Here in the Anarchist Federation we sometimes joke that the revolution is 60% admin. Although some of the most beautiful examples of resistance have occurred ad- hoc and “of the moment”, you can sure that for almost every on going campaign, network and social movement there is a wave of meetings and bureaucracy that can be extremely daunting! Whether it’s the Paris Commune or The Free Territory there was no doubt, someone sat up all hours, drinking way too much wine, trying to compile the minutes from the last assembly.
Some of our members have put together three short lessons to help survive the burdens and duties of democratic and accountable organising! These are “living” guides which means you can expect them to grow and develop. If you’d like to contribute feel free to shoot your thoughts over to us at [email protected] and we’ll pass them on.
HOW TO HOLD A MEETING
Having meetings is important, unlike what some people think actions don’t “just happen”. They need a lot of organising. Meetings provide a way for us to do this as well as give us space for discussion. They’re also a great chance to see other people and to feel part of a wider network. Meeting face to face also avoids a lot of conflicts that happen over electronic communication as people can see others reaction more clearly and can respond instantly. There are lots of things to consider when setting up a meeting such as the time and place, who can make it? who does it exclude? Who will facilitate? etc.
Setting up the meeting
So your going to hold a meeting, great! You’ll want to work out where the meeting will be held and book it. Something to consider here is who can make it? Do you want to include as many people as possible, or specifically those most able to follow through on certain action points? Think about who you are excluding from the meeting by having it in a particular time and place, are those people from a more marginalised group?
A good way of working out what these requirements are is by having a poll or sending a text out to see what people would like to do. Ideally choose someone to co-ordinate this and be the main point of contact. The easiest thing to do is make sure that the next date is set at the end of the previous meeting. lots of groups meet at the same time and place on a regular schedule, making sure people have it in their diary.
Make sure the space is accessible. This can mean a lot of things, so it’s good to ask people what issues they may face. If most of you have kids it maybe good to have it at each others houses, rotating who does child care. If you live far away from each other somewhere central with good public transport is important. Somewhere free or cheap is important, not just for booking but also the cost of their food and drinks. It may also be important for your group to make sure there is wheelchair access or somewhere not serving alcohol is important. Finally, does the meeting need a lot of privacy? Somewhere quiet? Many a meeting has been spoilt by trying to hold it in a noisy cafe or pub.
Structure: some things to consider
Before the meeting an agenda should be set up; this is a list of things the meeting wants to talk about. The Agenda could be made by an email sent out or just a piece of paper passed around that people can add to. It can include reports back from people with different roles, report backs from other meetings and events. The agenda should include a section for “matters arising”; these are the action points from the last meeting, chasing people to make sure that they happened. It should also include things you want to talk about during the meeting and upcoming events.
At the start of a meeting, particularly If there is a lot of people who don’t know each other present then a go round of names and pronouns (he/she/they etc.) and any other thing that maybe relevant is pretty common. Some groups may do a member welfare round to see how everyone is doing and if the group can help with anything and also to announce their level of capacity for taking on new things. A facilitator and a minute taker should be appointed before the meeting starts, It is good to share these duties rather than them always landing on the same persons shoulders.
Sometimes it is useful to set allotted time slots to each point to be discussed and a meeting end time. If the meeting is going to be long you may want to include breaks and food. Try to keep on topic and leave drinking Alcohol till after the meeting!
HOW TO FACILITATE
The idea of facilitation is to ensure that no one controls the meeting and to ensure that everyone gets to share their thoughts and ideas. It is also the facilitators job to ensure that the meeting keeps to the time scheduled for it and does not run off topic. They need to help pin point proposals and make sure there are people to carry them out.
This just means taking note of who is next in order to speak, creating a “stack” of the those who want to chip in. Make it clear at the start of the meeting that people must put their hands up so that you know they want to talk. If a lot of people want to speak then it is useful to write it down on a piece of paper and cross them out after they have spoken. If someone hasn’t spoken yet, then their name goes to the top of the list. Remember to add yourself onto the list and not be left out. If people jump the stack you may want to cut them off and remind them to wait their turn.
Sometimes people have a direct answer to something that someone has asked, they may ask the facilitator, or put both hands up to show that they have a response. In big meetings it can be useful to split the role between two people, so that one person takes stack and another does the rest of the facilitation. If you notice some people haven’t spoken yet then you can jump the queue and ask if anyone who hasn’t spoken yet would like to speak.
Keeping Time and on Topic
Quite often people like to go off topic or like to talk about something in depth, or repeat what others may already have said. To make sure not too much of this happens, as facilitator, you can jump the stack order and remind people to stay on topic, what that topic is and how much time you have left.
If people seem interested in another topic which has come up you can suggest scheduling it for another time in the meeting or another day. It is OK for discussion to go off topic a bit as it brings new ideas and makes it feel more relaxed, this enables less confident people to talk too!.» It can be useful for the facilitator to set a time allowance at the start of the topic and ask someone to introduce it.
A lot of the time this time keeping is quite ad-hoc and “loose” this is OK but try not to stray too much least you end up talking about one thing for the entire meeting. Don’t be afraid to be a bit mercenary and keep things moving!
Proposals and action points
The facilitator can also help to find things within the conversation that can turn talk into actions. this could be anything from someone looking something up, organsing an event, contacting someone or a group, arranging travel etc. The facilitator can ask the group if someone is willing to take on the idea as an action point or to produce a proposal. This can help make sure that something actually happens. If no one is able to do it then it could be noted as an idea to come back to at a later time.
Facilitating a group can seem quite scary, but don’t worry. If you’re new to it then let people know and they can help you and be supportive. If you don’t want to facilitate any more during a meeting then let people know and someone else can take over. It is important to keep up facilitating meetings in order to let new people and for those who are less likely to be heard have a space to speak, so don’t give up on it! Also worth remembering that as facilitator, you aren’t in charge of the meeting and it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure the meeting runs smoothly. Share the load!
HOW TO TAKE MINUTES
Taking minutes in meetings is important. It archives what was discussed and allows others who couldn’t attend to know what was happening. It is there to help people remember what they were action pointed to do, and can help people be able to construct arguments outside of the meeting from what was discussed during it. The main things that need to be written down are the key discussion points, action points and who was there. When you take minutes it can mean that it is easier for you to be left out of conversation as your busy writing down what everyone else has to say. Try to let the facilitator know when you want to speak, It can also be difficult to keep up with the conversation, so feel free to tell everyone to stop for a bit until you are ready so that you can catch up.
These are what someone has said they would take on. This can be contacting someone, organising an event, writing a proposal etc. It is important that Action Points are clear in the minutes and who has said they would do them. Some useful ways of doing this are writing them on a separate line by themselves, writing AP next to them with the person’s name, and writing them in bold. Some people put them at the end of the minutes so that people can skip to the end to find what they said they would do.
It’s good practice for people who have been Action Pointed to do something write it down themselves as they are more likely to remember it and and it’s a good precaution incase it gets left out on the minutes by accident.
To get the basic points of what people say can be difficult. People like to ramble, especially as they try to formulate what they are saying. Different minute takers go about capturing the main points of a discussion in different ways. You may want to write down everything that was said during a meeting and then edit it later, or wait until someone finishes talking and write the main bits down. These are often written up as bullet points or short paragraphs. If you do not understand what someone said you can ask them to repeat their main points, feel free to speak out of turn for this! People may also ask the minute taker to write down a point that they want added and to repeat something from earlier.
It is the minute takers responsibility to get the minutes out as quickly as possible. The group should arrange before the end of the meeting how the notes should be sent out, e.g. they could be put up on a forum or sent by email. Make sure that everyone will have access to the minutes. It is important to make the minutes not too long and try to keep them nice and clear, otherwise people won’t read them.
It can be better to write minutes onto a laptop or computer as it is easier to edit. Some people write minutes directly into an email or onto the forum so they can send to minutes out at the end of the meeting. It can also be good to write the minutes onto an editable document such as Etherpad so that others can add in bits that were left out. If you are worried about taking minutes it can be easier to write down everything then ask someone else to help you to edit, this way you can learn what is important and what is not.
If the meeting has sensitive material then maybe leave out the names, sometimes leaving a initial or similar. Given the fact that we live in the age of government tracking via facial recognition and far right doxxing we highly recommend that if you share documents publicly them you removed everyone's name and if you share a photo remove the faces! Yes, even if your group is a nice and friendly one, security culture is a vital aspect to organising in a manner which is safe for everyone.
Finally, have fun and brew up some trouble! ■