Following the tsunami in December 2004 there was a massive and sudden arrival of volunteers and non-government organisations into affected areas. People needed to link closely with local and government agencies and a 'tsunami' of meetings was set up. Some meetings had unclear objectives, others were uncertain of the participant list or who should initiate the assembly; yet others were hampered by the damaged infrastructure and communicating systems.
So this publication was produced to provide meeting protocols and guidelines.
Meetings are a normal, everyday part of humanitarian life. Many of us have experienced coming away from a meeting with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, without necessarily knowing why the meeting was successful. Perhaps all of us at sometime remember leaving a meeting with feelings of anger and frustration, wondering what could have been done to have produced a better outcome.
These guidelines are intended to help relative beginners to meetings management avoid some of the pitfalls, to present some best practices, and to help experienced chairpersons, administrators and recorders of minutes do an even better job. Participants should also be able to gain more from formal meetings, and to help the process towards a successful outcome.
Formal meetings take place when people agree to meet for a specific purpose in a set place at a specific time. Such meetings deal with formal agenda items in a systematic manner. But participants and meeting officials may also have their own hidden agendas, perhaps hoping to take the opportunity to air ideas not necessarily related to the matters intended for discussion. These hidden agendas can be legitimate or illegitimate and chairpersons will need to be aware of these possibilities while attempting to complete the formal agenda on time.
Meetings may be arranged for several reasons of which the following list includes some, but not necessarily all, of the main ones:
- To exchange or discuss ideas
- To inform or raise awareness
- To negotiate positions
- To solve problems
- To cover or review a range of different routine issues
- To plan a future activity
- To welcome and introduce new staff/visitors, build relationships, review progress; discuss budgets, strategies, domestic arrangements, outcomes, and planning, and to finalise decision-making processes
Meetings may range from a small group of staff that meet regularly and frequently, to many hundreds of people attending an annual general meeting for the main purpose of receiving progress reports, and electing officials. Similar guidelines can be applied to both of these situations. However, it is important to determine at the earliest stage of planning, whether a meeting is really necessary at all. Potential costs (money, people’s time) may indicate that objectives can be reached adequately by the use of a chat in the corridor, a circulated document or a telephone conference.