Local charity Action for Sustainable Living has rebooted its “Environmental Forums” with a pretty successfulish event in Fallowfield.
Around twenty people gathered to mingle and learn more about volunteering opportunities and activities in South Manchester. Representatives from various groups (Moss Side Community Allotment, Fallowfield Secret Garden and Envirolution) were present.
It all kept to time, and – importantly – alcohol was available.
What went well
People got a chance to mingle, find out a bit about who else was in the room, via a “spectrum” that asked people to place themselves on a line of, for example, when they first became aware of environmental issues. There was enough space – both physical and in the agenda, for folks to properly mingle with the people they were interested in meeting.
It finished on time, without everyone looking nervously at watch so as not to miss the last train/bus etc.
What could have gone better
The dilemma for event organisers is finding the sweet spot of “open-ness.” Too top-down/information-deficit-y and you’ll lose some people to boredom and frustration, and perhaps even get a gentle nibble from hard-bitten journalists. Too ‘open’ and the space can get invaded by people who don’t understand that “45 seconds” means, um, 45 seconds. A few loud and (over-)confident people can dominate, which is also boring and frustrating.
Setting spectrum/mapping questions is a bit of an art. A facilitator will usually have to reword some suggestions, and reject (if they can’t find a workable formulation) others. That’s not domination/anti-democratic, it is, imho, entirely within the remit of the facilitator.
Feedback – give everyone a prepared feedback sheet, ask people to circle what they liked/didn’t like, with space for suggestions. Anonymous!
Crowd-sourcing the crowd control
There’s a real problem during “open mike” and “feedback” sessions. Some people, either through enthusiasm, low confidence, over-developed entitlement/low willingness to abide by the rules don’t stick to their time. If the facilitator succeeds in shutting them up, he or she can come across as a bully (most in the audience will appreciate it, but the person who is told to stop, and his/her friends may not). If the facilitator fails to shut them up, the role of facilitator is diminished, and it becomes a free-for-all, with the loudest longest voices crowding out other people.
So, how about having a comedy hourglass or egg-timer or clock, and when the time runs out, everyone agrees to start applauding? That puts the responsibility on everyone, rather than forcing one person to constantly be “nagging.”
A rose by any other name
They’re looking for a catchier brand than “South Manchester Environment Forum”. Sadly the prize for the winning suggestion is NOT a snog off either Catrina or Simon. Despite this disappointment, and fwiw, here’s MCFly’s suggestions;
South Manchester Uniting Greens. The acronym might be too accurate for us all though?
Preferred option would be; South Manchester Environmental Groups Monthly Assembly
AfSL have funding to run these every other month for 2013. MCFly will publicise them, and we may even do some events like this in the “in between” months.