How Town Hall Meetings Got It Wrong

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Too bad. Town hall meetings are part of the history and myth of what America is.  The town hall meetings we saw this past summer were a disgrace to what that forum could be. As Carolyn Lukensmeyer, founder of AmericaSpeaks said to The Washington Post, ” “faux town hall meetings that aren’t anything about deliberation. . . . People are coming in advocating the answer, they’re not coming in to learn anything about the options”  (WP 8/15/09)

Oddly enough, corporate town hall meetings tend to be the bizarro mirror images of those finger-pointing town halls of August. These meetings are often polite – way too polite – where little of substance is talked about. Or when a real issue does get mentioned, some executive gives a 15 minute response filled with platitudes, run-on sentences, and paragraphs until most listeners cry “uncle” and tune out.

We can do much better. Carolyn’s group holds meetings for hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, where they can engage in dialogue (that means the structure allows and encourages listening, and building on the ideas of others).

Creators of large systems change processes have developed ingenious ways to encourage dialogue and collaboration. (Take FutureSearch or Real Time Strategic Change as just two examples.)

So proven models for civil discourse are already out there, and all we have to do is use them.