EFFECTIVELY CHAIRING ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR (ASB) PARTNERSHIP MEETINGS
If you work in ASB, whether in a policing, community safety or housing role, you are likely to be called upon to chair a partnership meeting from time to time. This could be a community trigger panel review meeting, a partnership tasking meeting that takes place periodically or an ad-hoc case conference that has been convened to discuss a particularly challenging case.
Whilst we often think of our training needs in terms of technical areas, such as understanding the ASB toolkit, often organisations overlook giving as much attention to more generic skills, such as chairing meetings.
Yet, the role of a chair is critically important. When effective chairing is present in a meeting, all parties will be clear of the purpose, their role and responsibility, their level of accountability and ability to constructively challenge, and the outcome.
Unfortunately, we can find that partnership meetings are not as effective as they should be. All too often we might see that we have missing partners at the table, that meetings are either too long or too short, that there is no focus or clarity on purpose or actions, that there is an atmosphere of defensiveness and very little is achieved or progressed. Whilst these concerns are not the responsibility of the chair alone, there are some things that the chair can do to ensure that the meeting is effectively run, truly working to reduce ASB and make a positive impact on those residents and communities who are blighted by it.
Chairing an effective meeting is difficult. I speak from experience. I received no training about the best way to manage these partnership forums and have spent the last 16 years observing, learning and adapting. Here are some of the main lessons I have learned.
1. Understand what the role of the chair really is
One of the biggest mistakes that I made as a chair was thinking that I was entirely responsible for the meeting, and how effectively it ran. I would think that I needed to be the one speaking for the most amount of time and the one creating the solutions, with others there simply to ratify them.
The most effective chair recognises that everyone is responsible in equal parts. A chair may be the one steering the ship, in terms of keeping to time, making sure the right areas are covered, encouraging engagement from all etc, but they are not there to dictate the meeting and its outcome.
As a chair, I will now seek the views of others before I give my own. I recognise that if I give my opinion first, others may simply agree with it as the safe option, or feel unable to suggest an opposing view. I want people to see that they are valued in the meeting and that their opinion is as important as my own. I have also long recognised that my view is not always the best one and hearing from others first often gives me a perspective that I may not have considered otherwise.
Transactional analysis (TA) plays a key role in chairing meetings. A principle of TA essentially says that when you engage in a form of communication you take on one of three roles: child, parent or adult. Which of these you adopt then dictates the role the person you are speaking to is likely to slip into. For example, if the chair adopts a parent role where they are monopolising the conversation and dictating actions, without consultation, the other people in the meeting are likely to slip into child mode, resenting the tasks they are being assigned and being defensive to any perceived negative feedback. Conversely, where the chair acts in an adult role, seeking feedback from others and their views on possible solutions, the attendees are likely to respond in adult mode, feeling valued and an equal part of the conversation.
2. Be flexible
One of the silver linings (there has to be something, right?) of the pandemic has been how much further forward we are technologically. Our ability to use products like Microsoft Teams has grown significantly. We should continue to use this to our advantage.
If there is a problem with engagement in partnership meetings, for example with some people not attending regularly (a common concern with regards to partnership working), then a good chair will consider how the structure and delivery of the meeting can be tailored to make participation easier.
For example, lack of engagement may be down to an issue with capacity. Perhaps the meetings can continue to be run virtually, or with a hybrid approach where people can choose to attend in-person or opt to attend virtually instead. The removal of the travel time involved in getting to an in-person meeting might be the difference between someone being able to attend and not.
Perhaps the agenda can be shared in advance and members attend on a needs basis? If no one on the agenda is known to them, do they need to be there? Can the agenda be timed to ensure that people only need to attend for the parts where their attendance is required?
3. Create the right environment
Firstly, if the partnership meeting that you chair (or attend) feels like it is ineffective, then you may wish to revisit any terms of reference that exist. Often the root of ineffectiveness is people not understanding the purpose of the meeting or sharing common objectives. Reflecting back on the terms of reference might help to remind the group what these are, or to highlight that they need reviewing and amending.
Whether there are terms of reference or not, it is usually helpful to start a meeting by reminding the group of the purpose and what you are trying to achieve together. This anchors people and can ensure that the meeting stays focused.
Often a challenge with regular partnership meetings is that cases can remain on the agenda for long periods of time, without resolution. This would suggest several possible problems. Perhaps the right agencies are not around the table and the person holding the missing jigsaw piece needs to be identified and invited. Perhaps it is the case that there is a lack of accountability in the forum. Whilst we don’t want to create an environment where people are scared to come to partnership meetings, we also don’t want to promote the idea that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t completed the task that you agreed to at the last meeting, because the deadline will just be extended for you without challenge.
Partners should take responsibility for the tasks they have been set (this is often achieved most effectively when the partner has been involved in setting the task and the associated deadline, rather than feeling that it has been forced upon them), and where they do not complete them as expected, the chair and other members of the group should be able to gently challenge this to understand why. Where continued inaction is seen, attendees should know that there is a route of escalation through the management chain.
4. Ensure that there are actions set and that they are clear
Sometimes it can be easy for partnership meetings to become a ‘talking shop’, without any real focus or outcome.
An effective chair will ensure that actions are set which are designed to proactively progress a case towards resolution. It is imperative that these actions are clear, meaning there is no ambiguity about what is being asked or who the owner of the task is. There should also be a clear deadline set for completion.
Whilst the level of accountability that is discussed at point 3 above is important in an effective partnership arrangement, it can only be achieved if the action setting is done appropriately. It is unfair to hold people accountable for tasks that they did not realise they owned, or what the deadline for completion was. Doing so is likely to create conflict and tension.
5. Give positive feedback
All too often we can slip into the mindset of looking at what has gone wrong, or what needs to be improved. I think it’s important for a chair to also create a culture where good practice and performance are recognised and appreciated.
The biggest piece of advice I would give is this: whether you are the chair of a partnership meeting, or an attendee if the forum is not working then don’t just let it continue. You will lose engagement from members who can no longer justify prioritising attendance over other demands on their time. You will not be making any meaningful difference in resolving cases of ASB or protecting residents and communities from further harm. Don’t just go along with it. Speak to the chair, explain your concerns and suggest that the structure and process be reviewed.
This blog was originally produced for the RIAMS ASB community; a free online space to share best practices and ask questions. Further details can be found here