How to run a first meeting

Note: This is the second in a series of posts* documenting the efforts of a previously unorganized group of Manchester, New Hampshire, bicyclists to advocate for improvements to the city’s bicycle infrastructure. 

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If you’ve never asked a group of bicyclists about the challenges they face riding in a city, be prepared for an onslaught on responses:

  • There’s too much traffic!
  • The cars drive too fast!
  • There aren’t any bike racks!

As a Manchester bicyclist myself, I share many of these frustrations. But heretofore, I’ve only really ever thought them to myself. But last Friday night at a bar called Milly’s, I discovered like-minded souls who also are also annoyed with bicyclists who don’t obey the law, and drivers who think bicyclists should be relegated to sidewalks (something illegal here in Manchester).

As was discussed last week, this past Friday I helped to organize a meeting of local bicycle enthusiasts here in Manchester, New Hampshire, a dozen of whom showed up in response to Facebook post lamenting a lack of bicycle infrastructure here in the city.

After we introduced ourselves to each other, a member of the group suggested we first agree on the agenda that I had proposed, as well my role as moderator. (Pro tip: At a first meeting such as this, it’s always a good idea to make sure everyone is in agreement as to how the meeting should be run and what it should cover. This ensures that whatever the initiative is, it begins on solid footing.)

After that, we jumped right in identifying the bicycle-related issues we each thought needed to be addressed. The answers were varied, and, in many cases, predictable. We were all nodding our heads in agreement as one common frustration after another was voiced. (Pro tip: Even though we all thought we all we “knew” what the main issues were, and for the most part did, it was good to verbalize them in the group setting. This helps create a group bond and group identify and gives a group a mutually agreed-upon set of issues to begin addressing).

Having identified the issues, conversation then turned to challenges, and then began brainstorming possible things for which we might advocate.

Before adjourning, we discussed potential next steps. (Pro tip: Always discuss what will be done following the meeting, and by whom, before ending the meeting. This creates accountability for all involved and lets people know that their time hasn’t been wasted- that the meeting wasn’t just a complaint session and that things are really going to happen.) We agreed to use Google Maps to help the city Public Works Department identify potential bicycle lanes and other infrastructure needs for a grant for which they would like to apply. We also agreed to advocate for bicycle lanes as part of two upcoming city and nonprofit planning processes, as well as brainstorm a name for our group.

After the meeting, I typed up the notes and shared them with those who were in attendance, as well as others who had expressed interest in the topic, but weren’t able to make the meeting. (Pro tip: Keep a written record of the main points discussed in each meetings. This literally keeps everyone on the same page, enhances accountability and and fosters trust.)

* Read part 1 – Turning a complaint into an initiative

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