Convening an advisory group is the first reaction of many Councils to any new issue or project. Bayside City Council, having just completed a municipal wide community plan ‘Our City, Our Future’ wished to align their advisory groups with the key elements of the new community plan.
Council established two new groups and re-constituted an existing group to align with the new model.
Knowing that advisory groups are often a source of frustration for both the council and for community members, Bayside staff wished to do things differently, to get these groups that were to be known as Forums off to a good start from the first meeting.
Kimbra White was appointed to facilitate two internal meetings and then to facilitate the first meeting of each of the three new forums (Arts, Recreation and Environment). The challenge was to work with each forum group to set expectations that would work for both the council and the community members about the work to be done; expectations that would be realistic within a local governing environment and would also provide a sense of achievement to the group.
Our Work – what we did
Kimbra facilitated two internal council meetings that including councillors and staff who would be responsible for the forums. These meetings were to explore the core purpose of the forums and what council needed to put in place to make them successful given their extensive experience with such groups.
Kimbra worked with the client to set an agenda for the three initial forum meetings. These agendas were designed to commence building relationships within the group, to explore members’ hopes and expectations for the forums and to provide a briefing of current council work.
The following questions were used in the meeting design:
- What inspired them to become involved? This individual reflection became part of an interactive exercise of people talking in pairs then a progressive introduction to everyone in the room.
- What their hopes were for the forum? These were discussed in small groups, written on circles – and clustered on the wall.
- What are the elements of a successful group (thinking about the best and worst group they had been involved with)? These were collected as a series of agreements on how they wished to work together.
The meetings were successful in terms of starting to build relationships between members, to draw out the hopes of everyone for the forums and to set agreements on how the groups wished to work together. The hopes will form the first step in setting an annual plan for work for each forum.
In the words of the forum participants: Fast paced, on time and everyone contributed. Free exchange of ideas and getting ideas out. Good facilitation: facilitation was lively and interactive. The small groups encouraged meeting people. And it was inspiring to see all the work we have done in the meeting."