Notes on Community Meetings: Views for Discussion

Citation: Brodley, B. T. (2002/2021). Notes on community meetings: Views for discussion. Association for Development of the Person-Centered Approach.

{Website note: For additional views and discussions on person-centered community meetings see below at the end of this article.}


Barbara Temaner Brodley


Note:  This was the start-off for a discussion group at the ADPCA meeting in Cleveland in 2002.  The discussion didn’t get far in the allotted 1 and ½ hours, but it was an interesting start for some of us.  My aim in writing the note and having the discussion is to accurately describe community meetings as they happen in person-centered large groups. My larger purpose is (1) to eventually have a written description that might be of use to new members of ADPCA and others, and (2) to have a description as the ground for further describing some of the kinds of behaviors that occur in response to other behaviors in community meetings, and (3) to eventually write (individually or in a group) a theory or theories of person-centered community group experience.  I hope what follows stimulates further discussion in Renaissance and at ADPCA meetings.  I think person-centered community meetings are challenging and interesting experiences that could have a broad constructive function in people’s social lives. I put in brackets a few of the thoughts that came up in the Cleveland discussion and on the cctpca email network.


What are Community Meetings?

Community meetings are the large groups of all participants at person-centered conferences who meet to talk together. These meetings are usually scheduled once each day of the conference. No other meetings are pre-scheduled for the times of community meetings, although any participant is free to convene a discussion group or a lecture or a small encounter group (or other program) during the time of community meetings. There is no pre-determined agenda for community meetings. Community meetings have no pre-determined facilitators.  [Some discussants have strong feelings about not wanting pre-determined facilitators while others have strong feelings that formal facilitators would improve the experiences in community meetings]  Any participant in the meeting may function as a facilitator. Usually many people take on this responsibility.  (Sometimes no one facilitates when some people feel facilitation would be helpful.)  Events in community meetings are viewed as part of a process.  (For example, specific behaviors or events may bring about responses at a later point.)


What are the Goals of Community Meetings?


The major general goal of community meetings is to create, as much as possible within the time limits and abilities of the specific participants, a community of persons that is politically a pure democracy. (That is, each “citizen”, defined by their participation in the conference, has an equal voice in decisions about the meeting and an equal right to express themselves and communicate). [There is considerable disagreement about this description of a goal. However, there seems to be agreement that a goal of community participation is to promote the bringing out of all the voices of people who wish to express their voice and agreement also that every participant has equal rights in the community. The disagreement seems to be about the use of the political term “pure democracy”.]

The second general goal of community meetings is to provide a group-learning laboratory for the person-centered participants. [My recollection is that this general goal was agreed upon in the discussion]
There are two salient aspects of the learning laboratory goal. One is to create a community of persons who try to, and gradually learn how to, implement Carl Rogers’ principles of acceptance, empathic understanding and authenticity as much as possible in their interactions during community meetings. [Doubt was raised about whether all participants ever have this goal although some discussants thought it a desirable goal]  A second aspect of the laboratory goal is to develop the participants’ abilities to function in any group in ways that express Rogers’ facilitative principles. [The discussion group time was up, so the remaining points in the note were not discussed]


Common Characteristics of Community Meetings


1. Every individual has an equal right to speak to the group about anything they choose: theories, philosophies, personal interests, personal feelings, plans, announcements, criticisms, problems with the conference program, memorials, to make suggestions or engage in physical behavior: to stand up, lie down, walk around, dance or engage in any movements that do not violate the physical space or integrity of other participants.

2.  There is a tendency (that reflects a conscious effort) for one or more of the participants to attempt to acknowledge each person’s contribution whether or not they choose to further address the topic, feeling or experience.

3. People vary in their ability to represent themselves and consequently persons who are less forthcoming may be specifically invited by another participant to speak. They are considered free to decline the invitation.

4. Sometimes participants express evaluations of other participants or their behavior. These evaluations may be favorable or critical. They are almost never interpretive of the other person.

5.  Individual participants may choose to assist others in their communication, sometimes making empathic responses or asking questions for clarification, or to assist them to respond to others in various ways.

6.  Individual participants may choose to attempt to change what is happening in the meeting, often asking permission for the change.

7.  Sometimes there are long silences.

8.  Individuals break group silences when they choose to do so. This may please and displease some other participants.

9. Individuals leave and return to a community meeting with or without explanation.

10.  Participants experience and sometimes express to the group or directly to other participants a great range of emotions and feelings including loving feelings, hostile feelings, confused feelings, joyful feelings, angry feelings, comforted feelings, hurt feelings, disempowered feelings, empowered feelings, etc.

11.  There are times when the group in the community meeting may appear to some observers/participants as harmonious or as confused or as chaotic or as disturbed or as cohesive or as un-cohesive, etc.

12.  The attempt to be “person-centered” in interpersonal relations in community meetings does not preclude an individual from breaking out of that goal nor does it preclude an individual from losing emotional control. It does not preclude individuals from experiencing hurt feelings in reaction to events that occur in the group.

13.  The implicit norms that individuals perceive for community meetings in person-centered conferences are open to question, clarification and debate.

14.  Sometimes participants seek to gain agreement to a plan. Resolution of any planning may involve developing a consensus or a method of voting and majority rule, depending upon the explicit or implicit agreement of all participants.

15.  Meetings start at approximately the times designated by the conveners of the conference. They end at the designated time although often many participants choose to continue the group if the room remains available.


Resources When Participants Feel a Need for Assistance


When participants who are new to community groups, or participants with previous experience in person-centered community groups, need assistance of any kind, they should feel free to request help from any individual or to the group. If they do not receive adequate assistance, I recommend they persist in their request until they do receive assistance that feels adequate to them. Individuals who are dissatisfied or disturbed by the community experience may seek to discuss their reactions and feelings with another individual participant or with a small group, rather than in the large group.


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