Coffee Meetings, Reports, and the LYAC

The LYAC met on October 30, 2014, to check in with each other and with the work we’ve been doing so far. We ended up having a discussion about why we hold coffee meetings or focus groups, and why we write reports. We also talked about what the LYAC is and what it means to the people who participate.

Who Should Read This

  • People who want to know more about what the LYAC is
  • People who want to know why we have reports
  • People who want to know more about the way councillors engage with constituents

A Note About Our Reports

LYAC reports are a different kind of report. They are conversational, friendly and honest. These reports don’t try to trick you by using complicated language or pretend to be based on the opinions of experts. They are based on the best information that the Youth Councillors have at the time of each discussion. We hope that the reports make you think, make you act and challenge you to consider things that you haven’t considered before. Share your opinions with us so that we can represent you better!

Why Do We Hold Coffee Meetings, and How Do We do That?

One of the things councillors do to get to know their wards and constituents better is have coffee meetings or focus groups with people from their area. Some councillors have more experience with this kind of thing than others, so we talked a bit about how to facilitate a meeting and how to find people to talk to. One suggestion that came from councillors who have met with constituents already is to reach out to existing groups within the community. An example of this kind of outreach can be found on our website already: Melissa went to Limberlost and had a great conversation with the kids there. Another suggestion was to consider meeting with people outside our usual social group. Sometimes the people closest to us can be the hardest to engage, and it can be particularly frustrating because we have so much invested in reaching them. It’s as though, if we could just find the perfect argument or phrase the information in just the right way, we can make them care about the things we care about, and sometimes they just don’t. Sometimes the people you know best have a set idea of who you are and what you know that it can be hard to get them to see you as anything else. It’s not that we shouldn’t engage with our friends and family, it’s just that it’s good to reach out to other people too.

Why Do We Write Reports?

After a coffee meeting, we usually write up some kind of report to document what we talked about or what we did. One of the councillors really felt like (maybe still feels like?) this doesn’t make a lot of sense. After a lot of back and forth, here are some of the reasons we came up with for writing reports:

  • Perspective: take what you learn and add it to your way of thinking and being
  • Politics is talking; the whole point is to develop solutions over time to problems
  • Consensus building
  • Part of your job as a councillor is to connect with young people in the ward; a lot of this is about listening, and the reports are a way of demonstrating that you did listen
  • We write the reports for the people who participated and gave us feedback to prove that we heard them
  • You have the option of taken this to the next level: you can take what you learn and act on it
  • Reflection (or writing the reports) is an important part of acting
  • It’s undemocratic not to write the report; you have to put their voices somewhere, or you’ve wasted their time

We also agreed that maybe writing a report isn’t always the best way to communicate. In some case, it might make more sense to write a poem, start a Twitter campaign, or make a video. The point is, sharing what we learn is a way of letting other voices be heard, and learning from constituents is an important part of being a councillor.

How do we better tell the story of the LYAC?

The third theme of the evening was about the LYAC as an organization and as an idea. We talked about how to make sure people know about the organization and what it does, as well as how we can better understand it ourselves. One of the things we concluded is that everyone is going to have an individual story about what the LYAC is, and that we can have a general frame of what the LYAC is, but it won’t mean as much unless we locate our own stories in that framework. Some councillors felt that being part of the LYAC has allowed them the opportunity to connect with others and to feel heard. Someone else noted that being an LYAC councillor is empowering in some ways in that there is a kind of authority with it that gives councillors the confidence to go place and ask questions they wouldn’t normally go to or ask.

The second part of this conversation focused more on things councillors, staff, and volunteers could do to get the LYAC noticed. These included a range of ideas, such as:

  • Creating a video as a way of sharing what the LYAC does/is
  • The need to create a product and drive it to people who need our opinions and to youth
  • Need to take in youth feedback and create a report and then push that report to people who can make more decisions than us
  • Hosting an event to let people know we exist
  • Unity: we need to have more numbers at events to make people aware of us
  • Work on making connections within and between wards
  • Host a conference at the end of year as a way of breaking down silos between community groups

We had some debate over whether more numbers or more events would help create deeper relationships with individuals or organizations within the city. Some felt that these connections were worth pursuing, while others thought that it might be better to focus on the coffee meeting or focus group approach.

Personal Stories                                                                                                                                               

There were a lot of personal stories from the meeting, although most of them were brief. Each councillor talked about their own understanding of what the LYAC is and how coffee meetings and report writing fit with that understanding. Two councillors in particular spoke a bit more in-depth: the first sparked the conversation about writing follow reports when he expressed frustration with that part of the process. He really felt that the report either wasn’t enough or wasn’t useful at all, and seemed frustrated with the lack of action or tangible end product. This was a great point to make as it led to a whole line of conversation that might not have happened otherwise.

The second story was from a councillor who talked about the what the LYAC is to her, saying that the things she does as a councillor are things she would never do as a “regular” person. It’s like being a councillor kind of gives her permission to do things young people aren’t normally “allowed” to do or say.

Big Questions

These are the big questions that we’re still thinking about, the ones that don’t always have easy answers.

1. What is the LYAC, and how do we tell people about it?

2. Why is it important to engage with constituents, and what’s the best way to do this?

Recorder’s Notes

This was an interesting meeting, since so much of it was spent discussing why I’m there to take notes and write a report. From my perspective, the reports we write are not an end product that concludes a meeting or consulting process, but are a stepping stone in an ongoing conversation between councillors and constituents. Reports, no matter what form they take (written, video, formal, informal), are part of making the political process more transparent to and accessible for people who aren’t always able to be an active part of that process. They’re a way of confirming that we heard what people said, and we give them a chance to respond. That’s why we have theThings We Missed the First Time section at the end of every report: sometimes we as report writers misunderstand things, sometimes councillors think of things after the meeting that they wished they’d said, and sometimes we need to clarify a point.

What We Still Need to Learn

This conversation focused less on concrete facts and more on ideas. As a result, the questions ended to be much broader. However, future conversations could look at the following:

1. What are some concrete ways we can be more accountable to constituents?

2. What types of events would be most useful in spreading the word about the LYAC?