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Meetings & Decision-Making

Back to the Skills Toolbox

The success of your group's programs, activities and campaigns is, in large part, a direct function of the success of your meetings. Meetings are where you plan and motivate, discuss and decide. How well your meetings run can influence every aspect of your organization, from sustaining membership to accomplishing goals.

The most important thing to remember about facilitating a good meeting is that they don't run themselves. There are several necessary components to organizing an effective meeting.

Facilitation Hand Signals and How to Use Them
Before You Start Meeting Tips
Kick-Off Meeting Decision-Making
Regular Meetings Common Meeting Troubles
Meeting Minutes: Brief and Beautiful Communication Skills
Meeting Roles Icebreakers & Games
Facilitation Tips More Information

Facilitation: The Secret to Smooth, Synchronized Meetings

The word "facilitate" doesn't mean to lead, control, or direct. Facilitate simply means to make easier. In a practical sense, the job of a facilitator is to help create a space that is comfortable and productive for a group of people.

Try not to have this much fun at your meetings

Facilitation is like slicking the wheels of a rusty caboose. Facilitators make meetings, discussions, and events of all sorts run smoothly.

The facilitator should be someone who doesn't have a strong opinion to express on the meeting's topics. As a facilitator, if you want to say something, call on yourself in turn, but make sure you don't use your role to dominate the discussion.

Furthermore, you should not allow people with race, class, gender, or other subtle or non-subtle privilege to dominate a meeting. As a facilitator, you should encourage everyone to participate while moving the meeting along to meet time limits.

In addition to having savvy and well-prepared facilitator(s), smooth facilitation requires a group in which everyone:
..........1. Understands the goals of the meeting and the organization
..........2. Keeps the group on the agenda and moving forward towards the goals
..........3. Respects everyone in the meeting helping to create a space where shy people are comfortable enough to speak, and where people who tend to dominate a discussion feel compelled to defer to others in the group
..........4. Makes sure decisions are made democratically, with input from many different voices

For more information about facilitation, see below.

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Before You Start

Bring the MAPS!

Materials Bring relevant handouts, minutes from the last meeting, a flip chart, tape, markers, drinks or snacks, etc to the meeting. Get help from other folks in your preparation.

Agenda At every meeting, clear goals and an agenda should be set beforehand. Your goals are what you want out of the meeting: the purpose. Prepare a complete agenda based on your goals. Ask people for input on the agenda and confirm it with people beforehand. Set time limits for each agenda item and try to stay under 1.5 hours for the whole meeting. If you must go longer, the facilitator should make sure everyone is alright with adding extra time onto the meeting. If people aren’t okay with it, the discussion should be tabled until a later date.

A typical agenda might look like:
1. Introductions
2. Review of last meeting and unfinished business
3. Quick and easy discussion items or subcommittee reports
4. Time critical discussion/action item needing immediate attention
5. Discussion/action item that may take a lot of time, be complex, or controversial
6. New issue for discussion and planning
7. Evaluation of meeting (optional)
8. Announcements
9. Closing - set time for next meeting, make a proposed agenda

You'll need some of these

People Get the word out! Send a notice over email lists and to your friends, put up posters, make an announcement over the P.A., phone up people. Remind everyone who needs to be there more than once, including once the day before the meeting.

Space Reserve a comfortable space for the meeting. Your school will usually provide free space to hold meetings; if not, you can often find free meeting space in neighborhood libraries or community centers. Pay attention to temperature, arrangement of chairs, insulation from noise, bathrooms, and windows. Bringing quiet munchies and drinks is a stellar idea!

You should have a regular meeting time and place (weekly or biweekly is best) so that members can incorporate your meetings into their schedules.

Your group may also want to establish a defined and agreed upon set of guidelines by which the meetings will run. These usually center on the basic rules of courtesy:

..........• One person has the floor at a time.
..........• Don’t interrupt.
..........• Refrain from personal attacks.
..........• Everyone's input is valuable.
..........• New ideas are welcome.

These are fairly straightforward, but in the heat of discussion it may be up to the meeting's facilitator to insure that these guidelines are adhered to, and that meetings are run in an atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie where every member's input is respected and welcomed.

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Kick-Off Meeting

The kick-off meeting is the first big event your group will organize during the semester. Make it count! The goal is to recruit new members and get new students involved with the group. Try to make sure that the meeting is fun, interesting, and participatory.

The first step is to take care of logistics. Pick a time when the most people can come. Don’t panic! There’s no perfect time when everyone can make it. Try to pick a time and place that can stay the same each week. Set a goal for how many people you want at your meeting (be ambitious). Then reserve a room that you think will be a little too small. When you pack a room it creates an atmosphere of excitement; there’s nothing worse than empty chairs at a kick off meeting. Try to find a room with movable chairs so you can sit in a circle.

The meeting should be planned far enough in advance to wallpaper the school with flyers and send an announcement to all available campus media. Furthermore, the agenda should be planned out to the minute and the meeting should be well facilitated. Kick-off meetings are a great time to bring in a guest speaker - often a well-liked progressive professor will bring more people to an event as well as keeping it interesting.

If it’s possible, get food for your meeting. Food’s always nice, and it will help keep everyone in a good mood. Another mood-saver is to start and end roughly on time. You want to convince people that the group is a good use of their time.

A short guide to the stages of recognition and acceptance your new members may go through (pdf)

During this first meeting, it’s important for everyone to give introductions, which works best with a fun icebreaker. Don’t have all the “core people” sit together in a block during meetings; instead, disperse yourselves throughout the group. This creates a mood that’s much more participatory. Pass around a sheet to collect everybody’s name, phone number and email.

One of the planners should give a brief introduction to the group. New groups need to emphasize that a group is what people make it. If the planners have some ideas, they should be presented, but as well-developed suggestions, not declarations. This should take only about 5 minutes.

Every attendee should leave the first meeting with a good understanding of what the group's purpose is, how they can fit into the group, and with confidence that the group is action-oriented.

The organizers should ensure that every new member leaves with a specific assignment or task to work on before the next meeting. Work assignments not only make new people feel like vital and needed members of the group, but people are also more likely to return for future meetings when they feel that they have a responsibility to the group. Of course, you want to encourage individuals to willingly take on tasks rather than just autocratically assigning jobs to new people – dude, that’s just not cool.

Some key things to do at the first meeting:

..........• Establish Working Groups on key projects (e.g., further recruitment, fundraising, media stunt, campaign development, etc.)
..........• Set committee meeting times and a structure for check-in with the main group
..........• Plan a media stunt to announce your presence on campus
..........• Set a date and time for your next meeting

Make your first meeting fun - provide food, play a game - but make sure that it is much more than a social event. Afterwards, have everyone go to a café or bar to keep talking and facilitate a chance for people to get to know each other. A lot of good potential activists will come back because of someone they met the first night who they would like to see again (for romantic or platonic reasons!).

Remember, organizing is about building relationships.

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Regular Meetings

Starting The Meeting
Remember, meetings should be enjoyable, efficient, and build organizational morale.
..........1. Assign, at minimum, a note-taker and a timekeeper to help the facilitator(s) move the agenda along. A scribe (writes all ideas, announcements, and other items on the board), stack-keeper (keeps track of who raises their hands and calls on them in order), vibes-watcher (assesses the mood of the group and asks for breathers when necessary), and other helpers can be useful as well (see Meeting Roles).
..........2. Start on time whenever possible to encourage good habits. If you must wait for latecomers, thank people for arriving on time.
..........3. Welcome/introduce everyone present. Ask someone to think up a juicy icebreaker a few minutes before the meeting and use it during your opening go-around.
..........4. Quickly review the agenda at the start of the meeting and ask if there are any items to add.

Try to hold your meetings in color

During The Meeting
..........1. Be sure to start and end on time.
..........2. Feel free to take short breaks during the meeting. Even a quick stretch can lighten the mood and make everyone more productive and civil.
..........3. Stick to your agenda whenever possible. It's there to keep the group on track to achieve your goals. If you have to depart from the agenda, ask for the group's consent.
..........4. Use appropriate facilitation tools to get the most out of the voices in the room. Use a go-around to make everyone heard, small breakout groups to generate lots of ideas quickly, or basic popcorn discussion to start things off. Silence is good sometimes, but a good trick if you need discussion is to say, "Turn to the person next to you and discuss this." Five seconds and your discussion will be hoppin'
..........5. Ask everyone to use hand signals to indicate agreement (fingers twinkling), confusion (arms out, bent, and hands outstretched), and other feelings (See Hand Signals).
..........6. Try to keep the conversation flowing and summarize fairly often. Elicit responses from each member when addressing a key topic. Consensus does not mean that each person gets to say the same thing five times. If people seem to be saying the same thing in different ways, try to summarize and move forward. Ex: "So what I'm hearing people say is that we're not quite prepared to rally outside the president's office but that there is interest in putting increased pressure on him within the next week. Do people have other ideas for a more strategic next step?" (See Facilitation Tips)
..........7. Utilize the meeting roles. They're there to help the meeting go more smoothly but they only work if people understand what they're suppose to do and others help reinforce them. (See Meeting Roles).

Closing The Meeting
..........1. Spend a few short minutes recapping your plan of action at the end of the meeting. Did you meet your goals? What are the next steps? Who's doing what? Answer these questions quickly and remind everyone to read the meeting minutes (see Meeting Minutes).
..........2. Assign roles for next time and schedule the next meeting.
..........3. Always leave on a positive note. If all else fails, don't be afraid to make up a brief enticing and inspirational story that isn't true, then blame anyone but Students for Bhopal when the group uncovers your lies.

Brainstorming and Small Groups
This is the standard democratic technique for figuring out what to do. The issue is raised in a general meeting, and for a while everyone brainstorms. This means tossing ideas into the air (whoosh!!!), without discussing or criticizing them. Brainstorming allows people to suggest ideas in an atmosphere of openness, without the fear of being put down. At the same time, it’s also good to have some order to the process to avoid a cacophony of voices and so that each person can be speak and be heard. A good method for this is to go around the room (called a “go-around”). Each person names a couple ideas or passes, but does not comment on or criticize the previous speakers. Meanwhile, a scribe writes all the ideas on a board. By saving discussion for later, no one is afraid of having his or her idea rejected.

Afterward, have some discussion to find out what the favorites are. Then, if needed, a small group can split off to work out the details. After a set amount of time or at your next meeting, the small group can come back and report to the whole group on what they came up with, and make sure it’s OK. Then you kick ass and do it.

Writing Group Documents
When drafting some important document like a constitution or even a position statement, more than three people working on the specific wording is a nightmare. It’s good for a small group to come up with an initial draft that the group can discuss. The larger group might tear it apart, but it will provide a starting point. If it is a long document, the group members may want to take it home and read it before the next meeting. Group members could submit electronic or hand written comments to the small group for revision of the document. After an allotted period of time the small group could rework the document and re-present it to the larger group. This process could go back and forth between the larger group and the small group until all members of the group generally agrees upon the content of the document.

In A Nutshell:
Remember, to have a good meeting, you need good product and good process. Good facilitation makes the process run smoother. To have a good product, everyone should be geared towards achieving the goals set out by the group. Don’t start a meeting without goals and an agenda for meeting those goals and don’t let a meeting stray too far from those goals once you’ve begun. And of course, the best way to make your meetings and your organization run smooth like butter over and over again, is to create a respectful space where everyone is engaged in making decisions democratically with input from many different voices. You can do it!

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Meeting Minutes: Brief And Beautiful

Good meeting minutes shouldn't be a script of every word uttered at your meeting. If something isn't relevant to the goals of your meeting and your group, leave it out of the minutes (unless it's funny). People reading the minutes only want to spend time reading about the essentials. No full sentences or fancy-pants language needed.

A good format for meeting minutes includes:
..........• The name of your group/committee, date, place and time of the meeting
..........• The names of members present and absent
..........• Proposals made and passed
..........• Tasks people are responsible for (with names in bold) and deadlines
..........• Reports people made on a topic
..........• Announcements people made

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Meeting Roles

To make sure your group meetings run smoothly, you may want to rotate the following duties. Often, especially in smaller groups, these duties are combined, and one person may even be taking on all these roles. However, each one can be a lot of work & so you’ll probably want to have a different person doing each one.

Time Keeper
Keeps track of how much time is left for each agenda item and pushes the group to stick to time limits by notifying the group and facilitator when there are 20 minutes left, 10, 5, etc. If the group has run out of time but has not finished the discussion, the group needs to make a concerted decision to extend the discussion/agenda item and set a time limit for how much longer it wants to take.

Stack Keeper
Keeps a list of who wants to speak. Makes the facilitator's job easier when there are a lot of people or a complicated discussion. The stack keeper should always be looking around the room for people raising their hands and nod to them to let them know that they are "on stack" so that they can put their hand down. The stack keeper can call on just the next person or sometimes say, "On stack we have Paul, Eachthighearn, Wilbur, then Laestrygones."

Takes notes from brainstorms, discussion, announcements, and proposals and puts them on a big sheet of paper or a white board so that everyone can refer to them. The scribe is also helpful when good points get raised then lost in discussion or go unnoticed.

Note Taker
Writes the official notes that can be sent out to the mailing list and kept in the group's archives for future use. It is the note taker's job to send the meeting notes out ASAP (preferably that night) so that people can review their tasks easily and those who missed the meeting can stay in the loop as much as possible.

Vibes Watcher
Monitors how people are feeling to ensure that no one is being ignored or personally attacked. A vibes watcher should also be aware of people that are getting sleepy, restless, or generally too unhappy to make decisions. The vibes watcher can remedy these situations by calling for short breaks, stretching exercises, or bring to the group’s attention the injustices s/he has observed.

What a downer

One of the most critical positions to fill for smooth, productive meetings is the facilitator.

What does a Facilitator Do?
..........• Understands the goals of the meeting and the organization
..........• Keeps the group on the agenda and moving forward towards the goals
....................- Makes sure everyone knows what’s on the agenda and what’s going on
....................- Asks if there is anything that needs to be added to the agenda or if changes need to be made
get commitments, don't let things trail off
....................- Summarizes often (get others to summarize too)
..........• If your group has chosen to use the consensus decision-making process, guiding the consensus process will be a large part of the facilitator’s responsibilities.
..........• Respects everyone in the meeting helping to create a space where shy people are comfortable enough to speak, and where people who tend to dominate a discussion feel compelled to defer to others in the group.
..........• Makes sure decisions are made democratically, with input from many different voices. Remember: speaking and listening are like two great tastes that best go together! You can’t have one without the other.
..........• The facilitator should be someone who doesn’t have a strong opinion to express on the meeting’s topics. If you really do want to say something, call on yourself, but make sure you don’t use your role as facilitator to dominate the discussion.

Clearly, the facilitator has a critical role in guiding the meeting and the decisions you make there. Like many skills, facilitation is one that comes with practice, so you should make sure that as many group members have the opportunity to serve in this role as possible.

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Facilitation Tips

..........• Sometimes a good point gets raised but is lost in the discussion or goes unnoticed. That is why it is good to have someone writing the brainstorming ideas on a large notepad or dry erase board. Also the facilitator can help bring an idea back into the discussion by restating it or asking the person that came up with the idea to re-state it.
..........• Keep the discussion moving forward. If everyone seems to agree, state a proposal and check for consensus. If the discussion is deadlocked, ask people if a small group can discuss it afterward.
..........• If the discussion is contentious and/or people aren’t respecting each other, try this: declare who the next three speakers are, and don’t let people raise their hands until those three are done. This way everyone concentrates on what’s being said, instead of sighing, moaning, and planning his or her response.
..........• If part of the group is much more knowledgeable, then you can pick several representatives and let them have a free-form (non-facilitated) discussion in the middle of the room. This is called a ‘fish-bowl’ and can also be useful for resolving conflict (by picking representatives of the different sides of the issue).
..........• Good phrases:
...................."Let's hear from some people who haven't spoken yet."
...................."The men in the room have been talking a lot, let's hear from some of the women."
...................."The veteran members have been talking a lot, let's hear from some of the new people."
..........• Keep it positive!
....................- Instead of using "but", use "and". Ex: “That’s a good idea AND this is also a good idea” or AND “I think we should hear from some others”
..........• When in doubt, resort to the small group!
Often logistical discussions (mtg. times), contentious topics, and project details (what color the to make the t-shirts) can get carried away and take up unnecessary amounts of time in the big group meeting. These discussions can and probably should be dealt with by a small group of people after the meeting which reports back to and works with the bigger group later.
..........• If the discussion is contentious and/or people aren’t respecting each other, try this: declare who the next three speakers are, and don’t let people raise their hands until those three are done. This way everyone concentrates on what’s being said, instead of sighing, moaning, and planning his or her response.
..........• Have someone in the group summarize the discussion before starting a new agenda item. This brings a sense of closure to that agenda item. More importantly, it allows the group to feel more involved as they are summarizing the discussion, not the facilitator.

Sample Conversation:
Facilitator: OK, the next thing on the agenda is the Toxins project. Liz?
Liz: Well, we discovered the school has been dumping toxins in the lake and...
Amit: Gee, this reminds me of a story I read when I was a kid.
Facilitator: Please, don't interrupt.
Liz: Well we decided we'd like to re-route the drainage pipes into the President's house.
Facilitator: (Miya raises her hand) Discussion? Yes? (points to Miya)
Miya: Isn't that a bit harsh? Maybe we should try the publicity route first.
Andy: Publicity? They didn't care about publicity when they massacred the class of '98!
Chris: Yeah, but they'll be pretty embarrassed if this comes out. The Provost did say he's pro-environment the other day.
Facilitator: OK, it seems like we have two proposals: to re-route the pipes now, or to get a lot of publicity and see what that does. Hands? (All but two people vote for doing publicity first.) Well, unless you two have serious objections it looks like we have consensus for trying publicity first. But if that doesn’t work we can revisit this discussion.

Looking for more practice? Try out these role plays!

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Hand Signals and How to Use Them

Hand signals are ways for people to comment without having to disrupt the meeting. When everyone is willing to use them, they can save a lot of time, help the meeting run much more efficiently, and encourage everyone to actively participate.

For instance, often in meetings people will end up repeating in different ways what other people have already said. Many people feel the need to say things like, "I also really think that we should reevaluate our goals and blah blah blah blah blah." Instead of having to raise your hand to basically say, "I support that", people can give the Silent Cheer (see below). This helps the Facilitator and everyone else read the mood of the whole group rather than being blinded by the attitudes of a few aggressive speakers.

Silent Cheer/Twinkle: Hold up your hands and wiggle your fingers in the air.

Focus/Get to the Point: Move your hands back and forth bringing them together in a 'V' shape. Get back to the point. Use this signal when people go off on tangents and aren't sticking to the agenda.

Jargon: Throw up your hands with palms upside down. Use this for acronyms or when people refer to things you haven't heard of. If you think other people haven't heard of it you should do this too so that others who might be too embarrassed to ask a question themselves can know what's going on.

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Meeting Tips

..........• START ON TIME! If you don’t, you’ll find yourself starting a little bit later every time because people will assume they can come late since it’ll start late.
..........• Start with brief introductions. Many people have trouble remembering names, and it will build your group’s sense of community for people to regularly introduce themselves and share something significant that happened to them since you last met. Essential if you have any new members.
..........• Pass around a sign-in sheet. Essential if you have any new members.
..........• Bring in presentations on issues or skills. Experienced group members or guests could give presentations. This helps educate and empower the group internally. Remember that there are a lot of people coming to your meetings to learn! Educate and include them.
..........• Discuss recent current events (that are applicable) and give inspiration.
..........• Split up into small groups to work on each project. This depends on the size of the group. You might be able to do everything in the main meeting, or you might need separate meetings.
..........• Keep the tone of the meetings positive. Bad meetings completely kill a group, especially for new members. People should not be bored, frustrated, or confused. If things get tense, tell a joke! If there seems to be a problem, be open about it and seek people’s input about how the meetings could be improved. If you’re wondering how the meeting went, ask a new member—they’re the best judges.
..........• Include time for evaluation. Review your group’s most recent event(s). What went well? What could you do better next time?
..........• Openly discuss the group’s dynamics. Every couple of weeks it’s a good idea to air out frustrations. Ask people how they feel about the group.
..........• At the end of the meeting give people a chance to bring up any additional concerns.
..........• Try regularly sharing a meal (like a potluck) before the meeting or at another time during the week. This will help everyone feel more comfortable and build community.
..........• FINISH ON TIME! This goes hand in hand with starting on time. Starting and finishing on time reaffirms the fact that people’s time is a valuable commodity.

At the end of the meeting, everyone should know:
..........• When and where the next meeting is. (Try to hold regular weekly meetings)
..........• What they’re supposed to do.
..........• How to get in touch with people if they want to help. (You could write names and numbers on a chalkboard, or pass out sheet with contacts.)
..........• Who’s going to facilitate the next meeting and how to get in touch with them.

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A concrete and agreed upon decision making process is necessary for any group to operate successfully. Many groups may want to include their voting/consensus process in their group constitution. There are two main methods that your group may choose to employ for decision making, voting or the consensus process.

A short guide to collective decision-making (pdf)

Larger groups may find the voting process to be more suitable, while smaller groups are more comfortable with a more informal consensus process. With voting, you may find that requiring a two-thirds majority may promote more group cohesion as it reduces the number of people who may view themselves as having lost a vote. Also, some groups may want to link the privilege of voting to meeting attendance or participation.

Alternately, the consensus process seeks to establish mutual agreement on an issue by addressing all concerns. It can take longer than other processes, but it promotes group cooperation, creativity and will usually produce a greater feeling of commitment and individual buy-in to final decisions. Consensus though, does not always produce nor require unanimity.

Why Consensus?
..........• No losers
..........• Can come up with creative decisions that meet everyone’s needs
..........• Everyone feels a fair decision was made
..........• Everyone participates; there is no hierarchy

Is Consensus for You?
..........• People in the group have similar views
..........• The group is relatively small (the smaller the group, the easier the consensus process)
..........• You all see one another as equals
..........• Those with more privilege recognize it and deal with it
..........• The group is willing to spend a lot of time and energy on the process
..........• Everyone is open to change and new ideas

A consensus checklist (pdf)

The Consensus Process
There is no one way to make consensus decisions – your group will eventually come up with a method that works best for you.

Often, the facilitator will open a discussion item by asking for an introduction to the issue, especially if new people are present. From there, discussion proceeds. If many people want to speak, or especially if people begin to speak at the same time, the facilitator or the stack-keeper will ask people to raise their hands to be called on to speak. A "stack" or list of names will be kept, and each person will be called on in order. It’s the responsibility of the facilitator to make sure people are staying on topic. S/He will also stop people from speaking out of turn, being repetitive, or from engaging in a two-person dialogue.

As the discussion proceeds, a skilled facilitator will try to guide the group to a proposal that everyone can agree upon. ("What I'm hearing is this, that and the other, is there anything else we need to know?") The stack keeper and timekeeper are the only other people who can interrupt the stack, and then ONLY for the purposes of attending to their jobs. ("There are 12 people on the stack, and we only have five minutes left for this topic"). Other than that, there are two ways to break the stack. By holding up an index finger, a participant is indicating that s/he has a "point of information" that will clarify an issue, and save time in the discussion. By raising up both hands with palms facing each other (| |) or with the fingers touching (^), the participant is indicating a "process breakdown" that needs to be addressed immediately. ("The facilitator isn't calling on people," "Only two people are talking about this, and the rest of us are bored," or "Some people keep insulting the endocrinologists in the group, and we want it to stop," or simply, "Nobody is talking about the agenda item, let's stay on the subject.") Silent applause or "twinkling" - holding hands up and wiggling fingers is a non-interruptive way to show support for what is being said.

The facilitator should ask the group for a proposal when all concerns have been aired. After a proposal is made, the facilitator should first ask the people on the stack if they need to speak before the proposal is developed. Usually people are ready to move on an issue by this time. The facilitator asks for concerns or friendly amendments to the proposal. The note taker is often called upon to read back the proposal with amendments, so people can keep track of its development. After amendments are made, the facilitator will check for consensus. If everyone gives the "thumbs up", then consensus has been reached, and the meeting goes on to ironing out the details. ("Who's going to write the press release?", "Can so-and-so bring their car?" etc.) Make sure somebody can coordinate the event and remind people of what they volunteered for.

If someone gives a "thumbs down", they are signaling a "block" to the proposed action. A block is a serious, often ethical objection to the proposal, out of concern for the group's reputation, legal or safety issues, the bigger strategy in the community, or something of that scale. Unless amendments can be made that will convince the person to either remove the block or "stand aside" (signaling that the person removes him/herself from the group for the purposes of this issue), a block means that the group takes no further action. This is a situation to avoid, obviously. A person who blocks proposals very often will eventually be asked if they really want to be in the group.

Consensus Tips
..........• Make consensus a group norm
..........• As you become experienced at consensus, keep a notebook of how to make consensus work & how to deal with conflict
..........• Make a set of anti-oppression rules so that when there are problems relating to privilege, you can deal with them.
..........• Be aware of your privilege and position in the group
..........• Loud people: make sure you let others talk without interrupting
..........• If some people are getting very emotional, the facilitator can suggest a break, or ask those people if they would like some time out
..........• The group could agree to meet the next day, or make the decision at the next meeting
..........• If the discussion becomes an argument between a few people, those people may be asked to resolve their dispute elsewhere
..........• If a person or people from privileged backgrounds are taking over the consensus process, there may need to be some serious discussion as to whether that person can continue in the group, or guidelines will need to be made for that person’s behavior.
..........• If there is serious animosity between a few people, this may be better dealt with personally, not in the group.

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Common Meeting Troubles

..........• Are meetings boring? If so they probably aren’t action-oriented enough. Try holding the next one inside a jail, a moving freight train, or a burning building (just kidding). You may want to have the group make signs for the next protest, though. Make sure new people are being invited to help.
..........• Are your meetings clogged with too much detail? Unless something interests a substantial part of the group, it should be discussed in a small-group meeting instead. This is for the facilitator to judge (though anyone can complain).
..........• Are people feeling left out and stupid because speakers are assuming that people know what they’re talking about, and using a lot of jargon? Speak plainly. Do more education at meetings. If a speaker uses a word or phrase that a lot of people don’t know (what the hell is a perched water table anyway?), stop them and have them explain it.
..........• Are people dominating because they have neat connections with various bigwigs? Have others go with them to bigwig meetings. Make sure these connections are shared, as they belong to the whole group.
..........• Are people dominating because they know a lot? Have them give presentations and teach the rest of the group. However, make sure this person is really teaching and not just showing off.
..........• Are people dominating because they’re more confident than the rest, better speakers, etc.? The facilitator should call on others.
..........• Is one part of the group (men, whites, seniors, etc.) doing all the talking? The facilitator should ask for input from the rest of the group.
..........• Are people turned off because speakers are assuming too much about their ideology? This calls for some simple politeness. If people want to help, they shouldn’t feel excluded just because they are more conservative or more radical than the rest of the group. Maybe there could be a meeting to discuss everyone’s ideology.
..........• Do meetings run overtime? Set time limits, stick to the agenda, and start on time even if not everybody’s there. People will be much more willing to come to meetings if they know they can get out by a certain time.

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Communication Skills

How to Be a Good Communicator
..........• try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes
..........• concentrate and be patient
..........• do not interrupt
..........• don’t judge
..........• give praise when it’s due
..........• use non-verbal gestures to show your feelings instead of accusing others
....................- E.g. smiling, nodding etc.
..........• talk about your feelings instead of accusing others
....................- E.g. instead of “you make me feel awful when you do that” say “I feel awful when I am yelled at”

How Do You Communicate?
Think about how these factors affect your communication style:
..........• Tone of voice (angry, sad, happy)
..........• Volume of voice (soft, loud)
..........• Body language
..........• Listening skills (hearing is not the same as listening
..........• Facial expression
..........• Pace of speech (fast, slow)
..........• Biases, stereotypes, preconceptions/ judgments
..........• Speaking style (do you use slang, academic language, simple language, etc.)
..........• Privilege and/or marginality
..........• Life experiences
..........• Cultural background

Practicing active listening

Active Listening
When to use it:
..........• in very emotional situations
..........• when communication is too difficult
..........• when you’re not understanding each other
..........• when discussion isn’t going anywhere

How to do it:
..........• don’t judge or interrupt
..........• listen to learn
..........• listen between the lines to what they’re feeling
..........• rephrase to make sure you understand what they said

Conflict Mediation
Finding a way to sort out a problem or conflict between two or more people or groups with the help of a person or group who can listen and suggest a compromise without being biased or judgmental.

When to Use it:
..........• The problem is too hot to handle for the people involved
..........• The argument has been going on too long and you need to make a decision

The basics:
..........• Let people know you aren’t there to judge or to be a problem solver – you are there to help them work through their problems
..........• Keep the discussion confidential & make sure everyone knows that!
..........• Make an agenda and time frame so that people know when they will be able to speak and when they need to listen, and for how long
..........• Set a few ground rules to help the process move along smoothly (e.g. no interrupting, no name-calling etc.)
..........• Make sure it is a safe space for people to express their views
..........• Be an active listener
..........• Don’t take sides & be objective. Try to understand (not just hear) what each person is saying and why.

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Icebreakers & Games

Note: Some of these icebreakers involve bodily contact that not everyone will feel comfortable with, and others may not be accessible for youth with disabilities. Try to pick an icebreaker that everyone can feel comfortable with, or else adapt some activities so that everyone can participate (e.g. having everyone sitting instead of standing for an activity).

Everyone Who…
..........• Arrange a circle of chairs. There should be one less chair than the # of people
..........• One person stands in the middle and shouts: Everyone who________! (makes their bed, wears glasses, born in July etc)
..........• All those people jump up and switch chairs
..........• Whoever is left without a chair is the next to shout

Resistance Chain
..........• The group stands in a circle
..........• Everyone crosses their hands and puts them in the middle
..........• Grab someone else’s hands (make sure it’s not the same person)
..........• Try to untangle the knot without letting go of one another

I am…
..........• Everyone gets a blank sheet of paper and marker
..........• On the paper, complete this sentence in 5 ways: I AM_____________ (e.g. an organizer, a neat freak, a mother, a vegetarian etc)
..........• Walk around the room and introduce yourself to every other person
..........• Post up the sheets somewhere in the room for people to look at afterwards
Variation: have people write 5 sentences describing their skills (e.g. I speak 3 languages, I am a strong swimmer, I am good at math).

Name Game
..........• Everyone sits in a circle
..........• First person says their name and one adjective to describe themselves (eg I’m Jake and I’m funny)
..........• Second person does the same, but also repeats what the first person said
..........• Continue along the circle this way, so that the last person repeats everyone’s name

Group Mural
..........• Lay out a big piece of chart paper and markers, crayons, pencil crayons etc.
..........• Each person draws some sort of image/shape on the mural that represents who they are
..........• When the mural is done, people explain what they drew

Solidarity Tags
..........• Everyone picks a blank name tag & decorates it with a border, then writes their name in pencil on the back
..........• Put all the decorated name tags in a pile
..........• Everyone picks out a decorated name tag (not their own) & writes their name in the middle
..........• Then, everyone introduces themselves to whoever made their name tag.

..........• Randomly pair up people in the group
..........• Partners ask each other 3 questions. Eg. What is one interesting thing about you? Why did you come to this event? Who is your hero?
..........• Come back as a group and have everyone introduce their partner

Silent Communication
..........• Ask everyone to line themselves up from eldest to youngest/ alphabetical order of first or last names without speaking.

Group Games: Energizers
Everyone gets burnt out sometimes. If during a workshop or other group activity you notice people getting restless or bored, it may be time for an energizer

Coalition Tag
..........• One person is ‘It’ and tries to tag someone else
..........• Whoever gets caught joins hands with the one who is ‘It’ and they become a ‘coalition’
..........• The coalition tries to catch everyone else. Every time some one is caught, they join the coalition

..........• Group is divided into pairs
..........• Partners stand with their palms upright, facing one another
..........• Partners try to push each other over with their palms without moving their feet

Bean Bag Toss
..........• Group sits/stands in a circle
..........• 2 people begin by throwing a bean bag (or soft ball) across the circle to each other
..........• Slowly, more pairs begin tossing bean bags across to each other until everyone is tossing a bean bag to someone else
..........• Make the game more challenging by adding restrictions, e.g. eyes closed, one hand, one foot etc.

..........• Facilitator plays some music, or makes some noise, and asks the group to move around the room
..........• Once noise/music stops, anybody who moves is ‘out’
..........• Last person remaining wins

..........• Write down the names of several well-known celebrities – politicians, activists, musicians, actors, other global figures etc on little pieces of paper
..........• Tape one paper to each person’s back
..........• Everyone walks around and tries to guess what is taped on their back by asking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions – e.g. am I under 50? Am I a musician? Am I still alive?
..........• Continue until almost everyone has guessed their identity or time runs out

Dictator's Wink
..........• Everyone sits in a circle with their eyes closed while the facilitator picks a ‘dictator’
..........• Everyone opens their eyes
..........• Whoever gets winked at by the dictator is automatically banished (make the banishment dramatic!)
..........• Those left try to guess who the dictator is as s/he continues winking at people
Variation: dictator handshake-people walk around room, shaking hands, and the dictator banishes by giving a little scratch when s/he shakes hands

..........• One person is the leader
..........• Leader shouts BOOM! And the group repeats
..........• Leader shouts BOOMACHICKABOOM! And the group repeats
..........• Leader shouts BOOMACHICKAROCKACHICKAROCKACHICKABOOM! And the group repeats
..........• Leader begins again, but in a different tone of voice. Repeat several times with different voices. Leaders can be rotated.

Spread the word
..........• Everyone sits in a circle
..........• One person thinks of a secret message and whispers it in the ear of the person next to them
..........• That person passes the message on to the next person, and so on
..........• The last person says the message out loud to see how close it is to the original

The Youth Say
..........• One person is the leader
..........• The rest of the group must obey the leader only when s/he gives a command that begins with “The Youth Say”, e.g “The Youth Say Jump”
..........• People who obey commands that don’t start with “The Youth Say” are ‘out’
..........• Last person out wins

Ruckus Makers
..........• Each individual picks a different noise or sound
..........• When the facilitator says GO, everyone begins making their noise
..........• Repeat a few times until the group is as loud as they can get

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More Information

..........Getting Unstuck: Common Problems in Meetings and Some Solutions by Randy Schutt
..........Facilitation: The Secret to Smooth, Synchronized Meetings by SEAC
..........Notes on Consensus Decision-Making by Randy Schutt
..........Consensus Is Not Unanimity: Making Decisions Cooperatively by Randy Schutt
..........Consensus Decision-Making Booklet by Jason Diceman

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The international student campaign to hold Dow accountable for Bhopal, and its other toxic legacies around the world.
For more information about the campaign, or for problems regarding this website, contact
Shana Ortman, the US Coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
Last updated: April 30, 2008


"The year 2003 was a special year in the history of the campaign for justice in Bhopal. It was the year when student and youth supporters from at least 30 campuses in the US and India took action against Dow Chemical or in support of the demands of the Bhopal survivors. As we enter the 20th year of the unfolding Bhopal disaster, we can, with your support, convey to Dow Chemical that the fight for justice in Bhopal is getting stronger and will continue till justice is done. We look forward to your continued support and good wishes, and hope that our joint struggle will pave the way for a just world free of the abuse of corporate power."

Signed/ Rasheeda Bi, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Employees Union
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal