Planning Effective Town Hall Meetings – 2012

April 16, 2012

 

Facilitating Town Hall Meetings for Results

Recently, we helped the Bloomfield Hills School District design and conduct a series of twelve Town Hall Meetings. The District used the meetings to present their concepts for rebuilding Andover High School and to gather feedback from the community on the building design, the project’s cost, and timing for a bond election. In designing the agenda, we suggested the District break the meeting into two parts.

In the first part, Superintendent Rob Glass gave an extended PowerPoint presentation on the high school project. When he finished, I (the facilitator) took over and asked the audience to break out into small groups and create questions for the Superintendent. They had fifteen to twenty minutes to turn their chairs around and congregate. Then, I compiled their questions on flip charts. On many evenings, the participants asked more than thirty different questions. When I was through capturing the questions, Rob returned to podium and he and I worked through the questions until every single one was answered.

At the close of the series of meetings, the District officials were very pleased with the outcomes of the Town Hall Meetings, especially the Question and Answer portion of the meeting. In addition, an end of the meeting survey confirmed that the District had achieved its objectives – over 90% of the respondents said they would support the high school project, a stunning success in a district which has been embroiled over the high school for eight years. Based on feedback from the participants, the benefits of the Question and Answer session were many, including:

• People got to make new friends and acquaintances.
• Many questions were answered in the small groups, thus increasing the overall “download”.
• The introverts in the crowd (over 50% in most meetings) were much more comfortable in expressing their feelings and opinions in a small group.
• Many more questions were fielded by the Superintendent because the small groups often nominated recorders to present the questions.
• People left the meetings with a positive impression of the Superintendent and the District.

So, the next time you run a Town Hall Meeting don’t be afraid to let the people talk amongst themselves before you take questions. It may seem a bit “free-wheeling” but it will dramatically increase the satisfaction of the meeting participants. Bloomfield Schools liked the process so much that they are using it in their schools to present the next stage of the high school transition.