Wednesday, 5 June 2013

How to improve your District Meeting . . .

Based on long experience of attending District Meetings under various Commissioners, and hearing about other people’s meetings, I thought this might be helpful . . .

Only call everyone to a meeting if there is enough on the agenda to justify it: If there are things to be decided or discussed, then everyone should get their say. But don’t have a monthly meeting regardless – if there is little news, or just self-explanatory information to pass on, then emailing it or delivering notes may be a more efficient use of everyone’s time.

Choose the date, time and venue carefully: Think about what days/times people are usually free – especially those who often can’t attend. Ask what time of day suits – daytime, after school, early evening, late evening, weekend, holiday monday? Choose your venue to ensure accessibility – which includes physical accessibility for those with disabilities, access by public transport, not in ‘dodgy’ area, enough chairs to seat everyone, temperature suitable so people neither shiver nor melt, lack of background noise/interruptions, not pubs if some members will be underage/don't go into pubs for religious /cultural reasons, privacy to discuss matters if this is required. Unless everyone knows the venue well, mention where the bathrooms are!

Make sure everyone knows where the meeting is, when it is, and who’s invited: All the Leaders should be invited – not just the GiC of each unit – and particularly any new Guiders and anyone working on their Leadership Qualification. You might occasionally invite others too – the Chair of the local Trefoil Guild, the Chair of Friends of Guiding, a local Guiding Ambassador, for instance.

Introduce people: Make sure any newcomers are introduced to everyone, and if there is no-one they know, ask one of the experienced leaders to act as a ‘buddy’ for the evening.

Make use of the gathering: So you’ve got all the leaders in the area invited, some may be travelling a distance – how can you use the gathering? Trainings. You could ask a County Adviser to do a talk, arrange for a trainer to do a fireside session on a topic a group wants to cover. You could get one of the leaders to do a short talk on their section and it’s programme, so leaders from other sections get to know more. You could discuss local camp and holiday sites, their advantages and disadvantages. You could do a swop shop session among the units on things like crafts, campfire songs, games, etc – if each unit brings an idea, then people are sure to see new things, or things they had forgotten about. Have you a local expert who could teach campskills, nature lore, simple confectionery making, or whatever? Could you arrange a YL meeting or a Leadership Qualification book signing session? If you make turning up to the meeting worthwhile, people will want to come.

Plan your agenda carefully: If you have some things which are of interest to everyone, and some which only apply to those from one section, could you cover the universal items first, then let the majority leave if they wish, so they don’t have to sit through items of no relevance? It’s not to say that the Guide Guiders can’t contribute to planning the Rainbow Riot, or that Brownie Guiders aren’t interested in possible candidates for SS International Selection, but . . .

Make sure you have all the information you need ready to hand: I have been to meetings where the chair kept dotting back to previous agenda items as vital details sprang to mind. I have known chairs introduce a topic, then fail to find the page with the instructions, said they’d email a copy then didn’t, etc. Yes, we are all human, and papers can go astray, but if you start with your papers in order, and follow an agenda, it does make a real difference for the Leaders trying to take logical notes.

Consider deadlines: If something is going to reach it’s deadline before, or within a couple of days of the meeting, might it be better to email it to the Leaders now, rather than wait until the meeting? Old news is no news . . .

Discuss transitions and staffings: District meetings are the ideal time for Guiders from different sections to discuss the transition of girls from one section to the next. How many girls would like to move up to a unit, and what are the chances of them getting spaces? Has one unit got a vast waiting list while another is half-empty – might some of the girls on the waiting list be given the chance to join the unit with spaces? Is a unit going to be shorthanded, temporarily or long-term – maybe there is a leader would be interested in moving to fill the vacancy? Are any units interested in taking on a Rainbow Helper, Pack Leader, Young Leader or DofE Candidate? Is someone looking for camp/holiday staff for a forthcoming event, or someone wanting to gain experience before tackling qualifications? The opportunity of having leaders from all the units present makes it an ideal time to discuss these things.

Pass on everything!: Even if it’s just a headline – ‘County are organising a food hygiene training on the 27th – I’ve got details if anyone is interested’. Or providing useful extra information ‘If anyone fancies going to the Rainbow Training, Judith has spaces in her car’. If there are non-contentious things which are just for information, you could type out a sheet to hand out at the meeting or email rather than read it all out at the meeting. But please – don’t assume people won’t be interested in a thing – you might be surprised!

Cater: If you are having an early-evening meeting – could people bring packed teas, or could you meet in a cafĂ© or restaurant? Could you offer tea/coffee/juice, or even just water? Be aware of whether people might need sustenance, especially if people may be missing or bolting meals to attend!

Don’t forget the ‘car park’ time: Allow time at the end of the meeting for people who want to have a word with you – sometimes, this is the most important and valuable part of the meeting! People might want to arrange for you to do BP chats with the Guides, advise you that they are planning a camp or holiday, mention a problem which has arisen, hand over paperwork to you, etc, etc!

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