Top Tips for your First Community Meeting
I've had contact from a few groups recently wanting advice on how to plan for and structure their community forum event so I thought I would outline a few tips to keep in mind here.
From community education to community development
Compassionate Communities works through a community development framework whereby the community is a part of the while process from conception to evaluation. This is a really different approach to 'community education' where people sit and listen, it's important that this is an interactive and shared space. By bringing the wider community in from the beginning, we foster a sense of investment and shared value. It also ensures that the outputs of the project are really relevant to the community and not purely based on assumption which is key to the sustainability of the work.
Plan a good balance of speakers and discussion time
Inviting a couple of speakers is a great way to get people inspired and to spark discussion. The speakers don't have to be famous or from the health sector. Think about community members who have had a valuable/positive end of life experience - maybe someone who has helped care for someone dying, a death doula, a respected GP who has helped people die in their own home.
Although having some speakers is a good way to help spark discussion, it's important that there is a good balance of listening to speakers and space for discussion and sharing. From the community launches we've had so far, a good facilitator has been an essential element to help guide the discussion and to capture insights.
Capture community insights
Think about how best to capture the insights that are shared on the day. Do you want people sitting around tables with butchers paper and coloured pens? Do you want someone to be scribe or to record the session digitally? Will people write their thoughts and ideas collectively on a whiteboard? Or post it notes?
The pilot group in the Northern Beaches had conversation cards to spark discussion on each table and were asked to reflect on a couple of questions in smaller groups. When the groups all came back together, the facilitator captured different themes from the discussion. The launches in Bundanoon didn't have discussion cards but did have pointy questions for the groups to nut out together such as; When it comes to end of life support in our community: what already exists, what is working well, what is missing? This provided a dynamic starting point - encouragement at all the existing groups, services and events in the community as well as strong themes around what is needed or what could be built upon.
Whatever you decide to do, think creatively and try to determine what will encourage maximum community interaction.
Call to Action
A strong call to action and follow up meeting already in place will add momentum to the movement. Having people sign up or RSVP is a good way to gather contact details to add to a database and follow up and the physical 'signing' up to something can be empowering and symbolic. Ideally you will have a follow up meeting date locked in so people can put it in their diaries then and there. Knowing that something is already lined up will build momentum and they will share that date with their contacts when it is fresh in their minds.
Set expectations early
It's natural to want the first gathering to be really special, maybe at a nice venue, with some catering etc but keep in mind that this is the first contact people will have for this project and it may set up expectations of what will be provided ongoing. Can you guarantee catering for each meeting or would it be better to encourage people to bring something to contribute? Will people expect every meeting to be at the RSL or do you want people to take ownership and offer to host meetings? Consider the values you want to foster in this project and weave them in from day one.
I hope this has been useful in some way, let me know if you have a question that I've missed! It would be great to get some reflections on your community forum after the event to add your own learnings to this list so we have a really succinct and relevant list for other communities who might give this a go in the future.