I have just facilitated a training session with a Chairman and Deputy Chairman of a local Council in the UK together with the Head of Legal Services. It was to support them in being more effective in running Full Council as new in their roles. For anyone who knows about these things, Full Council is an extremely important function of local democracy in action.
I worked in local government in the past and have a grounding in how it works and an understanding of working in a political environment. I put this experience and knowledge to good use in providing regular training for people working in local government now who need to learn and understand the skills they need to work effectively with elected members.
This session with my recent client has now become an additional training offer I provide as a coaching based activity where we use real life council meeting scenarios and procedures to improve learning and understanding of the complex responsibilities and actions of a Chairman. It was a lesson in remembering that the role of a Chairman in a local authority is distinct and extremely important for the democratic process, for transparency and accountability. It requires someone who is great at the process as well as the protocols and structures needed for running a meeting and controlling a very large group of people, in this instance around 30.
A Council operates under a Constitution, so the main thrust of our session was to extract a section on how Council meetings must be chaired - and of course they are always in public - and use this to learn all the options and powers available whilst chairing the trickiest of debates and elected member behaviour with confidence.
The foundation of a correctly chaired meeting is in Robert's Rules of Order, first published in 1876 by a US Army Colonel. It was the first attempt to codify how assemblies of people should meet and vote. If you have never seen what your local Council has turned this into for 21st century decision making, go look on its website for its constitution and decide for yourself if it is overkill or a way to make things fair and transparent! Robert's Rules, however, remain a good way of making meetings effective and structured for everyone involved.
The outcome of my training session was everyone had knowledge, skills and increased confidence in running the trickiest democratic debate and a clear understanding of the options available in the challenging situations this sometimes presents.