What is an issue meeting?

An issue meeting follows the 1-to-1. It is when you have had enough conversations to understand the key concerns of a community/institution/group. We bring those people to an issue meeting. Way back when, this type of gathering was called a house meeting; basically because they happened in people’s homes. We still do them in homes and in all kinds of places where people feel comfortable.

Why an issue meeting and not something else?

The issue meeting is where people come together to learn from each others experiences. To what extent is this an issue for you, the community? Do other people care about it? Can we build a team to take action? Here we meet folks who are awake to the problem, and potentially work with them to change it.

If we are just looking for issues we can use research methods that are less time intensive. A survey, email or consultation, can get you the information required to build a campaign. In community organising, however, we are not only researching the issues: we are looking for people. Issue meetings provide the the depth we need, to know we are building something significant enough in people’s lives, they will act to change it. No campaign is built without the communities leading.

Once we have built a team ready to act, we support them with the tools and relationships they need to make change happen. Other research methods can and do compliment this work, but alone, they can not give us the depth to build grass-root action.

Who gets invited?

The issue meeting is built up of people you have had 1-to-1s with. Each meeting should have around eight to fifteen people. If you have more than that, you need to split groups up and spread them around the room, or rooms. Too many people and the learning will be rushed, too little and we can not build the team to lead. If your numbers are low it could suggest you have not done enough 1-to-1s, or the issue is not a priority for people.

The meeting requires people to speak honestly about problems they are facing. We need to feel safe to be open and honest. It is also important that the people attending are going to be respectful. Meeting everyone 1-to-1 is the best way to do this, however, this is not always possible. If someone wants to invite people you don’t know, make sure they know the expectations of the space.

The people in the room can be from the same institution, community, or different groups. How you bring people together is up to you. It all depends how big/small the issue is.

Five things to watch out for

1. Watch out for who is in the room

Be conscious of who is running the meeting and who we are developing. Are we as open and as diverse as we should be? Are the people in the room reflective of the issue and community. If not, why? What do you need to do to ensure that the next meeting is?

2. Watch out for community ‘experts’

Community ‘experts’ are people who can’t resist telling people how to solve their problems or what is wrong with them, the youth, the whoever. A lot of the time they’re not aware of how much space they take up and how this affects others. That being said, when someone is speaking over or down to others, respectfully shut it down. The time-keeper and chair play a really important role here. It is their responsibility to ensure time is not eaten up by one or two voices.

3. Watch out for elected officials/candidates

Elected officials are welcome as equal members of their institution/community but not as partisan politicians. This is only acceptable when you are working on their campaign.

4. Watch out for talkers

People who speak f.o.r.e.v.e.r need to be politely cut off. This is the responsibility of the chair and time-keeper. The chair will let everyone know at the beginning of the meeting, how much time each person has to speak.

For example: if you have two minutes, the chair will say, “the time-keeper will tap once to signal you have a minute left. The time-keeper will then tap a second time to let you know you must stop and allow the next person to contribute.”

Do not allow talkers to take over the space. You will not reach next steps, or end on time. Worst of all people will not come back.

5. Watch out for pace

Keep the energy flowing so you do not get stuck in one place/person/issue and can reach next steps. If someone does not want to speak at length, move on. We don’t need meetings filled with silence. Another example, is when folks speak about why everything is fudged and how terrible planet Earth is, f.o.r.e.v.e.r. We’re here to be proactive. The timed rounds provide people the opportunity to air their frustrations. Too much time on negative talk is a wasted energy, and is frustrating to others. The chair should nip this in the bud, and move conversation on.