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Proposed Steps to an Involving and Empowering Meeting

This material is created for professionals to consider when planning a meeting with individual clients, groups or communities. The principles can also be adapted to other kinds of situations. The basic idea in this document is that the professional makes the invitations and facilitates the meeting. Even if not facilitating, the following steps can be applied in one’s personal action.

  1. The invitation
  • How to invite: The facts of the meeting (who, what, where, when, why) should always be delivered to the receivers on paper. A written invitation gives a common ground for the meeting for all parties. Sometimes a phone call or a face-to-face invitation as a first contact or a reminder is useful.

◦        Language: Make sure the receivers can understand what you are saying/writing. Avoid professional terms and abbreviations. If you must use them, always explain them.

  • Flexibility: In the invitation, tell the purpose of the meeting on your side. Do not create a too specific and filled programme which will exclude the receivers’ ideas and wishes for the meeting. The main thing is to find together the ways of collaboration, not to follow your own agenda. Give the receivers enough information beforehand so that they can prepare for the meeting as well as you do.

◦        Date of meeting: You may suggest a date for the meeting. Still, give the receivers an opportunity to impact it. Do not suggest a date which is too close because the receivers may not be able to attend. They may also feel themselves forced to obey your suggestion. That is not a good ground for collaboration.

  • Hours: Reserve enough time for the meeting so that you do not have to rush. Let the receivers clearly know how much time they have to reserve.
    1. The venue
  • Space: Always choose a place that supports the empowerment of the participants. It may be a neutral place for all the participants or the “home field” for the clients/community. You can also ask the receivers to suggest a place for the meeting,

or to choose from different options you give them. Note that different places raise different feelings. For example, the participants might be ashamed/proud of their own gathering space or be uncomfortable in a conference room / your office.

◦ Furniture: Place the furniture so that their order creates openness and supports the chosen working methods. Talking, writing, movement etc. demand different arrangements. Circle of chairs prevents people from hiding behind their papers but can be frightening for some. Sitting on the opposite sides of a desk may create unnecessary distance. The meeting can consist of different sections, such as discussion and group drawing on paper. In this case the furniture order can be changed for each action during the meeting. Time must be reserved for this.

  1. The facilitators and participants
    • Number of facilitators: Some activities with big groups require several facilitators. Especially in small meetings it is important that there are not too many facilitators. Otherwise the participants might feel less powerful.
    • Number of participants: In a small group the individuals can be noticed better and it is easier to make each participant to speak. However, with a big group you can success as well, as long as you know the methods of involving. Big group can also produce more ideas than a small one.
    • Tensions: Anticipate the tensions between the participants, including you. Think of what kind of people you are about to bring together. Do they have an earlier history together and does it contain good or bad experiences? Picture also yourself in the eyes of the participants. What are the ages and genders, ethnic, educational or socio­economic backgrounds of the participants like? How do these things impact dealing with the matter?
    • Accessibility: Find out beforehand whether any of the participants has disabilities or diseases that need to be taken into account. For example, is the venue accessible with a wheelchair or does a diabetic need something to eat during the meeting.
  1. Starting the meeting

◦ Introductions: Be on time. Begin with introducing yourself briefly. In a convenient

point give the participants the opportunity to introduce themselves. The

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introductions can be made through different games or exercises.

  • Purpose: Always clearly present why the meeting is arranged and what the purpose is from your side. Mention the same purpose as in the invitation. Then give the participants the opportunity to tell their understandings and expectations for the meeting. Conclude with mentioning aloud a joint agenda which takes the ideas of the participants into account. Do not lose your planned purpose but let it be influenced with appropriate additions.
  • Schedule: Mention for how long the meeting is going to take and whether there are planned breaks. This helps the participants to adapt to the situation and relaxes them because they know what is about to happen. Ask if everybody is able to stay for the whole meeting or if someone has to leave early. Knowing this helps you to plan the rest of the meeting.
  • Minutes: Agree on who will take the minutes and in what extent the notes are necessary to be made. Will all the discussion be written down or the decisions only?
  • Presentations: Consider whether presentations of organizations, programmes etc. are necessary. If they are, limit their extent. Long and complicated presentations kill the active atmosphere. Also think of the equality: perhaps the participants would also like to say a few words on their group, community or organization. If they are expected to present, let them know it beforehand (in the invitation). If people have prepared something, honour their effort and make time for their presentations.
  1. Facilitating the meeting
  • Language: Language is power and good communication is the key to a successful meeting. Agree on together which language or languages will be used in the meeting. Avoid professional terms and abbreviations. If you must use them, always explain them. Also explain other key terms used in the meeting, no matter how clear they would seem to you.
  • Supporting methods: People have different ways of receiving information. Some prefer seeing the information, others hearing and for some kinaesthetic means are most effective. When possible, put your message in different forms for different kinds of receivers. Clarify your communication by using sketches, photos, videos,

numbers, charts, drama, music… Also the tone of your voice and eye contact support

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your message. Offer the participants a variety of means of forwarding their ideas to you. Not everybody is a good speaker or a quick thinker!

  • Equality: Give equally turns to speak and make sure you are not the only one talking!
    • Involving: Make everyone to express their views and ideas. There is a variety of methods you can use, called participatory methods.
    • Remember: As a professional you are responsible for making others to understand and to participate. (Even if you were not the facilitator this time.)
  1. Ending the meeting
  • Time: Keep the time during the meeting so that you have enough time to end. A peaceful ending leaves a better feeling for everyone than rushing out of the meeting. Some important things might remain unsaid if the ending is too hectic. Still, honour the length of the meeting which you agreed on in the beginning and end in time.
  • Decisions: Come together to detailed decisions. Plan only things you and the participants have capacity to accomplish. The decisions must be written down to the minutes clearly and mentioned aloud, especially if the minutes will not be soon delivered to the participants.
  • Future: It is crucial to settle the next meeting or contact, or come to a decision that the collaboration will not continue. Also agree on who will deliver the minutes and when and how the minutes can be commented or corrected by other participants.
  • Feedback: Give everybody a chance to give feedback on the meeting. Different situations and atmospheres require different feedback collecting methods. (F. ex. open discussion, nameless written feedback, thumbs up/down can be used.) Always take care of the emotional security and anonymity of the participants. Do not make them say or do things they do not want to, and do not promise the feedback to remain anonymous if you can identify the answers. Some might not want to give any feedback but you must always offer the opportunity for it. As a facilitator you should always give some positive (and critical) feedback on the meeting.
  1. After the meeting
  • If on your responsibility, quickly deliver the minutes to the participants.
    • Mark the agreed things to your and your organization’s calendars and to other activity plans.
      • Accomplish the responsibilities that were addressed to you.

Involving and empowering people are more than a list of separate tricks. It is an attitude. However, it is not always easy. You might constantly need to remind yourself on how you can act so that others could feel being listened to and taken into consideration. Use a lot of questions like: “What do you think?” and “How does this sound to you?” Listen to the others with all your senses and try to understand what they are saying – not just by words. Simply putting yourself into the others’ position helps you to make good choices.

More information and instructions on participatory methods:

Participatory Methods Toolkit. A practitioner’s manual. Published by King Baudouin Foundation and the Flemish Institute for Science and Technology Assessment (viWTA). The manual introduces participatory methods in general and gives detailed instructions for 13 different methods. Also includes a brief description of different participatory methods and techniques.

http://www.ezd.si/fileadmin/doc/4_AKTIVNO_DRZAVLJANSTVO/Viri/Participatoty_toolkit.pdf

Participatory Methods. By Dr. Linda Mayoux.

The paper can be read online or downloaded.

Gives background information on participatory methods. By giving information and asking questions it helps to consider when and how to apply participatory methods. http://docsfiles.com/pdf_participatory_methods.html

More information also from the author of this material:

Maria Korkatti

Bachelor of Social Services / Bachelor of Performing Arts maria.korkatti@gmail.com

This material has been authored by Maria Korkatti, who in the time of writing was a student of North Karelian University of Applied Sciences, Finland. The material was produced during an international training period for KwaZulu-Nat