Town Halls

The following general guidelines provide an overview of best practice approaches to preparing for a town hall-style meeting in your department.

Before the Town Hall 

  • Agree the purpose of a town hall event with department leadership, relevant populations within your department and, if applicable, the climate committee within your department.  Clearly define the scope of the conversations.
  • Determine the audience and size of the event.  For groups of 20 people or less a dialogue/conversation format may be more appropriate.  For groups of over 20 people a more structured approach may yield better results.  
  • Identify an appropriate facilitator who is briefed on relevant context within your academic unit. It may be useful to maintain a list of people who might be called upon to serve as facilitators.  Be sure to always offer remuneration to facilitators for their time and preparation.
  • Ensure that all Town Hall events are fully accessible and that accommodations are organized in advance to ensure that all can participate.  This may involve selected a fully accessible location or hosting your Town Hall online.  Sign language interpreters may enhance the experience for the hard of hearing.  If making any kind of visual presentation, ensure that the display is vetted for accessibility in advance.
  • Encourage attendees to submit questions ahead of time. For example, create a place on your website where people can submit topics for discussion.

During the Meeting 

  • Begin by welcoming attendees and clearly framing the issue(s) at hand, the scope of the event, the time limitations and the format for participating in the discussion.  If your academic unit has affirmed DEI-related statements, share them at the beginning of the Town Hall. 
  • If you notice common themes among the questions submitted in advance, open the meeting by stating these themes so all attendees are aware.
  • The facilitator should agree “ground rules” before discussing the theme of the Town Hall so all attendees are clear on how respect will be maintained within the time limits allowed.  The facilitator should make efforts to ensure quieter voices have a chance to participate if they wish. 
  • Do not record Town Hall events (unless agreed in the preparation stages) and ask participants to refrain from recording the event. Do take notes, however, in preparation for appropriate follow up.
  • Don’t use a town hall as a platform to promote an academic unit’s initiatives or progress on DEI-related issues.  It is fine to share opportunities and initiatives, but if that is not the agreed goal of the session, then ensure that this is not the focus of the town hall.
  • Note about neutrality: Being neutral is often supporting the position of oppression. 
  • If a topic requires a more in-depth discussion, offer to schedule another Town Hall while also inviting willing participants to a dialogue session in advance of the next Town Hall. 
  • When preparing to host a town hall, be ready to be transparent and open to accept criticism. 
  • In the opening and the closing, thank your participants for their time and candor - it takes courage to share openly!

After the Meeting

  • Create a shared document in the cloud, accessible by your academic unit’s members, for people to continue asking questions and providing feedback.
  • Thank participants for their time participating in the conversation in a follow-up email sent shortly after the Town Hall.
  • Craft a post-event survey to respondents to determine what worked well and how future Town Hall meetings can be improved.
  • Communicate when ideas from the meeting are implemented. 
  • Reach out to the Provost’s Office for advice on further follow-up.