Sunday, August 9, 2009

Advice on How to Run a Town Hall from the Disease Management Care Blog

The Disease Management Care Blog sympathizes with the AARP staffers and volunteers. Been there done that.

It recalls an incident when it was in student government in medical school decades ago. Our Council worked closely with the Aministration on plans to establish a local chapter of a national honor society. Once the details were all wrapped up, the DMCB stood before its class in a town hall style meeting to present the plan and get some feedback on what we thought was a no-brainer proposal. That's when the DMCB painfully learned in a large lecture hall with over 100 angry medical students that smart persons have a remarkable ability to use the same facts to come up with different conclusions. That honor society chapter did not see the light of day while the Class of 1981 was still paying tuition.

The DMCB used this experience much later in its career in subsequent meetings with hostile physicians and grumpy HMO enrollees. Even though the DMCB's medical school and professional experience was Little League compared to these Town Hall meetings, this is a blog and bloggers are in the business of offering up unsolicited advice.

So, thinking of being a town haller? Want to use an open forum to convince a group that pending legislation or some other initiative that is going to change health care is a good idea? Ignore these DMCB insights at your peril:

1) It's too easy to have your decision-making succumb to an information bubble that's insulated from important constituencies with different perspectives. The self reinforcing feedback from like minded people can be extremely seductive. Knowing this is your weakness is half the battle.

2) It's also too easy to confuse 'opposition' with an 'oppositional disorder' or conclude this is the product of some evil conspiracy. Yes, the behaviors are uncooperative, defiant, negativistic, irritable, and annoying but it's a Town Hall and it's everyone's job to listen. That includes you.

3) Deep seated disagreement from a room full of people should signal that something is seriously wrong. Makes no difference if they're a numerical minority, you still need to pause and think. It may be that the idea is wrong. It may be your underlying assumptions are wrong. It may be the message is unclear. It may be that there is misinformation. It may be that your idea will be voted down. All those possibilities need to be addressed and ruled out before concluding that this is just a bunch who 'wish to make trouble' (the quote is at the 2 minute mark).

The DMCB has some ideas on why these folks are disagreeing. More on that tomorrow.

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