Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three Ideas for Fixing Town Hall Meetings

Can you believe the video footage coming from these health care town hall meetings in the U.S.? There must be a lot of mothers out there wringing their hands or turning over in their graves. The heckling, rude comments, and outright rages are both embarrassing and counter-productive.

How can this situation be remedied? As a person who has been designing interactive meetings for long time, I have a few suggestions:

1. The only people who should be allowed in the room are people who have some level of familiarity with the health care bill that they are there to comment on. A summary of the key points of the bill should be put together by a bipartisan entity and made available online and in public libraries. An online test of some key points in the summary would be the entry "fee" -- you would get your ticket from a website where you took the test. (Note: Most public libraries provide access to the internet for those who don't have their own computers.)

2. Before any discussion at all begins, the entire group should be made aware of guidelines for behavior during the session. Any breach of these guidelines should result in immediate expulsion -- they've managed to do this in courtrooms for years.

3. Break into smaller groups! Leaving the whole group sitting opposite a lone figure on the stage makes for a mob environment. You can't have a real "conversation" between 1 person and hundreds of people.

A traditional Town Hall meeting is not necessarily the best format for an interactive discussion about a highly controversial topic. Reformating the meeting to include pre-work, small group interaction, interactive technologies and clear behavior guidelines would go a long way towards creating a much more civilized dialogue.

A terrific model for completely "remodeled" town hall meetings comes from a group called "America Speaks" -- you can learn more about it here...

If we bring more civility to these dialogues on health care, we can tap into the best thinking of well-informed citizens to solve one of the most important issues of our time.

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