A Planner’s Guide to Meeting Facilitation

PAS Report 595

By Milton Herd, FAICP

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Many public policy-making efforts, such as comprehensive plans, zoning regulations, and neighborhood plans, depend on productive and collaborative public meeting processes. Yet public meetings are often fraught with conflict, which can lead to delays or even derailment of the project. Planners need to design effective group processes and help participants work together to produce successful outcomes — but such knowledge and skills are not taught in schools.

A Planner’s Guide to Meeting Facilitation offers planners a thorough grounding in the fundamental principles and techniques of successful meeting facilitation, along with detailed step-by-step guidance on designing, preparing for, and facilitating group meetings of various formats at both small and large scales.

Author Milton J. Herd, FAICP, shares decades of on-the-ground experience to help planners uphold the three basic principles of meeting facilitation:

  • Gaining and maintaining trust
  • Remaining neutral
  • Showing respect to all

Chapters address legal and ethical considerations for meeting facilitation, as well as how to ensure all participants feel welcome and included regardless of race, ethnicity, or culture. Meeting planning and preparation are covered in depth, as is developing and executing agendas and exercises to help groups reach consensus.

This PAS Report provides the foundation on which to build a set of strong facilitation skills. Planners can use this information to further develop these skills in their professional practices and master the exciting and rewarding art of meeting facilitation.


Executive Summary (pdf)

About the Author

Milton J. Herd, FAICP, is an award-winning urban planner, consultant, and facilitator who specializes in collaborative planning processes for comprehensive plans, strategic plans, and zoning ordinances, mostly for local governments. Since 1978 he has served more than 80 localities throughout Virginia, as well as localities in 10 other states. He served for more 13 years as a planner for Loudoun County, Virginia, including four years as planning director, during which he oversaw the preparation of the Loudoun County 1991 General Plan, which received a national award from the American Planning Association in 1994. Since 1991, he has run his own consulting practice in Leesburg, Virginia. In 2014 Herd was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners (FAICP). He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from the University of Florida. When time permits, he sings and plays bluegrass guitar.

Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
June 1, 2019
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Chapter 1: The Value of Meeting Facilitation
The Importance of Public Participation
The Functions of a Facilitator
The Importance of Trust
About This Report

Chapter 2: Elements of Meetings
Parties to the Process
Meeting Scales
Meeting Types and Formats
Matching the Meeting to the Process

Chapter 3: Additional Considerations for Facilitation
Legal and Ethical Considerations for Facilitation
The Importance of Neutrality
Working With Diverse Groups

Chapter 4: Meeting Organization and Preparation
Determine the Purpose and Objectives of the Meeting
Determine Participation Needs and Methods of Input
Determine Meeting Location, Date, and Time
Provide Advance Outreach and Notifications
Design the Meeting Agenda and Process
Prepare Meeting Materials
Prepare the Meeting Space

Chapter 5: Facilitating A Group Meeting
Set Up the Space
Begin and End the Meeting On Time
Open the Meeting and Welcome the Group
Review the Agenda and Ground Rules
Choose a Recorder and a Reporter
Explain the Meeting Objectives and Present Information
Initiate and Manage the Discussion
Wrap Up and Follow Up

Chapter 6: Ground Rules and Consensus Building
About Ground Rules
Building Consensus

Chapter 7: Special Challenges in Facilitation
Handling Disruptive People
Resource Limitations
Trends in the Level and Type of Public Engagement

Chapter 8: Making It All Happen

Appendix A: Sample Logistics Checklist

Appendix B: Sample Agendas

Appendix C: Sample Evaluation Sheet