Activities and exercises

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Activities and exercises can help to liven up your public meetings and make them more engaging. Interactive tasks enable people to participate and contribute ideas, whilst also helping to build community connections and to incorporate a fun and social element.

Presentations. Presentations can provide important context for a public meeting, enabling the key concepts, plans and progress made to be explained to bring everyone up to date. However, presentations can turn people off and aren’t particularly interactive or engaging, so make sure they are kept succinct and just briefly cover the most important points by way of introduction.

Film screenings. Like presentations, film screenings can provide context for a meeting and inspiration for discussions.

Guest speakers. Talks by guest speakers can also provide context, expert information and inspiration at public meetings. Well-known speakers can help to raise the profile of your public meetings, encouraging more people to attend.

Question and answer sessions. Question and answer sessions can fit all formats of public meetings and can complement other activities and exercises, such as presentations, film screenings and talks from guest speakers. Recording questions and answers to develop an FAQs resource can be useful for those who don’t attend on the day, and inviting experts to answer questions on technical issues can help to instil confidence in your project and how it works.

Group discussions or interviews. Your public meeting will be more fun and engaging if people are encouraged to interact with each other. Possible activities include small group discussions, talking in pairs or informal interview sessions. For example, as a starter exercise you could ask everyone to turn to the person next to them to discuss their motivations for attending the meeting and what they want to get out of it. It can help to have a key question or theme to guide discussions and to have some kind of facilitation role to ensure that everyone has a chance to get involved. Allow time at the end for feeding back to the wider group and for recording thoughts and ideas generated.

Sharing ideas. Try asking people to contribute suggestions under key headings or questions, such as “what do you want from this project?” or “what can you offer to help us get started?”. Post-it notes and flipcharts are great for capturing ideas – why not ask people to write down their own questions, areas of interest or ideas for projects to discuss with the wider group or to feed into future meetings and discussions.

Social. Social activities are another good way to ‘break the ice’ and to help build community connections. Why not plan your meeting over a coffee at a local café or around a shared meal, or arrange for a post-meeting pub trip?

Case Studies
Country: UK

Brighton Energy Co-operative took their idea for a community owned solar PV project public at an open meeting at a local community centre. The night was a great success and was used to explain ideas around community-ownership and organisational models, technologies, and finances. To further support their idea, they arranged for a director from a nearby community energy co-operative – OVESCO in Lewes – to give a presentation about their group’s experience. This helped to bring the idea to life and generated a lot of enthusiasm. The email addresses collected at the end of the night formed the beginnings of the email list that is now the cornerstone of their cash-raising abilities.

Source: Community-Led Photovoltaic Initiatives action pack

Country: UK

Stroudco Food Hub recommend encouraging people to bring food to share at public meetings. The room can be laid out with tablecloths which participants are encouraged to write on. During the meal a member of the core group sitting at each table leads people through the questions and subject areas that require consultation. At the end of the evening the tablecloths are typed up and circulated. These meetings have not necessarily been a forum for making decisions, but have provided very valuable input from a wide range of stakeholders to inform the decisions of the smaller management group.

Source: Community-Led Food Initiatives action pack

Country: UK

Transition St Albans invited the Recycling and Waste Officer from their local council to present at their public meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss in small groups the planned summer initiative to reduce household waste, with the guest speaker’s presentation and question and answer session providing important context and background information to inform the plans. The aim was to identify next steps for promoting waste reduction for individuals, groups such as themselves and the wider council.

Country: UK

Sustainable Charlbury arranged for the Chief Executive of the Low Carbon Hub, an organisation that provided assistance and support for the project, to attend their public meeting to help answer questions about finances. All the questions asked during the meeting were recorded so that they could be responded to in writing and posted on the Sustainable Charlbury website for the benefit of those who could not attend on the day.

Country: UK

Transition Town Totnes colour code their Post-it notes to correspond with topics people can contribute ideas on. Upon arrival, they give people four different coloured Post-it notes without initially explaining what they are for in order to build a sense of anticipation. Pink Post-it notes are for ideas on “one thing I can do”, yellow for “one thing Totnes can do”, orange for “one thing Government can do” and green for “one other thought”. After the event, they type up the contributions and email them out to everyone who attended. This helps to demonstrate that everyone’s thoughts are being taken on board and are part of something bigger, while keeping ideas fresh in people’s minds.