The death of the Town Hall free-for-all
“Let’s hold a meeting!”
There was once a time when that was the automatic response to a community issue. The government – or whoever had upset everyone – would hire out the biggest hall they could find. Chairs would be set up and a large – usually unruly – crowd would file in and fill them.
One unfortunate individual would cop the job of standing out front trying to explain, justify or beg forgiveness for whatever had everyone worked up. Mostly he or she would just get shouted at a lot.While these sorts of meetings still get used, there is a more constructive alternative: the Open House.
As the name suggests the Open House aims for a gentler atmosphere than the Town Hall. There is no meeting, just a window of time in which people can come and go as they please, ask questions and raise issues.
The venue might be the same as for a Town Hall, but the format is very different. Information stations are positioned around the room, ideally with well-informed staff at each. People may still arrive upset, but the idea is to enter into a conversation instead of a mob-fuelled shouting match.
BBS Communications Group recently coordinated a series of Open Houses to explain a reasonably controversial government decision. The decision impacted on most residents in the community in a very fundamental way and it’s fair to say they were not happy.
Despite this angst the vast majority of conversations were calm and civilised. People registered their disappointment, but were also able to get much-needed information about how the changes would affect them.
What came through most strongly was how unique each person’s view was of this decision. Everyone had slightly different issues or started with slightly different levels of knowledge. The Open House allowed us to tailor our messages to each individual – something that is sadly out of reach for the poor spokesperson standing in front of room full of angry residents. They’re just hoping they get out of there alive.