Roundtable meetings are a powerful tool for councils to engage with their community members, foster inclusive dialogue, and address crucial issues at the grassroots level. These gatherings bring together diverse perspectives and stakeholders to have open and candid conversations. 

Image of a young woman leading a small boardroom style discussion.

The Purpose of Roundtable Meetings for Local Councils

Local council roundtable meetings serve several important purposes:

🤝 They provide a platform for direct engagement with community members, fostering a sense of involvement and ownership in local decision-making.

💬 Roundtables promote inclusive discussions, ensuring that diverse voices and perspectives are heard. This helps councils make informed decisions that reflect the needs and concerns of the entire community.

🔎 These meetings are well-suited for addressing local issues, brainstorming solutions, and establishing action plans. They encourage collaboration and problem-solving among stakeholders.

Now, let’s dive into the tips for making your local council’s roundtable meetings a success:

Choosing a Facilitator

Roundtable meetings are typically run with no designated ‘head’, but this doesn’t mean you don’t need someone guiding the discussion. At the most basic level, selecting the right person to facilitate your meeting will ensure that your objectives are met and that the event wraps up on time. While your facilitator doesn’t need any qualifications to get the job done right, there are a few qualities that you should look for when allocating the roles for your round table event.

Effective Communication: Clear and concise communication is essential. The facilitator should be able to convey ideas, instructions, and objectives in a way that is easily understood by all participants. Think about the people on your team that you’d like to explain a complicated issue to you – do they use language that is appropriate to your level of knowledge or do they make broad assumptions about what you know? Do they tend to babble when they get flustered? Hopefully, a few of your star players are already springing to mind.

Professional empathy: A skilled facilitator makes a conscious effort towards achieving equal participation in the group. They will encourage all participants to share their views, and use their expertise to create an inclusive environment. Your perfect roundtable facilitator is able to draw shy participants into the conversation without making them feel put on the spot and will validate contributions. Inversely, they must also have the polite assertiveness to ensure that no single voice dominates the discussion. If you’re not sure if someone who has already volunteered to be your facilitator has this skill, consider running a 10 minute “dummy” meeting with your coworkers and see how they handle a “Chatty Cathy” you’ve planted in the group. If they thank “Cathy” for their comments but ultimately reinforces the time limit and scope of the discussion, you probably have the right person. If they become frustrated or allow the “dummy” meeting to be derailed, this skill needs further development, and you should appoint a shadow facilitator to assist them on the day, if possible.

Problem-Solving Skills: The facilitator should be adept at identifying and addressing challenges that may arise during the discussion. This includes managing conflicts, navigating difficult situations, and finding common ground. Group dynamics can vary, and discussions may take unexpected turns. A good facilitator is adaptable and can adjust their approach to accommodate the unique needs and characteristics of the group and maintain a positive and respectful atmosphere.

It’s too late! I’m the facilitator and I don’t know what I’m doing! What should I do?

Don’t panic! All the skills of becoming an effective facilitator are learnable. In a pinch, you can set yourself up for success by:

  • Preparing a detailed agenda, with defined objectives and allows ample time for discussions, Q&A, and potential breaks.
  • Practising short, group-centric scripts (for example, “would you like to add anything to that comment from your perspective as a … (teacher, parent, whatever), Simon?” Or perhaps, “That’s an interesting question, but it’s not in the scope of this meeting – Can I send you some information offline or pencil that in for our next meeting?”)
  • Use a tried and true facilitation tool – There are hundreds of resources available online. We can vouch for fishbowl discussions, think-pair-share, and sticky-note activities like affinity mapping or dot voting. 
  • Encourage asynchronous participation to spread out the workload, like with an online platform or a dedicated email for enquiries about your meeting topic.
  • Document and Follow Up: Document key takeaways and action items from the discussion. You don’t want to make promises and fail to follow through. Ideally, outsource your note taking so you can focus on the event.

By implementing these strategies, you can harness the power of roundtable discussions to build stronger, more connected communities. Roundtables provide a valuable platform for community engagement, inclusive dialogue, and local problem-solving, making them an essential tool for local governance.