Public meetings are a great way to inform your community about the work you are doing and get their feedback. While in the watershed planning process, public kickoff meetings can be used to gather concerns and recruit steering committee members. During implementation of your plan, public meetings help to remind your stakeholders of the plan and brag about your efforts to improve water quality to date. Public meetings come in all shapes and sizes, but generally are more informal than “public hearings,” which are tape recorded and transcribed. Those holding a public meeting have a responsibility to clearly outline the meeting’s purpose, respect participants’ time and ensure the meeting runs smoothly. When planning your meeting, be prepared to deal with any conflicts that arise.
What should you do at a public meeting?
At every public meeting, provide a synopsis about your project, its purpose, how long it has been around/is expected to take to complete, work already completed, etc., for the first-timers who may to show up.
Avoid jargon, extremely technical terms, and acronyms - people who don’t understand what you are talking about may draw the wrong conclusion or become frustrated with the process.
Allow the attendees to voice questions, concerns, or answers to the questions you might have. The term “public meeting” implies that you want to get public feedback - make sure that if someone wants to give feedback, you give them the opportunity to do so.
How to run a public meeting?
Choose a time and place that is convenient for those who should attend. For stakeholders that work during the day, evening makes sense. For the farming community, early morning might be the preference. If your watershed is very large, you may need to hold meetings in more than one location so that you can get the input of the entire community.
Begin on time and end on time. If further discussion is warranted, you can schedule another meeting.
Stick to the topic at hand and to the agenda that has been proposed. These should be derived from the purpose of the meeting. Never hold a meeting without a purpose.
Consider whether or not to use an outside facilitator for your meeting. Facilitators have been through training to acquire skills that manage group decision-making processes. In general, watershed informational meetings can be handled just fine by someone who can keep the group on task and moving forward. However, if you expect that the meeting might be contentious, or if you are attempting to make decisions with a large group, you might benefit from the services of a facilitator.
This Natural Resources Conservation Service publication outlines eleven steps to setting up and running a public meeting. The focus of the publication is logistics, facilitation skills required to help the meeting run smoothly are not included.
The William D. Ruckelshaus Institute at the University of Wyoming works to find different ways to bring stakeholders into conversations and to a decision when natural resources are in dispute. This website includes links to additional resources for facilitators and mediators.