As part of your public advocacy issues, a town hall meeting can be an important part of your arsenal. Scheduled around timely issues and hot media issues, a town hall meeting can help elevate a cause and cause it to go viral. Let's look at how to conduct a town hall meeting.
Medicaid cuts are a timeless issue. While perhaps more acute then in the past, states are grappling with funding and Medicaid can become a hot button issue. For nursing home operators for example, Medicaid funding cuts not only impact business but it also places caregivers and elders in jeopardy. To put a public face to it and curtail cuts, a town hall meeting could be the ideal venue.
Preparing for a Town Hall Meeting
- Form partnerships to plan and carry out a town meeting. For example, nursing homes facing Medicaid cuts might also face having to lay people off. Certainly labor unions might have a say in that and if your shop is unionized here is a particularly good way to strengthen relations around a cause. Unions are of course not the only obvious partners that come to mind.
- Pick partners that can bring something to the table, such as audio-visual equipment, videotaping capability, etc.
- Partners become integral members of your planning committee and together they will help plan, manage and promote the event.
- Research the issue and the demographics. For example, holding a town hall meeting in a part of town where mostly young, single people live will ring on deaf ears. However, holding a meeting on Medicaid cuts in a hospital auditorium in a demographic area full of boomers and seniors make sense.
- Identify your objectives. What do you want to accomplish? If you want to halt or reduce Medicaid cuts then you may want both state and federal representatives present to hear how this affect their constituents. If the end game is to have people sign a petition to have something put on a ballot, that takes on other dimensions that could involve the social media, mainstream media and the like. No matter what, there has to be a result that you want to happen.
Town Hall Logistics
- Select the Place
Location can set the tone for your meeting. Make it easy to access. Hospitals, community centers, universities and colleges, public libraries are examples. The venue can be symbolic to the cause as well so having it in a nursing home with residents in wheelchairs highly visible to the cameras can be compelling.
- Select the Date
The event date and time is important. Make sure the date does not conflict with other events and obvious occasions, celebrations, religious observances and sporting events.
- Determine the Format
Formats can vary depending on our goals. If you want to provide a briefing, a three- or four-person panel of experts and a moderator is good. Shoot for one hour to 90 minutes including Q&A.
A media roundtable is held exclusively for reporters. Again, have panelists with differing viewpoints and a moderator.
A policy panel has members of the community presenting to leaders, who receive testimony from residents. This may be the format you find yourself involved in most often, particularly if you want to meet legislators.
- Select a moderator. The moderator you select should be a well-respected community figure, skilled at facilitating.
- Schedule a rehearsal to prepare panelists.
Promoting a Town Hall Meeting
- Create a media list and target media that cover this issue. Larger media outlets will have reporters devoted to healthcare issues. Smaller media outlets will have a general reporter, typically someone who need to be brought up to speed on issues.
- Send out a press release. You may want to send one promoting the event to the community to draw attendance and another specifically for the media with the story angle and why this is an important issue to cover.
- Create press kits as needed. A kit could include the news release, a fact sheet with statistics, speakers’ biographies – essentially anything that will make it easier for the reporter to do his/her job.
- Assign volunteers to tasks.
- Set up the room - tables, chairs, podiums, AV equipment or visual displays.
- Have a sign-in table to collect names and contact information for everybody who attends. Have press kits available. Collect names and emails for future correspondence.
- Have a welcome and introduction by the host organization or planning committee.
- Begin the panel discussion with a brief introduction of the issues that will be discussed, a review of the format, and introductions of each panelist.
- After the presentations, the moderator begins the Q&A.
- Leave enough time after the completion for media interviews.
- Reconvene the planning committee involved to discuss the event.
- Obtain feedback from the panelists.
- Put together a summary of the panel discussion and the Q&A. Include clippings of any coverage your event received in newspapers, as well as scripts from any radio or TV coverage
- Develop an action plan. This could include policy recommendations, information dissemination or media outreach.
Whether a town hall you sponsor or one that you participate in, you can absolutely influence policy and do a great deal of good for your cause.