Step 6: Facilitate the Meeting

The sixth step focuses on creating an environment where relevant information can be exchanged between the proponent and the participants and discussion is constructive, respectful, and makes good use of time.

CASE STUDY

A rural municipality was updating their biosolids management plan. For years the municipality had been spreading biosolids in rural areas, however new concerns had emerged regarding the potential health impacts of this practice. This was of particular concern to a local seniors home and a daycare. Local farmers were also concerned about losing this important source of fertilizer.

a. Arrive at least an hour early to get set up. 

Here’s what happened, in this order:

  • Tables and chairs: 15 round tables with 8 chairs each were set up (to accommodate 120 people). An additional 50 chairs were at the back of the room in two stacks.
  • Signs: Signs were posted at every entrance into the building to mark the path to the room (with an arrow).
  • Registration tables: four registration tables were set up at the entrance to the gym. Two were on the left and two were on the right, creating a registration “corridor”. To avoid unnecessary waiting, the sign in sheets and materials were be placed so that multiple people could access the tables at once. There were multiple sign in sheets, pens, name tags, markers, etc. Participants picked up all the materials they needed here including the Participant Workbook containing the agenda and focus questions.
  • Technology: The computer and projector were set up and running. Also we found out how to work the lights and tested the microphones.
  • When people arrived: We engaged them immediately and asked them things like how they heard about the meeting, why they were interested in the topic, what group they were with (if relevant), what they were hoping to discuss, etc.

NOTES ON MEETINGS:

  • Participant materials were distributed at the sign-in table, and not put at every seat in the meeting room. There are two key reasons to avoid this: if the turnout is low. it's a significant visual cue that more people were expected; and it increases the chance that people will avoid registering because they can get the materials at their seat.
  • Participants were encouraged to sit wherever they felt comfortable, (seats were not assigned). It is reasonable that people will want to sit with people they know. If it is important to mix up different interests and organizations, wait until after the presentation and explain why you are asking them. If people insist on not moving, do not force them.

b. Start the meeting.

  • Participants were given a five-minute warning that the meeting was going to start. If the meeting were to start late, tell people so they know someone is paying attention to time. A rush of participants arrived right when the meeting was supposed to start – due to this the start of the meeting was 5 minutes late and the facilitator updated participants on what was happening. Do not wait longer than 10 (maximum 15) minutes to start the meeting.                                                                                                                                                                     
  • The meeting was delivered following the “Suggested key points to cover” in the annotated agenda. 


c. During the presentation(s), be a visible time checker.

  • t was important participants were able to see someone keeping track of how long the presenters were speaking.  Before the presentation started the facilitator let participants know it would be 25 minutes long. At 20 minutes the facilitator stood up and walked to the front of the room and put a piece of paper on the speakers table saying “5 minutes”. The facilitator then sat back down. When the time was up another piece of paper saying “time up” was delivered to the speaker, and this time the facilitator remained standing as a cue to wrap up the presentation. 


d. Facilitate discussion during “Questions of Clarification”.

  • The facilitator reminded participants that this was the opportunity for them to ask the presenter about anything that was unclear or missing from the presentation.
  • The facilitator also reminded participants that this was not the time to “weigh in” with opinions or advice – that was what the remainder of the meeting was designed to do.
  • The facilitator was methodical in moving from one side of the room to the other and from the back to the front to get as many people as possible.
  • If someone raised their hand more than once, the facilitator went first to a participant who had not yet had a turn. It can be hard to remember who has had a chance and who hasn’t, so tricks to remembering include:  moving from the front of room to the back (or left to right) or using a seating chart to keep a speakers list.
  • There were more questions than time available, so the facilitator asked people who still had questions to raise their hands during the small table discussions (and a resource person would be sent to help answer).


e. Move to small table discussion. 

  • A number of participants left (about 25 of the 120 participants) after the presentation. This is common because some people only attend the meeting to get updated on the information available. They either do not want to provide feedback or prefer to share their feedback outside the meeting (often creating a comprehensive written response and/or requesting a special meeting with the project team).
  • The facilitator provided instructions to start the small table discussion. At that time each table was provided with one copy of the Participant Workbook that had been photocopied on another colour of paper (e.g. yellow). All participants still had their Participant Workbook on white paper that they had picked up at registration. The table was instructed to identify someone to take notes on behalf of the table on the yellow version of the Participant Workbook. All table members could also hand in their individual workbook or send it in by mail or email later.
  • The project team was actively listening to the discussions. They moved around the room and only joined tables briefly, if necessary, to answer a question. 


f. Facilitate a full room discussion. 

  • The facilitator asked each table to report on the highlights of their discussion.
  • Constructive statements were encouraged. For example, when one person said that their table felt that “the City doesn’t care enough about the health of people in this community” the facilitator asked permission to turn that comment into the following piece of advice which was “the City needs to demonstrate that they care about the health of people in this community.”
  • When the facilitator did not understand what somebody said, the participant was asked to paraphrase their remarks and/or explain further.
  • When opinion was strongly divided, the facilitator asked participants who disagreed with a particular proposal “Are there any conditions under which this proposal would be acceptable to you? If so, what are those conditions?”
  • When 5 minutes were left, participants were asked if there was anything they hadn’t had a chance to say that they really needed to say before the meeting ended – and they were given that chance.
  • The meeting ended on time. Be sure to know before the meeting what next steps will be taken after the meeting. This way you will be able to do a brief overview of the next steps with the participants at the end of the meeting.


g. Clean up after the meeting.

  • People were asked to put any written comments in their own workbooks and the table workbooks in a "completed workbook” box at the registration table on their way out.


h. Debrief the meeting.

  • The debrief for the proponents and facilitators happened by phone the day after the meeting in the afternoon.
  • The discussion focused on the big picture, and whether people were generally supportive, not supportive, or mixed. For example, participants were pleased with the opportunity to share their thoughts and felt a number of the key issues had been identified. That being said, they felt additional outreach was required to connect with parents in the local school and that the update plan needed to include significantly more public health information. They requested that the team bring the city’s Medical Officer of Health into the process.