On November 6th, City Open Workshop welcomed Gaylord Minett, urban planner and community organizer who has experience in stakeholder facilitation and human-centered design from his work at the Greater Chatham Initiative and Rebuild Foundation.
Gaylord presented on what makes a good community meeting. He started the group out with an icebreaker focused on each person at City Open Workshop taking an M&M that was a different color. Each person had to share a fact about themselves related to that color- for example, blue was what superhero would you be, red was your favorite Chicago food. He explained that all meeting formats can start with an activity like that, where its more about the people in the room at the beginning.
He continued to explain that a good community meeting has the following elements:
An air of inclusiveness
A defined structure
Structure and flow are front end considerations which the organizer should clearly define and communicate to the audience. Care should be taken to present the bottom line up front- what is the point of the meeting and what should be achieved. Gaylord made sure to underscore that meetings- whether large ones or small groups have different goals, whether that be "informational," "problem-solving," or "conflict-resolution" to name a few.
Community meetings can be ineffective if the structure and goals are not understood, but also if many stakeholders come to meetings thinking it is either informational or problem-solving, and then ultimately the meeting struggles for a successful outcome with such varied expectations. Gaylord also cited the need for meetings to not be made as one isolated and static format incident- allowing for a variety of times/locations and sizes increases the opportunity for feedback.
The care and thought behind the meeting logistics also play an immense role in the effectiveness of a community meeting. Attendees have to be fully on board with why the meeting is being held and the vital part their attendance, attention and participation plays in the process. The setting should be a neutral space and there should be a timeline and agenda established beforehand. Expectations need to be made clear prior to the proceedings and continually reinforced during the event. After the meeting, documentation of the outcomes and updates on the goals set should also be an integral part.
Our group had planned to simulate a community meeting after the session, but found ourselves in intimate reflection of what we have seen and participated in throughout Chicago. Many of us had not considered the idea of different variations of the meeting to reach certain goals- in light of ADUs, the timing for the goal is less about deciding on the policy ramifications, but educating a city that has not built them for more than 70 years. Our community meetings right now are when City Open Workshoppers meet with an alderman or present at Landmarks Illinois/AIA Chicago then large community town halls.
We wondered if there was technical assistance needed at the community organization level or aldermanic office to help host, facilitate and ensure that community meetings had achievable outcomes. Several of our members talked about Elevated Chicago and the work of Juan Carlos Linares, Chief Engagement Officer at City of Chicago, around feedback on marijuana dispensaries- it was a city-wide conversation, and the structure of the meeting and when people would offer feedback occurred early on. Our concern is that city-wide issues such as ADUs might have hyper-local meetings with various alderman, and the entirety of the picture might not be reached in this manner.
Overall, it was a strong conversation because it helped to clarify that not only are there bad or good community meetings, but honestly much of that label can be attributed to a lack of understanding of the meeting goals, understanding the goals of the attendees and not working towards a clear education, problem-solution or crisis-mitigation focus. With the lack of clarity on what a certain town hall is for and the inability to always access decision-makers, many citizens come to any and all meetings with a diverse set of goals that yield a lack of outcomes. Our group really would like to work on helping to host or facilitate in a way that might help to better structure feedback on topics such as ADUs going forward.
ELLE RAMEL (co-founder) is an urban planner, urban strategist, and Director of Development at Farpoint Development – innovative Chicago-based real estate development firm with over 30 years of project experience.
ALVYN WALKER of Leave No Veteran Behind, supports veterans through workforce development programs that focus on technology training and youth mentorship.