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Guest Post: February BACE Retreat Reflections

This is a guest post by Jenny Greenwood, an active BACE member:

The February BACE Timebank retreat was my first Timebank meeting. The small room got quite full of people over the course of the day. After introductions and some discussion of cooperative principles and the need for a respectful, constructive conversation, we proceeded to have one, along with a refreshing, meditative, exercise circle in the garden and an excellent potluck lunch.Click here to see the meeting notes and here to see pictures of the whiteboard.  

I enjoyed meeting other Timebank members and found it interesting and worthwhile to get an overview of the range of issues facing the Timebank. Once we adopted the approach of advancing toward setting an agenda by listing on the whiteboard specific problems needing solutions, things moved efficiently, and the final discussion of the three top priority issues for 45 minutes or less each felt very productive. By the time we started on the third urgent issue, though, I heard some people express the understandable desire to just forget about it and end the meeting, as it was now late afternoon.

It’s hard to have a specific agenda already in place on the morning of a Timebank retreat, because there’s no telling who is coming or what their concerns are. On the other hand, having a procedure for setting an agenda quickly at the start of the meeting would free up time for more progress on more issues during the day. Perhaps before a retreat announcement, the Timebank might send out an email titled something like “All Members: Take a quick survey to help set the BACE retreat agenda!” and ask questions such as, “What issues do you want addressed at the upcoming BACE retreat? What specifically is not working in your experience of the Timebank? What is working? What should we keep doing and what needs fixing? Take the survey even if you can’t attend the retreat!” The questions could sit right at the top of the email where even casual readers would see them.

The basis for the survey could be the list, seen in a February retreat whiteboard photo, of things not presently working. The list would be reviewed and edited for current applicability at a BACE meeting shortly before the sending of the email. Using an online survey would avoid the burden of having to sort through lots of emailed responses. Members could be asked to prioritize the listed issues (the computer would tally responses) and add other thoughts or concerns as desired (someone would have to print these out, go through them to see what categories they fell into, and bring them to the meeting). This would make it simple for members to get involved even if they didn’t plan to attend – and getting people a little bit involved can sometimes be a step toward getting them to participate more – maybe they might even decide to come to the retreat after all!

Alternatively, if creating an online survey were an unrealistic amount of work, the agenda creation email could simply ask everyone planning to attend the meeting to think about and write down their numbered prioritization of the listed issues, together with any issues they might wish to add, and bring their responses to the meeting. In either case, the overall prioritization could go up on the whiteboard early in the day to set the agenda.

On a different topic – the house where the recent retreat took place worked well as a venue, but should more people attend in future, a bigger room would be needed. It might be helpful to consider using meeting rooms at a public place like a library. The main branch of the Berkeley public library, for example, located only two blocks from downtown Berkeley BART, has meeting rooms open to community organizations with operations in Berkeley. Wherever future retreats may take place, notices advertising them could be submitted for posting on library bulletin boards around the Bay Area a few weeks beforehand so that more people discover the Timebank and decide to attend. For similar reasons, the Timebank might ask that notices about retreats go out in the event announcement mailings of groups like Transition Berkeley and Transition SF.

All in all, I found the February retreat enjoyable and worthwhile. I’m looking forward to the next one!

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