How to Create an Agenda – Part 1

Careful agenda-setting is an essential element in preparing for a good meeting, and often an area where a little effort can make big improvements in meetings and community relationships.

Agenda creation includes two distinct parts:

1.       Choosing the topics to be discussed.

2.       Determining how those topics will be addressed. 

I’ll address them separately, though there is often interplay between the two around the time and energy needed for the various topics. 

Part 1 – Choosing Topics

Topic selection may seem like a fairly administrative task, simply gathering input and typing it into a document. What many people don’t notice at first is that this role carries with it a great deal of power and influence in the community. Doing it fairly and well is essential for both efficient meetings and trust within a community. For this reason every community should have an agreed process for topic selection.  It should include:

  •  Who selects topics for the agenda?
    • For smaller team meetings (Finance team, for example) it might be the team lead or facilitator who chooses the topics. 
    • For plenary, or full community meetings, it is best to have a small group assigned to this task. Ideally the group includes representation from the various teams that may need to bring items to the meeting. For this reason a steering committee is sometimes chosen.  Other times a team is formed specifically for this task. 
    • Some communities have their facilitation team set the agenda. There are two reasons this is not ideal: First, both facilitation and agenda-setting are positions that hold power and it is better to diversify that power. Second, the two tasks are different and require different skill sets. It is likely that the best facilitators and the best agenda setters are not entirely the same people. 
  • Criteria for getting on the agenda, such as
    •  A topic must be ready for this kind of meeting. Is the needed information gathered? Is there conflict around the topic that would be better handled in a smaller group first?
    •  A topic must be in the domain of the plenary, ie. It must not be something that falls under the authority of a committee or smaller circle.  Generally topics that fall under another committee may be brought to a plenary meeting if meeting with the committee does not result in resolution. 
    •  A topic must fit within the intent of the meeting. For example, if a meeting is designated for only budget items, a conversation about people parking in the wrong places does not fit.
  • Criteria for selecting between possible topics when there is not time for all, which might include:
    •  Urgency
    • Time a topic has been waiting for a hearing
    • How a topic fits with other topics already slated
    • Whether a topic is part of a previous community agreement, such as an agreement to review a topic on a particular date
    •  Availability of a facilitator with the skill and willingness to facilitate the topic well
    • Availability of key players related to the topic to attend the meeting
  • Cautions
    • It is important to track topics that have been requested for attention at plenary in an “agenda bin” or similar document.
    • Do not assume that because a topic has been postponed and no one is repeating the request that the topic is no longer needed.  Always check back with the person(s) who brought the request to begin with. People tend to get upset if patience is mistaken for resolution.
    • On the other hand, do not put a topic on the agenda simply because it has been in the agenda bin for a long time. If the topic is no longer “live” in the community or has been resolved in some other way, it is not a good use of plenary time to address it, and it may rekindle bad feelings. 
    • Do not let the loudest voice determine the priority for the agenda. Use your criteria.
    • On the other hand, if a community member is persistent in requesting time on the agenda, refusing them will generally do more harm than good.  If the requester has followed reasonable steps to resolve their issue within agreed process and still feels unresolved, it may be necessary for the community to take time as a full community to work through it. Failing to resolve the issue can result in bad feelings that may persist for many years and are very costly to the community as a whole.  

Always remember that the reason for having meetings in the first place is to live in community together. Keeping a spirit of collaboration and connection is the most important factor of all.  

Category: Meetings

Tags: agenda, criteria, Facilitation, meetings

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