Written for Somerville Open Studios, but relevant to any event with a gripe session:
- Have a single moderator plus a separate note-taker, or two separate note-takers if they are not fast typists. Do not have other people than that at the front of the room. The moderator need not be a person of authority if you have someone who's good at this available to run it instead.
- If there are any glaring problems you already know about, make up a sign saying "yes, we know" and list the glaring problems on it. So for instance, if we had a problem with getting map dots on the correct side of the street, put it up there on the sign (so latecomers see that it has been addressed) and start out your meeting by saying that half the dots were on the wrong side and we don't need to hear about individual dots.
- Have at least a vague outline of an agenda. It doesn't need to be written, and you don't have to stick with it slavishly, but grouping talk about particular topics together cuts down on repetition, and also helps you shut down people who ramble on as they will eventually drift off topic, giving you an excuse to say "great thanks, we'll get back to that issue later in the meeting".
- If you have representatives of some third party present to hear feedback, put them first on the agenda so they can leave.
- Call on people by name. If someone you don't know pipes up more than once, ask them their name, and write it down (this is the moderator writing it down, not the note taker) so you can call on them by name next time.
- Followup questions should be used only to extract more information, and only when it's useful information. So for instance, a complaint like "The map stand near my house was always empty" can be followed up with "Where precisely was this map stand". All followup questions should come from the moderator.
- Say "Thank you" to all input. It's OK to say "That's very useful info" or "We'll look into that" but don't promise to fix anything.
- Don't ever explain how come something happened. Your job is to get as much information out of the people attending as you can, in as short a time as possible. Explaining not only takes up valuable time, but it makes people feel like you are not focusing on what they have to say.
- Make sure all the event staff in the room know that these are the rules you're going by, particularly that last one about not explaining. Don't be shy about shutting down your event staff if they start getting defensive.