First-Year Experience

Town Hall Meeting Toolkit

The Town Hall Meeting (THM) is the oldest, most statistically proven, and most recognized PSP program on the CSU, Chico campus. The THM brings students, faculty, teaching associates, and the community together for intensive discussions about a diversity of critical topics. The webinar and toolkit give you a window into the THM, but to truly appreciate what our students are capable of you need to come see us. Consider yourself invited!

This section of the toolkit is broken up into basic areas representative of the various aspects of how we organize our THM. Not all meetings need to be organized this way, but this information should be useful to you as you consider incorporating a public sphere in your classroom.

The Course Related Materials section should help you understand how we incorporate PSP into our Political Science classrooms. Here you will find an example syllabus and assignment guides that exemplify course integration. This section is critical to understanding the course-event connection and should be a starting point as you consider PSP for your own institution.

The Logistics section covers the nuts-and-bolts of the THM. Our THMs can incorporate as many as 900 students and 100+ community members so making sure everyone knows where to go and what they are doing is critical. In this section you will find everything from sample name tags to instructions on putting together binders for staff. As events grow and change you will find the increasing importance of making sure logistical issues are resolved in advance.

The Moderators and Consultants section covers recruitment, recruiting materials, and instructions for our community partners. We recruit a large number of community partners for the event and have to organize and inform them once they arrive.

The Publicity section deals with how we publicize the event to local, national, and academic audiences. Making sure your event gets noticed is a critical piece of the puzzle, and may impact both the initial and long-term success of your PSP event. Having a press release ready to go along with promotional materials at conferences ensures your event gets noticed.  

  • Course Related Materials

    Public Sphere Pedagogy requires a coordinated effort to move from the classroom to a public event. In this sub-section you will find materials related to the incorporation of the Town Hall Meeting into POLS 155, our required course in American Government.

    The POLS 155 Syllabus introduces students to the Town Hall meeting on the first day of the semester. There is an extensive explanation of the Town Hall embedded in the syllabus and incorporated in the work of the course. Integration actually starts earlier than this as certain sections are designated “Town Hall Sections” in the course schedule. In this way, students learn about the Town Hall from the first week of the semester onward.

    The Talking Points Assignment and the Final Paper Assignments are directly related to the Town Hall Program. The talking points assignment is completed prior to attending the Town Hall Meeting and prepares students for participation in the meeting. This assignment requires students to do research about a topic area and prepare for discussion. After the Town Hall Meeting they are equipped to write their final paper, which draws on their Town Hall experiences. This final assignment closes the loop for the students as they have taken their work public—received feedback—and are now incorporating that experience back into the classroom. This well developed and statistically proven sequence benefits the classroom, the instructor, and most importantly—the students!

  • Logistics

    The logistics of an event like the Town Hall vary considerably depending on the size of the event, how many people are involved, and the location. We have found it useful to organize the event according to a variety of schedules and charts outlining responsibilities and tasks.

    The Budget Worksheet helps us understand economic costs. You will notice that food costs for the Town Hall meeting are higher than the Great Debate, but that student wages are comparatively lower. Collecting this kind of data lets us know what we should expect to change as the events grow and change.

    The Calendar of Events is our checklist of what needs to happen in particular timeframes. After years of putting together the Town Hall we have become very efficient at delegating tasks to student staff and making sure we are on time. This efficiency is only possible because we keep careful track of what needs to be done and correct mistakes as they happen.

    Documents like the List of Locations, the Planning Binder Contents and the Staff Schedule help us stay organized as we prepare for the event. The Town Hall functions in stages from largest (plenary opening) to most intimate (roundtable discussions); the list of locations reminds us what happens where. During the event, the planning binder is an ever-present asset as it contains task lists, contact information, and descriptions. With an event as large and complex as the Town Hall no one person understands all of what is happening. The binder helps the right hand know what the left hand is doing. The staff schedule helps us account for personnel at the event. Keeping track of our staff is critical as we sometimes need to make last minute adjustments.

    The Master Database looks like an intimidating document, but it is actually quite simple. It helps us keep track of who is participating at Town Hall and what they are doing while they are there. We also use Name Tags to keep track of students. If students do not pick up their name tags we know they did not attend the event. The name tags also include information for the students like the locations of their roundtable discussions and breakouts, which helps resolve a lot of ambiguity at the event.

    The Program is a surprisingly compact breakdown of what happens at the Town Hall, providing students and staff with a quick reference guide for what is happening where. Important attributes of the program include acknowledgements of the people who make the event function as well as a simplified schedule. After the event, the program is an archive of what happened at the Town Hall, which students can keep.

  • Moderators and Consultants

    The Town Hall Program brings the campus to the community in the form of moderators and consultants. These individuals range in experience levels and occupations. Lawyers, City Council members, community advocates, business owners, and University personnel have all served as moderators and consultants for us. Moderators serve the important function of managing discussion during breakout sessions where around 30 students, who bring ideas based on a semester of inquiry, meet with these subject matter experts. The job of the moderator is to get the students talking about problems and solutions.

    Later in the Town Hall students move to more intimate roundtables where they are joined by one or two consultants. In these intensive talks the consultants and students work to form action plans, which communicates to the student the potential of ideas to shape policies outside the classroom.

    The Moderator Invitation and Consultant Invitation go out to members of the campus and community. A key function of the invitations is refreshing the person being invited on the purpose and format of the Town Hall. The invitations also help to motivate the potential guests as the letter contains links and information about the positive outcomes of the Town Hall for students. Another important feature of the letter is it comes from, and responses are directed to, a student assistant rather than the event coordinator. These documents also contain reminder options like emails and text messages. A large Town Hall can require 100 moderators and consultants; ensuring moderator and consultant participation is critical.

    When Moderators and Consultants arrive at the Town Hall they are given a folder, the contents of which are listed on the Moderator Content List or the Consultant Content List. This is an important piece of communication for our guests and a useful reminder for us of what we need to compile in advance. Because our Town Hall is a campus-wide event we include a highlighted campus map with information about where to go and when.

    The Roundtable Discussion Guide and Breakout Discussion Guide are critical instructions for our moderators and consultants, including veterans of the program, since the most recent session would have been at least six months ago. Key features of these guides include specific time frames to keep the events moving and tips to keep the discussions student-centered.

  • Publicity

    Publicity is critical to the short and long term success of PSP programs. Our first priority is always making sure students have a positive experience at the event; however documenting the event is part of the “Public” in Public-Sphere-Pedagogy.

    Students love seeing their work featured in campus publications, on the University Web Site, and in local news. In addition, administrators at the University appreciate the positive publicity that PSP programs can bring to programs, colleges, and the University as a whole.

    The Press Release should compel readers to want to learn more about the event. It should contain the necessary information for release to the University and local news organizations. In the last few years we have included links to our Facebook page as a way to distribute more information in the compact document. While many of our documents refer people to student leads, the press release directs potential contacts to the faculty coordinator. These relationships have to be built over time and the stability of the faculty coordinator position helps ensure this growth.

    The Brochure, which is a quick synopsis of the Town Hall meeting, is a document for distribution at conferences, talks, and to press at the event itself. Because this document is frequently distributed to academic audiences we make sure to include assessment results and quotes from students about the event. This document, which is semi-permanent, also refers readers to the faculty coordinator rather than a student lead, a population that may change from semester-to-semester.