In the context of volunteer groups, like seed saving groups, effective meetings don’t just get the work done they also meet the social needs of those attending. People volunteer for lots of different reasons but having meetings that are pleasant and allow everyone to have a say and be involved are much more likely to encourage ongoing participation.
Meetings are often the main space where people get to know each other and find out what the group is like. Having a positive feeling about the group and the people in it can make a difference to how much someone contributes.
However there needs to be a balance between getting things done and having fun and socialising. Try to ensure decision-making and tasks are done as well as building in time for people to connect with each other. Don’t waste people’s time. Make it clear when the focus is on work tasks and when the focus is on socialising.
Some seed saving groups have formal meetings around a table which focus only on what is on a written agenda. Other groups take a much more casual approach and have their meetings at the same time as processing and packaging seeds. Some have meetings at the start or finish of a garden visit.
Groups may also choose to use email based decision-making processes. They might be used in conjunction with face-to-face meetings for those that can’t make it to meetings, or to mitigate potential weaknesses in more casual in-person meeting formats.
Zoom and other technologies may also be used to meet online. Having a good facilitator, with experience in managing online meetings will be particularly helpful for larger online group meetings.
Facilitation / Chairing
However you run your meetings there is usually someone that takes a facilitation or chairing role. A good facilitator shouldn’t have any more influence over what gets decided than anyone else – they just help the process of making decisions and make sure everyone gets heard. Like most important group roles, it can be done by the same person every time, it can be rotated or it can be shared out between a team of people.
Facilitation tasks include:
- Making sure meetings happen : setting a suitable time and place.
- Organising an agenda : a list of things to be covered in the meeting.
- Clarifying how the meeting will run : make sure everyone understands what decision-making process is being used, eg. voting, consensus or a mix, and what process will be used to manage who has the floor.
- Organising the discussion : help everyone to participate and hear each other, e.g. summarising the discussion to help focus, keeping the conversation to one topic at a time, making sure everyone gets a chance to speak.
Setting the Agenda
It is a good idea to know in advance what needs to be done at the meeting. But being flexible enough to go around the group and check-in with everyone whether they have items they want to add can be a good way to start each meeting and increase participation.
If agenda items are accepted at the start of the meeting, then any items that are controversial or will potentially have a large impact on the group should probably have final decisions deferred until everyone has had time to consider them fully and those not in attendance are able to have some input.
You could have an agenda template with standing items to be covered each time. The sample below includes a lot of options and groups could use a subset of these to suit their current situation.
Sample Meeting Agenda
- Welcoming and introductions
- How the meeting works
- Check-in for last minute agenda items
- Review last minutes and action points
- Report back on actions
- Standing items (e.g. publicity, events)
- Break – tea and biscuits!
- Other items, including new items
- Work in small groups (e.g. drafting leaflet text, planning next event)
- Any other business (e.g. announcements)
- Dates for next meetings and next facilitator
- Next social or seed swap
Taking Good Minutes
Minutes are a written record of the meeting, covering the main points of discussion, the decisions reached and what task people have taken on. Minute taking is another role that could be rotated from meeting to meeting.
Minutes do not have to be long and involved and word-for-word what was said. They can simply be a list of decisions taken (or not taken) and a list of actions to be done, along with the name of who is responsible for that action and by when it should be completed. It might include a record that each item on the agenda was dealt with, eg. reports were received, time was spent devising a poster, etc.
Minutes can be checked as the meeting progresses by the minute-taker reading out any major points where they want to clarify that the wording they’ve used is appropriate, eg. “Can I just check the wording for that decision please. I have written XXXXX”. Or they can be made available by email or online file sharing facilities so everyone can access them and provide feedback if they have an issue.
Keep your minutes for future reference, either paper versions or electronically. This can help clarify misunderstandings later and also avoid doing the same work more than once. However minutes do not mean decisions are ‘set in stone’ forever. The group can always make a later decision to change their direction if circumstances or positions change.