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Meeting procedures

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Agenda items

Each agenda item should have a clear, concise title or proposal, brief supporting explanation (if necessary), the name of the presenting person and an estimated time to allow. If possible, present well-formed proposals rather than broad discussions. Agenda items can be added here for scheduling and advance feedback, or you can get help from the management group.

Proposals are ideally developed carefully in advance. The management group can help with preparing proposals, and it is also valuable to seek early input from those who might be in opposition, so you can anticipate major concerns. Having a well-thought-out proposal that addresses concerns from the outset can save a lot of group time and effort.

  • Word the proposal succinctly but without missing important details. Start with the word "that": e.g. "that a chicken coop be erected next to the shed water-tank, ensuring it doesn't block views from shed windows."
  • Proposals need to be submitted at least 8 days in advance of a meeting to have a chance of being included on that agenda.

Community Meetings: how to facilitate

  • Ensure we have a facilitator, minute-taker, time-keeper.
  • Ice-breaker
  • Opening round
  • Action points
  • Business
  • Closing round

General procedure for moving through business

Decisions are based on information. In community meetings we aim to spend our time in efficient decision-making, not in gathering information. As much as possible, information gathering, collating and other supporting tasks should be delegated to individuals and sub-groups, outside of group time.

Understand the broad issue

  • Decide what we're trying to achieve in the broadest sense. (brainstorm → refine)
  • Break it down into the broad problems/issues/requirements that will need resolving. (brainstorm → group by theme → refine)
  • Order the broad problems by sequence and priority.
  • Choose problem(s) to work on (based on the established sequence/priority).

Tackle individual problems

  • Ensure the goal is clear. Remind ourselves of how it fits into the big picture.
  • If the problem is large, split it into smaller issues as above.
  • Identify areas of missing information that are needed for a decision. (What is the minimum information the group needs to reach a good decision? How should it best be presented for efficient use of group time?)
  • Determine how the missing information can be got and who will get it.
  • Check that the decision is significant enough to require group time. Some decisions are minor and need not be micro-managed.
  • Reach decisions on any aspects of the problem for which sufficient information is available.
  • If difficulties arise, clarify what areas of the problem are agreed on, what are not agreed on, and what is needed to progress.

Re-evaluate the current state

  • Review what progress has been made during the discussion. What decisions have been reached? Can the problem be clarified/restated? What key areas need tackling next?
  • Ensure each person knows what is required of them between now and next meeting, and knows how to proceed.
  • Record all decisions, delegated tasks, restated problems and key issues identified for addressing in the next meeting.

Proposals

Opening

1. The facilitator briefly introduces the proposal and reminds the group of the procedure for considering proposals (as follows).
2. The presenter reads the proposal aloud then briefly explains the background, benefits to the group's goals, and reasons for adoption, as well as addressing any concerns they have anticipated.
3. Questions of clarification are fielded, strictly limited by the facilitator to those which seek greater comprehension of the proposal as submitted. This is not a time for comments or concerns. If there are many questions, it can be useful to hear them all before answers are given.
[Typically, discussion begins in earnest at the next meeting, to allow everyone time to digest.]
4. Level 1 discussion: focus on the proposal as a whole: broad benefits, broad problems and the philosophy or principles behind the idea. The facilitator should not allow discussion to go too much into details or get stuck on one concern. If there is general support at this stage, the facilitator can call for consensus (see below).
5.Level 2 discussion: identify concerns: brainstorm and record all concerns, checking that each concern is correctly recorded before moving on. Each person is responsible for registering their feelings at this stage (even if still vague/unformed), rather than springing them on the group later. The facilitator should cut off any attempt to resolve, address, judge or diminish a concern at this stage.
Allow a moment for the group to reflect on all the concerns as a whole. Then sort the concerns into rough groups, identifying patterns and relationships. Do not focus on (nor attempt to resolve!) any single concern.
6.Level 3 discussion: resolve concerns: groups of related concerns can often be resolved together. If most concerns are resolved, call for consensus. Otherwise, separately address each concern:
  • The facilitator checks with the group the concern still stands.
  • The concern is restated clearly and concisely.
  • The facilitator asks for any questions of comments needed to clarify the concern before discussion begins.
  • Seek solutions to this concern by whatever creative discussion techniques we have. Stay focused on this one concern until every suggestion has been offered.
  • If there are no new ideas and the concern remains unresolved, the facilitator asks how the concern is based on the Core Principles. If after discussion the group decides it's not, further discussion of that concern is abandoned.
  • If time or ideas have run out, move to a closing option (see below).

Call for consensus

  • The facilitator asks "Are there any unresolved concerns?" After a period of silence, if no further concerns are raised, the facilitator declares that consensus has been reached and the proposal is read for the record. Leave a short silence for an easily-reached decision, a long silence if there has been a lot of difficulty. Note: do not say "is there consensus?", or "does everyone agree?", as these tend to marginalise those who don't agree.
  • The facilitator assigns task responsibilities or sends the decision to a committee for implementation.
  • Any concerns for which a person stands aside are listed with the proposal and become part of it.

Closing options

When consensus is not reached, the group can:

  • Send to a committee to clarify the concerns and find new, creative ideas for solutions. Stock the committee with representatives of the major sides of the debate. Only in rare cases of urgency should the group empower the committee to reach a decision on the group's behalf.
  • Stand aside: if a concern has been fully discussed but is still unresolved, the facilitator may ask if the concerned parties are willing to stand aside. If so, the concern will be recorded alongside the proposal and become part of the decision. A concern registered in this way can legitimately be raised again in future discussions, whereas a previously-resolved concern should not be re-raised except in case of new developments (filibustering is inappropriate).
  • Declare block: If allotted time has been spent and valid concerns still remain, the facilitator must declare the proposal blocked and move to the next agenda item.
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