How to lead an equitable meeting

Meetings are one of the most consistent ways in which planners engage with communities. While the format of meetings has slightly evolved over time, many are still bound by conventions that focus on information sharing versus true community engagement. From the moment someone steps into a room (or in the past two years, a virtual “room”), planners must design spaces that signal belonging, by addressing people’s needs, supporting introverts and extroverts to speak, and addressing power imbalances that may be in the room.

When designing meetings, it is important to identify and flip orthodoxies around engagement practices, to recognize that different groups of people engage very differently, both in-person and online, and to maximize opportunities for building trust through transparency and accountability mechanisms. Meetings should be approached from a user experience perspective to ensure that equity-deserving groups find the event accessible and comfortable to participate in. The first step in this process is to identify the barriers that these groups encounter in participating in typical engagement meetings, and then find ways to address these barriers. The goal of engagement meetings should be to build consensus, work together, and manage oppressive or exclusionary viewpoints, as opposed to taking a ‘conflict resolution’ or ‘risk management’ approach.

Lessons Learned

  1. Identify the barriers that equity-deserving groups face when accessing and participating in public meetings
  2. Ensure that your engagement plan allows for multiple forms of engagement, with meetings (either in-person or online, or both) being one of many options 
  3. Focus on building consensus and working together
  4. Begin meetings with a discussion on the shared understanding of respect and equity



Flipping orthodoxies to design more inclusive meetings

This tool helps you understand how to shift the status quo by changing the experience, structures, and outcomes for all involved in a process.

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