Public Forums are a great way to involve the public and to provide a space for democratic engagement.
They can be used as an open forum that gives the community a chance to have its voice heard. Alternatively, a public forum can feature a panel discussion or a keynote speaker.
Public Forums serve the purpose of informing the public - and of informing you.
A few points to keep in mind when running a public forum:
- Ensure you are holding one for the right reasons. Will a public forum establish what you want it to?
- Book your venue early and make sure it's an appropriate venue.
- Get a speaker. The key here is to find someone that you know is a good public speaker. If they're high profile as well they'll draw a bigger crowd and possibly some media, but the most important requirement is the ability to inspire a crowd.
- Advertise widely. The success of a public meeting will always be measured by its attendance.
- Keep costing in mind. How much does the room cost, and how many people do you realistically expect to attend?
- Make sure you have all the right equipment. Will you need an overhead projector? Will the software you are using be compatible with the equipment at the venue?
- Establish the format of the discussion. Will it just be questions from the floor, or will it be a panel discussion?
- Be specific and stay on point. It's always best to have a fairly narrowly defined topic that can be fully explored.
- Keep to the allocated time. This is where a good moderator comes in.
- Allow questions from the floor and discussion. This way the discussion is much more democratic and rewarding.
- Moderate questions if necessary. Ensure that questions are asked, not statements made.
- At the end of the meeting be sure to provide some concluding remarks and let people know if you'll be holding another public forum soon, or what the next step will be.
- Public Forums are also a good place for recruitment, so make sure you get everyone's email address and see if anyone there wants to volunteer for your organisation.