Recently I wrapped a two year term on the board of Kwartzlab, a local makerspace. As their Secretary, I kept all the paperwork in order, recorded the agendas and board minutes, and as with all terms, finished it up with the Annual General Meeting. AGMs are largely considered a necessary evil at the best of times, and I’m sure you can imagine that the kinds of iconoclastic weirdos who congregate in hackerspaces and art collectives love nothing more than meetings.
But you have to have them. It’s the law here in Ontario, and things need to get done. Otherwise no non-profit status, which means no to a bunch of other everyday things like regulations, accountability, and liability, which are also things that hackers, makers, and artists are super big on. So it’s a headache, but I’ve been helping out with the AGMs for a few years, and I’ve learned a few things about making them happen.
Most AGMs only have a few consequential agenda items, along with things like the financial report and assorted presidential details. Parse out your contentious agenda items, and put the details for them out on your mailing list, Slack, Facebook Group, whatever. Giving people space to argue about them in advance lets them get it out of their system without taking up meeting time, and can often introduce necessary clarifications that will make presenting it at the meeting easier.
This goes double for anything involving new projects or changes to existing policies. Triple if that policy is a Code of Conduct. There’s always discussion beforehand, but putting out a communication that says “This is what’s going to the meeting” will invariably generate more. And good or bad, that discussion will happen before the meeting starts.
The fried chicken rule
No one likes a meeting that’s longer than it has to be, and this rule is a Kwartzlab special. Bring a bucket of fried chicken to share afterward, and make it clear to everyone that the goal is to finish the meeting while it’s still hot. Sometimes there are things that need to get done and it runs long, but it gives members a chance to chime in with “Chicken’s getting cold” to that guy whose question was more of a comment, or if the president starts to run long.
Got chicken? Bring beer. We’re a volunteer space, so we potluck it, but live your best life. Have a fucking party. Your organization just made it another year. Good on you. The best way to make sure you have enough people present to have a meeting with votes is to have a party afterward. Let them know that you’d all rather be partying than having a meeting, and it’ll be a breeze.
As a person who secretly loves meetings and governance, I get that they can be tedious for people who’d rather be painting, welding, or blowing shit up. But the lights have to stay on, and you need paint pots, welding gas, and combustibles to make it all work. Things need to get cleaned or replaced, and you need a safe and inclusive space. Governance is a huge part of any community effort, and if the government comes knocking when your i’s aren’t dotted and your t’s aren’t crossed, life can get really tricky really fast.
Band together. Make art and code and wonderful spaces. And govern those spaces as a first thought, not a last one.
Seriously. Throw a fucking party.