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Structure, Format, and Meeting Design

While logistical aspects and content development require different types of thinking, they are related and should be planned and coordinated in tandem for the most success and to meet the goals of the event. Developing agendas and considering the use of space are key for executing inclusive Dialogue & Deliberation programming and reaching a range of audiences. The design and execution of the event must be conducive to reaching a diversity of audiences if the event is to be inclusive and representative.

For designing the meeting logistics, organizers should consider accessibility across multiple areas (see also). Organizers might ask themselves:

  1. Who are the participants/main audiences that organizers are trying to engage? What backgrounds, geographic locations, education levels, professional positions, ages, etc. are the organizers trying to bring into the room? 
  2. How can these audiences be reached? (e.g., making contact through community organizations, connections, and partners or identifying listservs for sharing information/events.) 
  3. What is the information participants need for the meeting to be successful? This includes thinking logistically to ensure participants are able to arrive, as well as considering necessary materials (e.g., issue guides) for participants to join the meeting prepared and able to participate fully.
  4. Where is the meeting being held? Is it accessible by public transportation, walking paths, biking paths, etc.? Is the meeting venue accessible for people with disabilities? Is the meeting being held on virtual platforms? If so, what equipment and materials will participants need? 
  5. When is the meeting being held? Is it during work hours? Is it in the evening, when many parents need to be home taking care of children? If so, can childcare be accommodated? 

Co-developing agendas and materials with designated community partners will better position organizers to design Dialogue & Deliberation events that are relevant for the participants. For example, community partners may have stronger insight into what kinds of information should be included in any learning materials or issue guides, based on their connection to the community and knowledge of what the level of understanding is within the community. They may also be able to provide more insight on, logistically, what types of considerations should be in place for community members they represent, including considerations related to transportation and accessibility. 

When it comes to designing the meeting agenda, content, and materials to enhance meeting productivity and success, the considerations related to logistics will come into play from a different lens. According to one study, which analyzed successful elements of deliberative platforms, there are five key considerations: 

  1. the selection of participants relevant to the topic and conducive to positive interactions, 
  2. openness as an attitude in both organizers and participants,
  3. facilitation of interactions and the role of the facilitator, 
  4. communication and transparency between organizers and participants, and 
  5. fostering dialogue between participants through various means

While much of this must be accomplished through strong facilitation during the meeting (read more here), elements in the meeting design, structure, and preparation phase will enable more successful facilitation and thus more successful outcomes as well. For example, the agenda should be built to accommodate the needs of the expected participants and target audiences and should provide multiple ways for participants to engage and interact with each other and with the organizers. 

In a guide for effective community engagement, developed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they recommend thinking about the letters “OPQRST” (Order & Objective; Process; Question; Recording; Supplies; Timing) when developing agenda components. Similar considerations could be useful for organizers in planning agendas for Dialogue & Deliberation. In addition—and tying back to the logistical aspect—facilitation will be more successful if the meeting is designed with the environment in mind. For example, the space should be comfortable and inclusive for participants to feel safe, at ease, and able to participate and interact with others. This includes considering the use of the physical space as well, such as seating arrangements and provisions like water and food, among other considerations. Other ways to promote comfort include beginning with introductions and icebreakers to build trust and setting ground rules for the conversation (see also).

Materials provided, such as issue guides and framing documents, should be accessible to a wide range of participants, meaning the language and information included should be easy to comprehend for a range of expertise and educational levels. In compiling such materials, including information that may seem obvious or common sense to organizers will be essential, as this assumption may not be true in reality for the audiences being engaged in the work. Materials developed should not require significant study time or research, but should lay bare the key information needed for the participants to be able to effectively engage and participate in the discussion.

Key Resources

These resources offer additional guidance and tools to support event organizers in thinking about accessibility and accommodations to help participants meaningfully participate in collaborative programs.

This paper discusses the findings of the Nano & Society effort, which engaged hundreds of museums and universities in public-engagement efforts about nanotechnologies. This resource includes considerations and suggestions for effective meeting design strategies. View resource.

Involve is a UK-based organization which seeks to support groups—such as the government, universities and academics, civil society, and more—in the delivery of public participation and engagement processes to improve democratic decision-making. See “Final Design” for key considerations concerning decisions about timing, numbers, costs, techniques, use of results etc. View resource.

While this UK-based organization is focused on supporting universities in public engagement, several of its guides, tools, and frameworks provide practical advice for collaborating with communities that is transferable to the museum context. In particular, see “How to Facilitate Deliberative Engagement.” View resource.

This guide is aimed at helping staff at informal science education organizations develop, implement, and evaluate activities incorporating public dialogue and mutual learning strategies. Chapter 3, “Planning and designing a public engagement event” offers specific ideas for structuring Dialogue & Deliberation events as well as key resources to consider when planning. View resource.

Sciencewise, a public-engagement program led by UK Research & Innovation, supports government bodies in commissioning public dialogue on various scientific topics and priority areas. Their online tools include a project library of past events as well as guidance for selection online platforms for virtual Dialogue & Deliberation programs. View resource.