Agendas, access and equality

Craig Freshley’s talking common sense again over on his Good Group Tips blog. This time he has words of advice on agenda setting. Amazing how such a simple concept as agreeing what to talk about can be so fraught with politics, power-plays and confusion! He writes:

“In principle, if we are a group of relative equals, deciding how we are going to spend our time together should be a group decision, or at least the group should decide the agenda-setting process. Further, every group member should understand the agenda-setting process and have access to it”

In that one short paragraph Craig’s put his finger on a number of important issues:

Firstly that agenda setting is an access issue as much as disabled access is, or having a hearing induction loop for the hearing impaired. It’s about letting people take part on an equal footing.

Secondly, if enough trust and accountability exists within the group then it’s fine to delegate the task of agenda setting to a working group, but the conditions in the group need to be right, and this needs to be agreed.

Thirdly, implied is that we often state we’re a group of “relative equals” (or indeed of equals, no relative about it), and yet in practice the way we set the agenda of a meeting gives the lie to that statement. An agenda set by a small number of people, an agenda set too quickly to allow for proper reflection, an agenda dictated by unrealistically short meeting lengths, an agenda only written on the chair’s notepad or with only a few copies printed…. all of these and more are obstacles to full participation, obstacles to equality and to access.

So at your next meeting consider who has set the agenda, and what that says about the power dynamics of your team, group or organisation – especially to those who didn’t have a chance to influence the agenda!