The Participation Blog

Family Holidays can be like Public Meetings!

Public MeetingWhew! The holidays are behind me. As I reflect on the past several weeks, I realize that preparing for a house full of family around the holidays is a lot like preparing for a public meeting.

Anticipation. We all know that the actual time needed for planning and designing a public workshop or meeting is at least twice as much as the amount of time to actually conduct the meeting. A few months out, I began the process of coaxing my family to get their flight reservations made and to let us know arrival and departure dates. I asked for ideas as to what people would like to do while here. I began to go through my mom’s recipes, create menus, and make shopping lists. I was expecting 8 family members and 2 dogs coming from 4 states across 12 days!

Logistics. Since I have only one extra bed, housing needed to be found for most. Some were flying in and some were driving. All would overlap for only 3 nights. Can I find a place for everyone to sleep comfortably that is nearby? What will it cost if I have to put some up in a hotel? Just as for a public meeting, the venue needs to be carefully selected. Is it accessible for those who don’t drive, is it large enough, how soon can we get in to set up, what is the cost, is the location convenient for those expected to participate?

Meeting Design and Agenda. For a public meeting, it is very important that the objective of the meeting be clearly articulated. What does the convener hope to accomplish? What will he/she do with the information/input that is received? What does the public need? Why should they participate? How can their needs be met? What is the best format to meet these objectives?

With my family, some wanted to see snow, others wanted to hike, some wanted to go to a museum, others wanted to see the new Star Wars movie. Is there an event that we all would enjoy? Are there specific events that might appeal to some but not others, what about family traditions?

I asked for input and then tried (without complete success) to design the time to meet most all needs. On the last night, my 14 year old granddaughter had a slight melt down, saying that she never got to do what she wanted to do. After a bit of negotiation, we played her favorite board game until neither of us could keep our eyes open.

Ground rules. Public meetings always have a few ground rules or guidelines as to how everyone should conduct themselves. With my family, we needed to set some loving ground rules. The big one – No discussion about politics! Like many families, we have deep differences in political views. Rather than risk unpleasantness around the Christmas dinner table, we all agreed that there would be no talk of the recent Presidential election.

As I reflect on the family time over the holidays, I believe it went incredibly well. The detailed planning and anticipation really helped when we needed to shift gears or avoid meltdowns. Just as with a good public meeting, objectives were met, all participated, and we learned some things that we can put to good use for the next holiday family gathering.


Author: Marty Rozelle