by Kira Locken, CFICE Volunteer
In any project that involves multiple groups and organizations working in collaboration, communication is vital to success. However, when this communication isn’t properly facilitated then interesting ideas, issues and perspectives can be left unspoken and opportunities can be lost. Based on information from the Art of Hosting, here are five ways to get the most out of your next community-campus engagement (CCE) meeting.
- Comfort facilitates conversation
Anyone who has ever gone to a meeting knows that the more comfortable and included you feel, the more likely you are to listen and engage in the conversation. Hosts should always strive to create an environment that feels welcoming and comfortable for those who attend. This can be as simple as taking time at the start and end of the meeting to check in with everyone, or structuring the space in a way that invites active listening and participation.
- Know the people you are talking to
Before the meeting, hosts should take the time to learn about meeting attendees and what they can offer to the discussion. This extends beyond what attendees’ roles are within their respective organizations. For example, if someone has past experience working on a certain project, then they may have insight on one that is similar. By knowing who is in attendance and the relationship that individuals have to the group and to each other, hosts can better understand the group dynamics. This allows for more opportunities for engagement and anticipation of possible conflicts.
- Methods of discussion based on group
When structuring a meeting, hosts should use the methods that would be most engaging to those in the group. These can range from what is known as the “Circle method’ which encourages listening and discussion that allows participants to shape the conversation. Another method is the “World Café” method, which involves splitting into smaller groups to discuss specific questions, then reconvening. The best method will depend on the type of group attending, but hosts should attempt to base the structure around who is in the group and what the purpose of the meeting is. The Art of Hosting goes into further description about these methods on their website.
4. Harvesting ideas
A successful meeting should include multiple perspectives and thoughts on issues, allowing for the conversations to be as in-depth and productive as possible. As such, group participation and engagement is vital. While there is no guaranteed way of initiating group participation there are ways to use the meeting’s purpose, and members’ relationship to it, to facilitate conversation. People are more likely to discuss a topic if it is something they are passionate about and involved in. Once people begin to share their perspectives, it is important to create an atmosphere where different perspectives can be shared in a way that creates feedback without becoming hostile.
- Finding a core principle beforehand and building around it
This exchanging of ideas should not cause the group to lose sight of the core purpose of the meeting, and by extension, the larger project. Hosts should always clearly outline the objective of a meeting and how it relates to a larger project. This should be done both before and during the meeting itself. The hosts should then facilitate conversations with a direction and end goal in mind. Creating a core team that has outlined and understands this principle before the meeting is a good idea, as it will allow multiple people to have the same end goal in mind as they facilitate the larger discussion. For a more in-depth look on developing a core group, see Chris Corrigan’s paper on creating ownership and activating leaders in community engagement initiatives.