GROUP FACILITATION – An Action Plan for a Public Board

A couple of years ago, I was asked to facilitate a series of meetings involving the members of a public board appointed by a City Council in Colorado.  The Board was going through a period of transition, with a few new members having been appointed to the Board whose styles and values differed from their predecessors.  Furthermore, a new Board member was soon to become the chair, and the Director of the staff of the organization over which the Board had authority was soon to retire.  Many things were in flux, and Board meetings had become laden with conflict and less productive than in the past.  The goal of the meetings I was hired to facilitate was to develop an Action Plan to allow the Board to have more civil and productive deliberations and operations in the future.

After conducting a personal interview with each of the Board and staff members, I facilitated two planning meetings with the Board members, as a group.  After agreeing to a set of ground rules for their meetings (something I always help the members of any group to do at their first meeting), the group discussed the issues that had brought them to the table.  I was able to suggest an agenda with potential topics because I had already spoken one-on-one with everyone there.  Although the details of each interview were kept private, it was understood by everyone that I would produce proposed issues for discussion based on those interviews.  I made detailed notes at each group meeting, noting areas of agreement when they happened.

Finding the time for these special meetings had been a challenge for the Board.  Other business had to be postponed, and getting everyone on the Board to the table for the meetings was difficult.  The Board also wanted to complete the discussion process as quickly and economically as possible.  Therefore, the members avoided a third meeting to finalize their written agreement (an “Action Plan for the Future”) by asking me to find the areas of agreement among the notes from their first two meetings and to use them to draft the Action Plan for everyone to consider and sign at a future Board meeting.

When making flip chart notes during a facilitated meeting, I always make note of the main issues of concern, and I highlight the areas of group consensus when I transcribe the notes.  All of the Board members had been given copies of the transcribed notes – so they had seen those areas of agreement.  Thus, I was able to review the meeting notes, find the areas of agreement and draft the Action Plan, as requested.  I presented the draft Action Plan to the Board members at their next regular meeting.  The plan was for them to discuss the agreement on their own, make minor modifications and then sign the document.  Since my work as a facilitator was complete once the Action Plan was produced, I do not know the final fate of my draft Action Plan.  I do know that I was able to create a credible agreement document based on my understanding of the issues facing the Board and the notes I made at each meeting.

This is not a standard plan for producing an agreement after a series of meetings; however, for this case, it worked!

By |9:35 pm|Group Facilitation Denver|Comments Off on GROUP FACILITATION – An Action Plan for a Public Board

GROUP FACILITATION – A Neighborhood Discussion on a Proposed Medical Marijuana Dispensary

In 2010, I was hired to facilitate a required neighborhood meeting about a proposed medical marijuana dispensary in a Colorado county.  The proposed business was to be located in a mixed-use residential and business area.  At that time, proprietors of such dispensaries were referred to as “caregivers”, and those purchasing marijuana were “patients”.  Marijuana was to be sold only with a doctor’s prescription.

After I opened the meeting by describing the procedure for it as mandated by the county, the applicant for the rezoning for the marijuana dispensary gave a proposal overview, including a handout giving the highlights of it.  This initial presentation took about 15 minutes.  A question and answer period of about 90 minutes followed.  I moderated this discussion and took notes (recording the neighbors’ questions and the applicant’s answers on a flip chart).  One or two supporters of the proposal had come at the behest of the applicant.  The others present were neighbors who were opposed to (or very concerned about) the operation of a medical marijuana dispensary in their neighborhood.

The whole concept of “caregivers” and “patients” was questioned extensively.  The owner of a nearby recreational facility patronized by children and young adults was very concerned that the proposed facility, if approved, could put him out of business.  Even though the stated intent was to sell only to “patients”, and the marijuana sold was to be grown on-site, there was still a general concern that product might be sold to others, including youngsters.  A typical concern relating to controversial land use proposals was raised by many in attendance – a decrease in property values.  Another strong concern among the attendees was the perceived potential for an increased crime rate.  It was also noted that, although medical marijuana had been legalized in Colorado, the sale and use of marijuana was still illegal under federal law.  In general, those in attendance were not convinced that a facility like the one proposed was adequately regulated under state law or local ordinances.  All of these concerns were more intense because, within the preceding year, a hotly-opposed strip club had been approved by the County.  It was within a block of the proposed dispensary and was already open and doing business.

In this environment, a public meeting can get out of hand, and the purpose (information exchange) can be lost.  It was my job, as facilitator, to make sure that this didn’t happen.  I was the guardian of the “safe space” for rational discussion.  This discussion, while heated at times, never got out of control.
I preserved the “safe space” by

  • Setting up clear expectations for the purpose and conduct of the meeting
  • Giving each attendee a copy of a timed agenda (and sticking to it)
  • Treating each person (including the applicant and the neighbors) with respect
  • Making sure everyone who had a question got his/her turn
  • Using the flip chart to clearly capture everyone’s questions and concerns (everyone knew that my record was to be transcribed by me and submitted to the county by the applicant)
  • Reminding everyone, by my continuing speech and actions, that the process of the meeting was in my control

I don’t know if the applicant’s proposal was approved by the county.  That was irrelevant to what I had been hired to do.   I do know that I ensured that the applicant and the neighbors had every opportunity to discuss all of the ramifications of a medical marijuana dispensary in the neighborhood.

By |9:13 pm|Group Facilitation Denver|Comments Off on GROUP FACILITATION – A Neighborhood Discussion on a Proposed Medical Marijuana Dispensary