Planning a networking meeting

Transition Newcastle is hosting a climate change networking meeting next week. It is a follow-up to a forum in May organised by a variety of groups including Climate Action Newcastle, 100% Renewable Energy, 350.org Australia, and the Uniting Church. At the forum it was agreed to have regular networking meetings and Transition Newcastle offered to host the first one.

I’m helping to organise it. We are hoping the focus will be on sharing information and building connections. Creating an agenda is a bit tricky. The meeting is going for two hours or so and to me the biggest challenge is deciding the best way to use our time. A couple of people have asked if we any groups are presenting what they are doing. Rather than focusing on a few organisations, we are allowing everybody to quickly introduce themselves and what they are working on. This is a bit risky as the room is going to be full of passionate people who are very keen to have other people join them. I’m hoping for around 30 people, so if each person takes two minutes, it will take one hour. Of course some people will take less time and some will take less.

The reason I tend to give everybody the opportunity to introduce themselves and their issues, is essentially a commitment to being inclusive. We could identify a few key groups to spend five minutes or so talking about their work, but there are bound to be people from other groups who will like to share what they are upto as well. This way everybody has a chance to speak and we might hear from people or groups who have a low profile.

Making sure these introductions don’t go to long will be a real challenge for the facilitator (me). I will emphasise the importance of keeping it short, model doing it myself, and reminding people of the time constraints if they are taking a bit long. If they are taking too long, finally I will have to appologise and tell them their time is up.

After the introductions, we are going to spend a little while doing some asset mapping (an essential component of asset-based community development). Normally we look at six different types of assets:

  1. Talents, skills and passions of individuals
  2. Community groups and networks
  3. Government and non-government agencies
  4. Physical assets  (e.g., land, property, buildings, equipment)
  5. Economic Assets (e.g., consumer spending power, local business assets, diverse economies)
  6. Stories, heritage, local identity and values

I’m thinking of using a process Dee and I call speed asset mapping where we break into six groups and spending around 2 minutes brainstorming as many assets we can think of for one of the assets. After 2 minutes, the groups move to the next type of asset and do another brainstorm We continue until everybody has brainstormed each of the types of assets. I’m wonder if we need to speed up the process a bit and only do four of the six (e.g maybe combine the groups and organsations).

Finally we will finish with a quick (t00 quick) open space so that people can talk about an issue that is of particularly interest to them. It will be a challenge to introduce it, organise topics and to have enough time for discussion to make it worth it. If all goes well we will get to it by 8:30 which will give us 10 minutes to set it up, 20 minutes for discussion and 10 minutes to rap it up. It would be nice to have longer, but I think the introductions and updates are the most important things.

In order to help it work I’m hoping to:

  1. Make the evening as welcoming as possible (e.g., have some members of TN welcoming people as they arrive, have tea and coffee available on arrival, have the room looking good).
  2. Have the seats in a full circle (we might need two rows of seats) so that the group is the focus of the evening rather than having a focus on the facilitator or whiteboard. Given that many groups use consensus and inclusive processes, it also indicates that the process will be inclusive and interactive. We don’t need power point and when we come to the Open Space we can work probably work from the middle of the room, or we can open the circle out a bit if need be.
  3. Have some tables set up with flip chart and markers for the open space.
  4. Be enthusiastic and informal in my facilitation
  5. Remember to breathe!

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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