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Before going about planning and organising a public meeting, it is important to have a good idea about what the purpose of the meeting is. Some possible objectives and types of meeting include:

Generating ideas and initiating a project. What better way to gauge interest and capture ideas than to invite the community to come together for a public meeting about a potential new project? Many community projects start out this way, and you don’t need an existing group or any particular ideas in mind at this stage – just an open mind is all it takes to make it feasible and worthwhile!

Fundraising and share offer. Communicating your message face-to-face with the community is the perfect way to build confidence in and support for your project in order to assist fundraising activity and to kick off a share offer. Public meetings provide the opportunity to explain what funds are required for, how the money will be used and the benefits that will accrue if people invest in the project.

Feedback and updating on progress. If your project exists for the benefit of the community as a whole, you need to communicate to them what those benefits are and how they are being achieved. Keeping people informed about what has been happening and current activities can help build awareness and support for your project, and if you demonstrate how exciting, inclusive and fun it is, those who attend may be inspired to get more involved.

Consultation and decision-making. Along a similar vein, if your project is intended to be run by the community for the community, it is important that local people have a platform through which they can be consulted and can input into decision-making. This could be in the form of contributing ideas during brainstorming sessions or a more formal voting process for key decisions. The benefits of this are two-way: the community will value having their points taken on board, and your group will gain from good ideas or issues raised which might otherwise not have been considered – the community are a vital source of local knowledge and it is in your interest to tap into this resource!

Recruiting and reaching out to new people. If the objective of your public meeting is to reach out to new people, to promote diversity and to recruit new supporters and volunteers, you need to really think about what will appeal to different groups and what might prevent them from attending. The format of your meeting and the activities and exercises you incorporate will affect who the meeting appeals to and is attended by.

Case Studies
Country: Ireland

Iona and District Resident’s Association (IDRA) helped Dublin’s energy agency Codema to deliver an Energy Smart Community project in the Glasnevin/Drumcondra area of Dublin. Between 2009-2010, a very successful pilot Energy Smart Community was ran which allowed homeowners to join together with their local community to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, while availing of energy-saving grants from the Irish government. The principle behind this project was to bring homeowners together in a ‘cluster’ to help them save money on their overall energy bills while taking advantage of the environmental and social benefits for the community. In forming this pilot cluster, partnerships were formed with the local credit union, the local Bank of Ireland branch and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). IDRA was very proactive in spreading the news about the scheme and helped to arrange for key partners to present at a public meeting to inform local residents of how they could benefit from the scheme. At the local meetings, SEAI provided information on government grants available for retrofitting and the local bank and credit union talked about payment options to finance these works.

Country: UK

Sustainable Charlbury used public meetings to collect feedback from the community about their solar farm proposal. During the meetings, they explained the proposals and the likely financial returns for investors and the wider community.  They also used the opportunity to feed back the results from their community survey, meetings with stakeholders, and the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment and feasibility study. The community was then invited to participate in an extensive discussion of the site design and visual impact, community benefit and business model, and also to discuss the planning application process.

Country: UK

The Big Lemon was initiated as a result of an informal public meeting in a pub. A group of local people got together to explore ideas for a community bus company as a response to rises in local bus fares. It was the first time most of the people in the room had met each other, having been invited by posters and an article in the local paper, and the group included community activists, businesspeople, bus drivers, pensioners, local politicians, residents and a few journalists. It was an interesting and fruitful discussion, and by the end of the evening there was a plan. There was even an offer from one of the bus drivers in the room to drive the first day of service for nothing!

Source: Community-Led Transport Initiatives action pack

Country: UK

Brighton Energy Co-operative launched their pioneer share offer and main share offer at public meetings. They used the opportunity to explain the broader concepts of community ownership and organisational models which underpin the initiative, as well as outlining the business plan, financial model and progress to date. Email addresses collected at the meetings form the basis of their email list which has proved to be the cornerstone of their cash-raising activities.

Source: Community-Led Photovoltaic Initiatives action pack