Any community experiences the problem that lack of engagement causes. It’s vital that community members are engaged in the decisions and activities of a community because it directly affects them. Those in charge of making decisions for a community and running town hall meetings often run into the issue of residents not showing up to meetings, but then being incredibly unhappy with new changes, even though civic leaders gave them ample opportunities to provide feedback during public meetings. So, how are community leaders to fix this lack of engagement? Here are some tangible suggestions for encouraging community members to actually get involved in town hall meetings and provide their feedback.
Plan the event well
A big issue with many town hall meetings is that they aren’t well-planned. Instead of throwing together a few talking points knowing few people will attend, make the effort and plan a quality meeting. Create slides or a presentation you can use, even if there’s a dozen people in attendance. Practice your talking points and anticipate any questions that may arise. Also consider offering refreshments at the event; more people will come if they know there’s food.
Community members often criticize community leaders for not adequately communicating with them. Provide people with various opportunities to talk to leaders, whether it’s through specific public hours at the office, online resources, or an open floor at the town hall meeting. Make sure community members know they’re encouraged to offer their opinions and be open to feedback, even if it’s harsh or negative.
Publicize the event
One of the reasons more people do not attend town hall meetings is simply because they do not realize they’re happening. Make the effort to actually publicize the event; post on the neighborhood website, share on the community Facebook page, and post flyers around town. You can even send a flyer to each home in the mail. Making the meeting as public as possible encourages more people to attend.
Offer participation opportunities
Far too few people are afraid to take leadership roles in their communities; this attitude needs to change. Highlight ways community members can help out. Offer volunteer opportunities or ask for help on certain projects. Make it clear you want community members to participate in decisions and discusses. Even encourage more people to run for public office, especially if they want to see change in the community.
Send out other forms of feedback
It’s vitally important to remember that there are lots of community members who simply cannot make the town hall meeting. Maybe they’re confined to their homes because of a medical issue or lack transportation to the meeting. Some people may work various shifts that make it impossible for them to attend a single meeting. Others may have too many responsibilities in the evening to take time to attend meetings. Make sure you provide surveys, in the mail or online, that allow all community members to offer feedback.