Town Hall Meetings

Let’s talk about town hall meetings and what makes them so scary

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People like me attend town hall meetings and community workshops. I am engaged and interested in the subject matter, and if I make the time to attend a workshop at dinner time then you know you’ve got my attention. Not only that, but I also remind my neighbours, I drop flyers in their letterbox and remind them on the day of the workshop. Or in the case of this workshop pictured above, I even drove my neighbours to the meeting.

There is an awful lot of good will in community from people who are willing to contribute time and energy into hearing councils plans, and working with them to improve the place they live. It’s important for the outcomes of the plan being put forward and for communities themselves, that these consultative meetings are run with thought and purpose.

Let’s look at what happened prior to the meeting to create so much interest.
Nothing officially. But it’s important to remember that as a community we live with the experience of the issue that council is trying to fix every day. We catch up for dinner, meet each other in the street and talk about the issue as we put our bins out. We discuss what Council might, should or could do about the problem, but we never know for sure and suddenly the community has amassed five years of in depth thinking about the issue just as much experience living with it.

Then there is the opportunity. The opportunity to do something about the issue that we have been thinking about for so long and we now have a place to direct this. We get excited, our conversations in the street turn to the points we need to raise at the meeting and possible solutions that we have thought of. We fill in the survey, we put the flyer on our fridge and we wait. We wait for the date to arrive.

As the local council representative in charge of the community consultation, what happens next is up to you. On contentious issues, this is the moment where things could all go very wrong, but with a little thought and fore-planning, you can reduce the risk of your night turning into an angry town hall meeting considerably. Here is how to do it.

Hire a facilitator, don’t let the technical consultants facilitate and don’t facilitate yourself.
As the project lead, you need to remain neutral and you are too close to the project. You will start to defend your work, without realising you are doing it. Be the technical expert which is what you are. Take a step back and fill the role of welcoming committee, sign people in, get to know the people attending, make them a cup of tea and thank them for coming.

Make a genuine effort to fill the room.
The workshop I attended put a letter in everyone’s letterbox, and it was the right approach for this project as it was for local traffic management. Publicise and promote it, with ample lead time.

Take RSVPS and send a reminder.
It’s good for you as you know how much catering to order, and how many staff you’ll need. Then send a reminder to come a day or two before, it shows you are genuinely interested in us coming along.

Hydrate us.
A cup of tea and a bite of something should be the minimum. It may not make us stay longer, we have families and priorities to juggle outside of this meeting, but it will ensure we are not hangry, and therefore more easily frustrated by the issue at hand.

Consider your presentation.
In my case, the community had five years of thinking to release. Don’t squash it with an overly detailed presentation of the work and what you are going to do about it. If the problem has been under consideration for a while, then tell us where the council is at with it, provide a brief overview of what you know, present the options and let us get into the work.

Make sure your table facilitators are facilitators.
I know it doesn’t look like the people facilitating on tables do very much. They write notes, nod and make noises that reassure people they are listening. It doesn’t sound difficult but it’s important. I like to think of table facilitators as ground controllers at an airport, they don’t wear fancy hats or travel to exotic places, but you’d definitely notice the difference if they weren’t there waving their large glow sticks around.

In summary, a well-structured meeting with experienced meeting facilitators can drastically improve the types of responses you get to your proposal. While a town hall meeting can be scary, when it’s done right, it’s one of the most powerful engagement activities at your disposal, and it’s a great way to build trust and strengthen relationships between council and community members.

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Mornington Arts and Culture Meeting

Mornington Peninsula Arts and Culture Community Engagement Summaries

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Conversation Caravan with the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council held two meetings with local creatives in Rye and Mornington to help inform and plan the future of arts and culture in the area.


Here are the links to the community engagement summaries from those meetings that outline the thoughts and ideas of those who attended.

Workshop #2 (Mornington Pavillion)

The next meeting will be held at the Somerville Mechanics Institute on 6 February, and will focus on how these thoughts and ideas can be put together to write the draft of the next arts and culture plan for the Shire.


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Alfred Research Alliance Commitments

Your commitment to working more collaboratively

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How are you going with your commitment to working more collaboratively?


Conversation Caravan was engaged by the Alfred Medical Research & Education Precinct (AMREP) to assist with the launch and revitalisation of its new brand and external identity – the Alfred Research Alliance.

One of the activities was focused on working more collaboratively.

Staff working across the precinct were asked what their commitment was to working more collaboratively within their organisations and with others on the Alfred Precinct Site.

A total of 382 internal staff members were engaged across the four days. A higher proportion of participants were researchers (38%), however the remaining participation was spread evenly across students (23%), medical (21%) and corporate staff (18%).

Here are their awesome responses and ideas!

We asked:

What is your commitment to working more collaboratively within your organisation and with others on the Alfred Precinct site?

They said:

“Be brave and believe in myself”
• Offer a talk/seminar and informal approach to what our lab does.
• Learn to value my own contribution to research and clinical outcomes.
• Apply for a grant.
• Share skills and challenges with people in similar roles at other organisations.
• Talking to everyone in the lift, seeking new projects from a cross discipline perspective/team.
• Organise events and invite other organisations.
• Build strong relationships with community groups/organisations.
• Building relationships with education-based stakeholders.
• Continue to discuss and present research within and outside of organisation (nursing alliance).

“Help my team or others build their career”
• Informing myself about available resources to share with others including students.
• Supporting everyone in order to ensure our practice is inclusive and holistic.
• To inspire others to achieve their goals within research.
• Supporting those around me to achieve their goals.
• Encouraging nurses to think about their practice and improvements that can form basis of research questions.
• Funding for staff social events in each workplace.
• Educate youth with experience-based knowledge and incorporate real world hands on experience.
• Opportunity for funding and small grants access for supervisors and students.
• Facilitating research to all staff members of our unit.

“I am going to network more”
• Learn more about the different organisations and the people who work in them.
• Make an effort to network with other people across the precinct.
• Network more so I know who is onsite and who is working on areas in my field and the gaps that need to be filled.
• Try to be more open with get to know new people even when I am a new staff member struggling to fit into the team.
• Networking and developing relationships.

“Share my work and learning with others”
• Engaging with as many people as possible, sharing science.
• Speak more about studies and projects.
• Engage more students to give them the experience and also to get more research done.
• When we get a bequest, we share the success of how it was obtained and how it is being used.
• Bringing the learning back into my work and team.

“Work and collaborate across the precinct”
• Do projects between Baker and the hospital (draw more people into my projects).
• Start a conversation with my manager about setting up a Fundraising Committee across the precinct.
• Work with colleagues to continue start-up of the Emergency Research Group embed collaboration across this group (Journal Group that reviews research).
• Collaborate interstate with other Skin Burns finding opportunities for PhD students across campus.
• Continue to facilitate clinical trials (IVGR tests and trials) collaborate with teams within the Baker.
• Work collaboratively with precinct partners (e.g joint fundraising campaign to support the Alliance activities and shared resources.

“Communicate and engage more”
• Reaching out to all colleagues, better communication.
• Communication and helping others.
• Working better with front line staff through internal communications to help staff to do their job better and making community aware of us.
• Being engaged with other lab’s research outcomes and aims.
• Communicate more to understand end user requirements.
• Developing skills to improve communication in a team/improve team work.
• Share information within departments across Alfred to learn and educate, gain knowledge from others start to use social media with help!
• Contact point for channelling information.

“Make an effort to attend things onsite and in my field”
• Making an effort to talk to more researchers and going to talks outside of my fields of expertise.
• Participating in more broad-based educational qualifications not just role related.
• Always being ready to participate.
• Being part of all activities and being more proactive.
• Pursue opportunities to know about and attend events at the precinct.
• Try to chat to people and engage with various things that are happening.
• Attending seminars, conferences and networking.

You can also check out each of these commitments on our Instagram.

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Why is it important to debrief

Why is debriefing essential?

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It’s the end of the day. It’s been a long fruitful day of conversation and engagement. You survey the area, double checking to make sure everything has been brought in and packed away. The crowds have dwindled and it is now just you and your staff. You take a deep breath, and admit it; the rumbling in your stomach persistently draws your attention back to what is for dinner tonight.

Wouldn’t it be tempting to call it a day and go home?

Not so fast. The day is not complete without a collective debrief. You might wonder if this last 15 or 20 minutes of debriefing is really worth the time and effort. After all, you were all there weren’t you? You all know how the day went? Well maybe, but maybe not. Before you dismiss the importance of debriefing, consider the following advantages:

1. Time to reflect
We live in a busy society, with more distraction and stimulation that ever before. Time to reflect and do nothing but sit and think is a rarity; in fact, some may say a superfluous luxury. However, wasn’t it the famous philosopher, Socrates , who said that the unexamined life is not worth living?

Okay, so that might be a bit extreme, but at a fundamental level, Socrates was right. Time spent unexamined is time that has not reached its full potential. Unexamined work is work that has not realised its highest standards. Dedicated time to reflect helps us and our staff to consolidate experiences as well as gauge new ideas, perspectives and learnings.

2. We all hear and interpret information differently
You may believe that we live in one world, with one set of rules and one reality. In a concrete sense this may be true, however context and nuance tell us otherwise.

Consider this sentence:
“She said that she did not take his money”
Straight forward, right? However, what if the emphasis was changed?
What if: “She said that she did not take his money”. Does this mean that someone else said it?
“She said that she did not take his money”. Does this mean that someone else took it?
“She said that she did not take his money”. Does this mean that she took someone else’s money?

The examples could go on. The point is that depending on knowledge, context, gender, age, race, culture, sexuality, socio-economic status, and time of day – the list goes on – people hear information differently. If we are to truly engage in conversation that is curious, inclusive and open-minded, we must make space for differing viewpoints. This means collaborating at the end of the day in a way that is effective, respectful and allows for new perspectives and understandings.

3. Gain immediate feedback
You’ve designed your engagement project. You’ve thought about every last detail, from the venue and signage down to the questions you’ll ask and what you’ll wear. But how do you really know that what you’re doing is working? More importantly; how do you know that what you’re doing is working as well as it could?

Debriefing with staff at the end of the day allows time to gain immediate feedback, whilst it is fresh in everyone’s minds. Drawing on point 2, we all see and hear things differently, and this is great news! Your staff are a wealth of knowledge, coming from all fields of expertise, knowledge and experience. Use them! Discuss what is working, what is not and what can be improved.

4. Understand what is working well and what can be modified
You have gained immediate feedback and now you are ready to modify and tailor your approach for next time. Using your staff to gain different perspectives and brainstorm new ideas not only makes room for improvement in your project, but also allows your team to come together and work towards a common goal. Two heads really are better than one in this instance!

Being open to modifying your approach will help you to ensure that you remain relevant, dynamic and progressive in your field.

5. Value your staff
Have you ever wondered what interesting conversations your staff have had that you’re unaware of? Did they completely understand their role? Did they engage as well as they could have? Did they have any concerns or problems?

Your end of the day debrief is a perfect time to sit with your staff and answer these questions. Giving your staff this platform will encourage your staff to speak up, feel heard and feel part of the team; increasing morale and collaboration. This will work to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the whole really is just a sum of its parts.

Taking time at the end of the day to debrief allows you the time to reflect, share ideas, improve your approach and bring your team together as a valued and united front. Next time your stomach is rumbling and it’s tempting to get an early night, remember these five important points. Lastly, factor a debriefing session in to the end of the day, so as it simply becomes habit.

Need help structuring your debrief?
Use Conversation Caravan’s Engagement Activity Evaluation Template to help capture your team’s thoughts.

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Conversation Caravan pop up discussing climate change

Engagement Summary – CoM Climate Change Mitigation Strategy

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Conversation Caravan worked with the City of Melbourne to consult with community members living, working or visiting Melbourne on its draft Climate Change Mitigation Strategy to 2050.  The purpose of the project was to discuss how the City of Melbourne can better prepare for and mitigate Climate Change. Conversation Caravan spoke with 654 people across 11 locations, the discussions focused on four key themes:

  • Zero Emissions Buildings
  • 100% Renewable Energy
  • Zero Emissions Transport
  • Reduce Impact of Waste

Consultation on these four themes considered the proposed actions by the City of Melbourne as well as the individual actions and barriers experienced. Data collected from the community will be used by the project team to strengthen its Strategy and work in this area.

Analysis of the data demonstrated that participants in the engagement already take action to reduce their waste, recycle or make efforts to reuse. They prefer active and public transport, actively monitor their energy use and try to source renewable energy. Participants face many obstacles in trying to mitigate their impact on climate change such as restrictions placed on renters and apartment owners by landlords and body corporates, when trying to modify the environmental performance of buildings; required financial investment to consider energy saving modifications; safety concerns and inconvenience around active transport; lack of understanding about recycling and renewable energy products; and a lack of organic waste infrastructure for household composting.

Many suggestions and insights were generated for Council’s consideration, among them:

  • Reviewing planning controls around design and operation of new buildings.
  • Incentivising renewable energy generation and energy saving measures.
  • Reducing the number of cars in the CBD.
  • Prioritising active and public transport.
  • Making improvements to collection of green waste and education around recycling.

Read the findings of these conversations in the Community Engagement Summary here.

The Climate Change Mitigation Strategy to 2050 is due to go to Council in the coming months. Keep an eye out for the this project here.

Thank you to everyone that participated in the project either at a pop up or online. Your feedback was invaluable to the project.



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Conversation Caravan participants at Alfred Research Alliance holding their value postcards in an instagram cardboard cutout

What values resonate with you?

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Last Month, Conversation Caravan worked with the Alfred Research Alliance to engage onsite staff that work across the organisations of Monash, Deakin, Alfred, Baker, Burnett and Latrobe to find the qualities, characteristics and values that resonated with staff.

This project was aimed at raising awareness and excitement for the Alfred Research Alliance and encourage individuals to consider which of the brand values aligned with their work.

As a recommitment to continue to build collaboration and curiosity across the site the Alliance sought to understand how to support the partner agencies and their members better.

To increase connection to the values of the Alliance we invited staff to make, and takeaway a postcard as a reminder of what inspires them to do the amazing work they do in healthcare everyday. We know a few have their proudly displayed in their office!

Want to make your own postcard? You can!

Download the DYI Postcard here. 

(You’ll need Adobe Reader to use this Postcard)

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The benefits of place-based engagement

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There is no simple solution or ‘one size fits all’ approach to identifying an effective engagement method. And, while public meetings provide an opportunity to consult large numbers of people, it’s often the same vocal minority who attend.

When planning an engagement process we need to recognise diversity, identify any potential barriers and design a process that minimises barriers of participation. Place-based community engagement is one method that provides a powerful way to creatively connect with the community.

Place-base engagement, by way of a street stall or stand (or caravan!), can be used to capture the views and comments of large numbers of people. Maps and plans for an area or project can be displayed and the community asked to comment on particular issues and themes, generate ideas or vote for particular activities or facilities.

Choosing a well frequented location can help to achieve high levels of participation and generate interest in the project from those who may not otherwise get involved. This approach is often organised to coincide with other events, such as a community festival or street party.

Recently we took the Conversation Caravan out to various locations within the City of Port Phillip, including the season opener for the Port Melbourne Football Club, to ask the community their thoughts on building a youth centre in the municipality. Council invited residents young and older to share their ideas for the centre, including activities for inclusion and ways to make the centre even more inviting. Well over 200 young people took part, wanting a centre to learn new life skills, get help with homework and bullying and connect with friends in a safe and comfortable environment.

Using this place-based approach enabled Council to gain valuable insights from community members who wouldn’t typically attend a formal workshop or focus group.


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