Announce the meeting objective; usually it is "to choose the best way to (do whatever the problem-solving meeting objective was)." Create several criteria and ask the group to add to the list (but think of several more just in case!). Make a list on the board or the overhead and provide the list of alternatives as well, so attendees can see both at the same time. Putting a grid on the agenda solves this problem. Then ask the group to select five criteria to use in making this decision. Why five? The time frame for this meeting is 25 to 30 minutes, and five alternatives measured against five criteria is about all anyone can accomplish. The criteria can be selected by hand vote, by polling people selected from the group, by voice vote ”whatever method works.
When participants have supplied and selected the criteria they want to work with, have your Recorder put them in the grid. Ask people to write the criteria in the individual grids on the agenda, taking care to record the criteria in the right order ”one agreeing with the master grid. Then, reveal your meeting plan to the participants . They will appreciate knowing exactly what they are to do when in the plan.
If factions or constituents with different perspectives on the problem exist, consider forming these into small groups which could, of course, vote in their own best interests. For example, if you're considering how to reform the welfare system, recipients of welfare funds would have different views from middle-class taxpayers, and both should have a say in the solution. Some groups will cancel each other out with their voting, but that's expected. The alternative chosen by both groups may be truly good!
In the example of neglected adolescents, a leader could ask one small group to represent parents, one to represent preteens themselves , one to represent employers , one for the media, and one for sponsors of youth organizations. Encourage groups to keep their particular mindset in operation during their deliberations. For example, if you were a preteen, do you think your parents or parents in general would accept better school programs and scheduling? If you were a preteen, would you accept this? As a preteen, do you think schools would be open to offering different programs and schedules? As a preteen, compare the cost of change to the benefits you could see. How long do you think it would take?
The idea of representation here is to ensure that all sides are heard . Consider asking each group to make a position statement to the others prior to voting. To make this fun, give the preteens lollipops. Make headbands with wrinkles drawn on them to depict the furrowed brows of parents. Tee shirts or paper sashes with names of youth organizations, ties or hard hats (or paper replicas) for employers, and press cards or toy cameras for the media would add to the spirit of the discussion.
Through the Legend, tell the group what numbering system you are using. For example, is 1 good and 5 bad or is 5 good and 1 bad? Also tell them whether you are rating or ranking. Rating means you can put any number to any alternative and have as many 2s or 4s or 5s as needed to express strength of opinion. Ranking means you have to assign 1 to one alternative only and 5 to another and then fill in with 2, 3, and 4. Put this information on an overhead or the board, so folks don't get confused .
Once again, what you are doing is asking the participants to consider each alternative in light of each criteria and assigning a number to signify agreement- disagreement , acceptability-unacceptability, and so on. The numbers chosen represent the degree or strength of conviction concerning the alternative and criterion. If the plan is to divide into groups, give complete instructions to the whole group before anyone moves. Once chairs start scraping and people seek out other group members , leaders can be drowned out in the noise. Folks usually aren't listening anyway at that point.
NOW, start carrying out the plan for discussion and voting. Either divide into small groups or use ordinary group format or nominal groups and ask them to assign numbers to each alternative from the standpoint of each criterion. Remember to include a legend wherever the grid is displayed. (Pluses and minuses usually don't work well, since it's hard to add and subtract them.)
After groups have finished their work, you, your Facilitator, and/or your Recorder take the numbers each group has come up with and put them in a grid on an overhead transparency, a poster, a BIG sheet of paper, something the whole group can see easily. Use a Recorder and Facilitator in this meeting. Common procedure is to have Facilitator and Recorder take in the numbers while you listen for discrepancies, like when one group gives a 5 and another gives a 1. You should stop the action and ask what their thinking was, so all can understand why the numbers varied so. Number differences of more than three deserve discussion. Ask groups, after they've listened to others' thinking, whether they want to change their numbers. Sometimes participants get numbers confused or the group recorder makes an error, so make sure the group didn't make a mistake with numbering.
After all the shouting is over and the numbers are on the grid, ask the whole group to select the "winner." Then ask if this makes sense in terms of the original meeting objective. This step is not the equivalent of spitting in the wind! Sometimes numbers don't produce a logical choice. If this is true, ask if the group wants to consider another alternative or if they wish to combine some. If time permits , talk briefly about how to implement the alternative.
Summarize BRIEFLY the information meeting, the problem solving meeting, the meeting objective for this meeting and the alternative selected as winner. Then close the meeting. Put some artfulness or cleverness in this. It's your last chance to remind the group of the importance of the topic. Saying thanks and sitting down abruptly isn't "good theatre." Meeting leaders work long and hard to get to this point. Glory in it!
(Adapted, Lippincott, 1994, p. 118)
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