style seating, line ups at microphones for comments, questions and answers) can be effective for communicating information to participants, however they are not designed to maximize opportunities fro meaningful interaction and learning among participants or between participants and proponents. The first challenge is that the rom set up signals as "us" versus "them" environment as all of the participants chairs face one way and the presenters sit behind  table facing them. The experience of lining up at a microphone can also be stressful, and often the time used at  the microphone is very high stakes since it is a participant's one and only opportunity to get their most important point across. The back and forth thinking, idea exchange, exploring and relationship building that is critical to learning new perspectives and finding common ground is very difficult in this environment.

  • Open houses (with display boards staffed by proponent team members available to talk with participants one-on-one) can be very effective way for participants and proponents to understand and explain issues and opportunities specific to one participant. From our experience, open houses are very useful when delivered as part of a workshop, with display boards available and staffed before, during and after the meeting for participant review.

There are many tools that can be used to supplement in-person public meetings. A few include:

  • Webcasts and PowerPoint presentations (with voiceover) which are posted online and can be viewed outside of the meeting to support members of the public in providing feedback (typically collected through the identical discussion guide/focus questions used at the public meeting).
  • "Workshop in a box" which is a downloadable consultation toolkit which supports participants interested in organizing their own meetings with their own networks concerning a project. The "workshop in a box" is typically identical to the workshop delivered to the broader public by the project team.
  • Visiting existing meetings which are already being held by community/organization leaders with their networks. An example of this would include being invited to present to a resident association as part of one of their regular monthly meetings.

c. Confirm the room set up required and book the space.

Anticipated about 100 people would attend

  • Needed 12 tables with 8 chairs each, with an additional 30 chairs easily accessible if more people arrived
  • 2 registration tables at the door
  • A screen, LCD projector, laptop, podium, two cordless mics, one podium mic at front
  • A small table to hold the laptop and LCD projector

The location was easily accessible by public transit and parking was also available. When booking the space it is important to note if the light from any windows can be blocked (if necessary) and how to adjust the room lighting to ensure the information projected onto the screen is visible.

d. Identify how much time will be spent on the overview presentation, the information that needs to be covered and who will deliver it.

A PowerPoint presentation was delivered by the Project Manager. Key points covered in the presentation included:

  • Look back. Reminder on when current watershed plan was developed, what the context in that year, and the key messages/directions in the plan.
  • Change in context. Describe change circumstances in context since the previous plan was created.
  • Activities since the previous plan was created.
  • Current task. Describe rationale for updating the Plan.
  • Current conditions. Provide update on the current conditions in the watershed.
  • Vision and objectives. Describe the work done to update the vision and objectives.
  • Strategic directions. Describe three cross-cutting strategic directions that are emerging: redevelopment/intensification; importance of stormwater management retrofits; and parks renewal.
  • Next steps. Review next steps in the process of updating the plan, including: next steps consultation and the date the plan will be completed.

e. Identify materials required to support the meeting.

  • Large map of watershed (one per table)
  • Sign-in sheets (including name, email, affiliation - if any, and phone numbers)
  • Hard copies of presentation (optional)
  • Signage (to direct people to the meeting room)

f. Identify people required to support delivery of the meeting.

  • List names of all people from the project team, including consultants, who are expected to attend. There needs to be a reasonable balance between the number of project team members at the meeting and the number of stakeholders.
  • Identify who will be responsible for taking notes and writing the meeting report.
  • Staff resources: Project Manager for the conservation authority; Watershed Director from conservation authority; Support staff from conservation authority; Municipal staff (e.g. from planning department, water and wastewater department); Facilitator; Notetaker.

 g. Identify supplies required at the meeting.

  • Pens for sign-in sheets
  • Name tags (mailing labels work well) and markers
  • Masking tape
  • Flipchart paper, flipchart stand, flipchart markers

h. Identify catering to be provided at the meeting.

  • Basket of apples, tap water in jugs with cups, oatmeal cookies

i. Combine all of the above information into one document, order it chronologically and title it “Agenda Detail”.

j. Develop focus questions for participant workshop.

  • What do you see as the three big issues to be addressed in the updated watershed plan?
  • Do the updated vision and objectives reflect your perspectives and priorities for the watershed? Could they be improved? If so, how?
  • What kind of public consultation ideas would you like see to considered for the subsequent rounds of consultation?
  • Do you have any other comments or advice for the conservation authority regarding the watershed plan update?

k. Create a participant workbook, including a one-page agenda (draw directly from the Agenda Detail) and the focus questions (with room to write).