Explain the ground rules and meeting structure
The facilitator should explain the meeting ground rules at the beginning—how the meeting will be structured, how much time will be devoted to what.
Review the difference between voting and consensus
Explain the difference between a majority vote and coming to consensus as the sense of the meeting. A senior League member or board member can help the facilitator explain. The time devoted to this will depend on the experience of the members participating.
The role of the discussion leader/facilitator is to make sure that:
- everyone has a copy of the agenda/program and knows what to expect,
- meeting format and ground rules are understood up front,
- members understand they have a role in the meeting/consensus, and
- everyone stays on track until the day’s goal is met.
Define the recorder’s role
The recorder should be at the front of the room in clear view of the members participating. It is best to record on large easel paper that can be viewed by everyone. After each question, check back with the participants to make sure the consensus of the room is captured before you move on. After each section, make notes to include in the comments sections of the consensus report. Remember, these are limited to 200 words or less in each comment box. Comments are optional, not required.
Review state and local positions
Facilitators and presenters should be knowledgeable of any state and local agriculture positions and present any possible conflicts up front.
Ask the group’s help in keeping on topic
People will usually cooperate if they understand why you must ask them to keep their comments focused. A “Parking Lot” easel sheet is often helpful so they do not feel ignored. The focus should be on what government can do about the issues, since that is the focus of League positions and advocacy. Explaining up front encourages positive peer pressure.
Make sure everyone understands the materials presented
Encourage people to ask questions when they do not understand something. This material is often complicated and the language may be unfamiliar. Including the glossary in the handouts as a reminder of what terms mean, may be helpful. Asking for raised hands, when material is unclear, can help assure everyone is included.
How to handle “breaking news”
Many of the issues we are discussing are currently in the news, both nationally and locally. These may distract from the work of the consensus meeting(s). Events may happen the morning of your meeting. If you are aware of them, present them up front before starting the discussion. Explain that these events or current legislation, however interesting, are not a part of the consensus process because League positions are intended to provide a long-term basis for advocacy. Acknowledge the concerns and move them to the “parking lot” for discussion at another time. This is the role of the local study committee.
If you have a “talkative group”
You know your League. If they like to talk, have trouble keeping focused, or have a lot of opinions, it may be useful to have a timed agenda and a time-keeper to assist the facilitator.
The importance of the end of the meeting review
It is important to allow ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the meeting for the recorder to review the notes and reaffirm the sense of the meeting. This is reassuring to everyone that his/her thoughts have been heard.