I created a set a cards to help the facilitator of a large meeting conduct it in an orderly way. It also helps cut through a little bit of the idle off topic chatter that can quickly derail a meeting.
I first heard about speaking cards from the Co-housing Handbook by Chris & Kelly ScottHanson and then later it was introduced in a scenario at the Sustainable Settlements and Eco-villages course at Djanbung Gardens with Robyn Francis.
Using the Cards
Each card has two functions. Firstly during the discussion about the motion it allows the chairperson to moderate the flow of people’s contributions based on the quality of what the person has to say and it’s relevance with a non-verbal cue.
For the next stage of the motion when it comes time to vote it allows people to quickly direct their preference with greater fidelity than a For/Against show of hands. If it is fully integrated then peoples level of acceptance or denial can be recorded quickly based on the colours.
Applying the Tool
I was experiencing some unruly meetings and thought that this might give people a bit more of a pause before they spoke. I printed out enough copies onto the relevant coloured card and then put each in an envelope.
I introduced the cards to the group at the start of the meeting and explained that I wanted us to try and use them so that everyone could be heard and the important matters of the day could be dealt with, there was some hesitation and reluctance. Some people didn’t even look at their set. Enough people were co-operative though.
This is the first time something like this has been introduced and these community meetings had been running for a very long time. However all could agree that there was some dysfunction.
The chairperson started the formalities of the meeting and after a short while the usual off-topic banter started up.
There was a return to order and then something new happened.
A shareholder who I had never heard speak at meetings took her red card and held it up, she was given the floor. She told the meeting how she felt unsafe and unable to speak and contribute at the meetings because of aggressive behaviour from some of the others, she said how her friends didn’t even come to the meetings anymore for the same reasons. The meeting was silenced as everyone took in her words and then slowly there was an acknowledgment of what she was saying, other shareholders offered her support and the whole level of communication changed.
Despite this early success, when it came time around for the next meeting the cards were refused by some, and taken but not used by others. This is a new kind of protocol and I felt without the support of group and the chair to carry it forward and insist on it’s application I was going to struggle to see it become part of the accepted protocol.
It is a shame really and I look forward to using the tools in a newer group that is still forming and open to the new.
I have made the cards on a 3×3 grid for an A4 page. They are intended to be printed on a coloured cardboard (then laminated ideally) using the front and back images. Although, once the group is familiar with them, the colour should be enough.