- Organising Policy Discussions

Organising a policy discussion meeting is very easy.  This page should give you some ideas of what to do.

What type of meeting?

The first thing to decide is what type of meeting to hold.  This is largely dependent on the size of your local party.  A large local party may find it worthwhile booking a large community hall, while smaller local parties may simply opt for an informal meeting at somebody’s house.

Hint: if you live in an urban area, you might consider teaming up with other local parties to organise a single, larger meeting.

There are no hard and fast rules about what type of meeting to run or how; you will know your local party best.  But generally, there are three types of meeting you might want to run:

“Pizza and Politics”

Very simply: one of your members offers to host a meeting at their house.  You have an informal discussion and order pizza.  Everyone is asked to chip in a fiver to cover costs.

It doesn’t have to be pizza of course.  Many local parties have their own “popadum and politics” meetings, “pie and politics” meetings or even just “supper and politics”.  The point is, the meetings are as much an informal social event as they are about discussing policy (the food doesn’t have to start with a ‘p’!).

This type of meeting is ideal if you are only expecting around 6-8 people to turn up (depending on the size of the host’s house!).  If you are prepared to do a bit of work promoting your event however, most local parties may find this is a little too small.

Supper Clubs

These meetings tend to be larger and slightly more formal than Pizza and Politics meetings, and require slightly more preparation.

Hold the meetings in the function room of a local restaurant or pub closed off from the main venue – many will provide this for free if you will be ordering food.  Ideally, try to book a venue with a large enough table for everyone to go around.

To ensure that everything runs smoothly, ideally have a fixed menu so people don’t waste time choosing what they will eat (but ask people to let you know about any dietary requirements and always provide a vegetarian option!).

You can then pace the meeting so that the group discusses a different question for each course of the meal.

Cabaret Style!

Not quite as exciting as it sounds, you should consider this option if you can reasonably expect more than 20 members to turn up.

The problem with large groups is that the most outspoken people tend to dominate proceedings.  The simple solution to that is to break people up into smaller groups of around 4-8.  Each group should have its own facilitator who will keep the discussion flowing and be responsible for writing up a report of what was discussed at the end.

Hold your event at a suitably sized local community centre and arrange the room in a “cabaret style” before the meeting begins (i.e. several tables around the room with a circle of chairs around each).  At the start of the meeting, someone should make a short speech about the purpose of the meeting and what you will be doing, and then leave it to the group facilitators to get on with it.

Depending on how many groups you have and subject to time, you may decide to have a wash up session at the end where a representative of each group (the facilitator in lieu of anyone else) gets up and summarises what they discussed, but so long as what was discussed was properly recorded, this isn’t strictly necessary.

Food isn’t strictly necessary with this type of meeting.  You could put on a simple finger buffet, or arrange a bulk order at your local fish and chip shop.  It is best however to time this for halfway into the meeting so that the arrival of the food doesn’t interrupt the flow of the discussions too much.  As with the Supper Club idea, you could use the serving of food as a natural break to get the groups to move onto a different question at that point.

Finally, you could also consider getting different groups to discuss different aspects of the topic you are discussing.

Publicising Your Meeting

There are several tools you can use to maximise publicity for your meeting:

  • Newsletters: you should consider timing your meetings so they can be publicised in your next newsletter.
  • Email
  • Facebook and other social networking websites
  • Other meetings
  • Telephoning: the most effective – and the most time consuming!

NOTE: Policy Discussions are a great way to involve new members.  Indeed, many members who are otherwise relatively inactive may welcome the opportunity to take part, but they may need a little more personal encouragement.  We strongly recommend that you take the time to phone up as many members as possible and personally invite them to attend the forum.

Running Your Meeting

The first thing you need is a topic.  How you come up with that is up to you.  Maybe it is something that is important in your area; perhaps there is a government consultation on a particular subject that is currently under way.

The second thing you need are 2-3 questions or topic points. These are the main issues that you want feedback on.   It is not recommended that you try discussing more than three in a single session as it will be hard to manage.   Indeed, if you are to have multiple groups, you are well advised to stick to two topic points.

Sadly, most consultation papers ask dozens of questions and there is no way you can discuss all of them.  If you are basing your discussion on an existing consultation paper you should read through it and attempt to draw out the main themes.

Things you need on the day:

  • A discussion leader (is this you?)
  • One or more rapporteurs (one if you will be talking in a single group, one for each group if you are following the “cabaret style” model) – ideally get people agree to do this in advance; otherwise ask for volunteers at the meeting.
  • Two or more group leaders if you have more than one group (these roles can be combined with the discussion leader and rapporteurs if you only have a few volunteers).  Again, if you don’t agree these in advance you can always ask for volunteers at the meeting itself.
  • 1-3 handouts to inform debate and kickstart discussion (one is fine).
  • Paper and pens for all the participants.

If you are discussing in a single group, then the format is simple: the discussion leader introduces each topic in turn, people take turn talking, the rapporteur takes notes and the discussion leader attempts to tease out where there is consensus and where there is a strong difference of opinion.

If you are discussing in multiple groups, then you can do this in two ways: either have the discussion leader introduce the overall subject, have the groups discuss both the topic points and then report back to the overall meeting; or report back after each topic point has been discussed.

A key point to consider is food (assuming you have it at the event).  If you are having a formal dinner for example, you should consider discussing each topic over different course.  Food is a great way to punctuate the discussions, but time it badly and it can be disruptive.

After the meeting is over, the rapporteurs should type up their notes and circulate them back to the organiser.  These notes should then be consolidated and passed on to the consultative body.

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