13 September 2012

Three keys to successful meetings

Why does NCI teach meeting planning in our NCI Charrette Management and Facilitation™ course? A well-run meeting can propel a charrette forward by building understanding and decisions that are supported by the participants. People should leave a charrette meeting excited and committed to return. To accomplish this takes careful planning, appropriate outreach, and skillful facilitation.

Meeting Planning
The foundation of any successful meeting is a clear meeting purpose with a set of desired outcomes that are understood and agreed upon by the meeting participants. A meeting purpose should speak to the values and interests of the participants. For example, an early charrette meeting purpose might be, “for participants to provide information about characteristics of their neighborhood to the charrette design team.” Desired outcomes should be concrete and measurable. In a charrette hands-on workshop, a desired outcome might be, “for participants to create a list of community vision elements.” Only after the meeting purpose and desired outcomes are developed, can an agenda to accomplish them be designed.

Stakeholder Outreach
Another important element of charrette meeting preparation is assuring participation by both the leadership and representative stakeholders. It can often take months of community outreach and engagement to make this happen. Holding a meeting that lacks this combination of decision makers and general community representation can cause costly time and rework revisiting the meeting content with those initially absent.

Once a meeting begins, competent facilitation is a key to success. The essential role of the facilitator is to protect the people and the process. A skillful facilitator creates a safe environment in which people can speak their minds. Professional facilitation combined with having all community and professional viewpoints in the room provides the right mix for false or misinformed information to be properly challenged.

Clear expectations of meeting purpose, having broad community representation, and skillful facilitation can build long-term community trust in the public meeting process. This trust is particularly crucial during a charrette, when success can be dependent on stakeholders returning to participate in multiple meetings and working in good faith toward a shared solution.