Fairness Commission shows how not to run a meeting

By - Monday 16th March, 2015

After initial hopes, Robert Ward was unimpressed by the first meeting of Croydon’s new Fairness Commission

Photo public domain.

Billed as the opportunity to “join the conversation” and to tell them “what you think of Fieldway, New Addington and Croydon”, the first public information gathering meeting of the Croydon Opportunity and Fairness Commission was held in New Addington. Lead by the Commission Chair, the Bishop of Croydon, and supported by several Commissioners, a team of administration staff and various others, it was a demonstration of how not to run a meeting.

Good meeting management starts from clarity of purpose – what are we all there for. The billing was all about getting input from the people of New Addington so one would assume that was the intention. The reality of one hour and ten minutes of being lectured to by the commission, various voluntary groups and others, during which questions were discouraged, didn’t feel like that. A photographer snapping away added an unwelcome dash of photo opportunity.

The brief ten minute discussion in separate groups eventually involved the people of New Addington. Since there had been no indication beforehand that there was to be a discussion, they were unprepared, so asked to answer three questions in ten minutes their input was unsurprisingly limited. A member of the commission support team dutifully scribbled down a few words on what is good about New Addington, what is not and ideas for improvement, and the discussion was done.

What might have been achieved was clearly secondary to being done by the scheduled time

We ended with a couple of reluctantly permitted questions and the bishop announced triumphantly that we had finished on time. What might have been achieved was clearly secondary to being done by the scheduled time. Several of the presenters had left by then anyway.

What should have happened? Given that I am still not sure what the real purpose of the meeting was, I am somewhat at a loss to know. Explaining the commission, showing what was going on already in the community, seeking quality input, engaging the community, publicity for the commission, or some combination of these or something else, I know not.

Leaving that aside, how should the meeting have been run? Firstly a facilitator is needed. Surely the consultancy that has been hired should have been doing that? The bishop tried to fulfil the role, but he came across as peevish when questioned and was completely ignored on occasion, resorting to prolonged shushing at one point. The basics of a fire safety explanation, agenda review and the likes of the location of the toilets did not happen.

There are people paid to make the commission a success

Meeting management should have recognised the possibility of a late start or people over-running their allocated time. Leaving someone out or planning on an over-run were a couple of options. If in doubt, recognise the possibility early and ask the meeting. Perhaps the plan was just to squeeze the discussion time. If so we were there under false pretences given the published intention.

The mechanics of the process also need improvement. Video clips were included but the sound quality was poor and the meeting flow was disrupted by their stuttering inclusion. Whether they needed to be there at all was not clear to me.

I could go on, but somewhere amongst the £200,000 being spent there are people paid to make the commission a success. They need to learn from this and come back with a better organised process. Getting it so wrong the first time is poor, not learning from it would be, well, a lost opportunity and unfair to the people of Croydon.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager, started work on the railway but most of career in oil exploration and production. For the last fifteen years specialised in helping businesses improve their performance. Conservative Party candidate to represent Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Stephen Giles

    Which all goes to show that this fairness commission is a complete and utter waste of tax payers’ money.

  • Anne Giles

    I never understand what this fairness commission was supposed to achieve, anyway.

  • Sean Creighton

    Robert’s assessment complements the report on the Croydon Communities website. On the issue of how public meetings can be organised on a better basis see my blog posting http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/building-up-confidence-at-public.html

  • David Callam

    I’ve taken part in Croydon Council consultation sessions on occasions over the past decade or so.
    They were all studied excercises in control freakery with a determination not to allow questions from the floor because they are much too unpredictable.
    It sounds like this was yet another example of hear-nothing, see-nothing, say-nothing, learn-nothing consultation that the council will nonetheless use to justify driving through its own ideas, no matter how inappropriate.