How The Bristol Cable got 100+ people to take part at its annual member meeting

The UK cooperatively-owned media is using collaborative activities at its AGM to involve members in major decisions

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This case study was first published in Engagement Explained, a fortnightly newsletter that brings you in-depth and replicable engaged journalism case studies from news organisations across Europe. Sign up here to receive the next edition in your inbox.

In a nutshell

A face-to-face meeting with members to allow them to input on the organisation’s strategy, editorial coverage and resource allocation over the forthcoming 12 months.

Background

  • Based in Bristol, UK, The Bristol Cable is an independent media company founded in 2014. They produce a free quarterly print magazine with a circulation of 30,000 copies, publish regularly online and also deliver free media training.
  • As a cooperative, it is fully owned by its 2,000 members, who pay, on average, £3 each every month. Members participate at various levels in the organisation, including helping to prioritise the types of stories that are covered, and how resources within the organisations are allocated.
  • The Cable’s 2018 annual general meeting (AGM), held in May, was attended by around 110 members, who helped decide the direction of the organisation for 2018/2019.
Members run through the questions set for them by the Cable team

How did they do it?

  • The date and time (Monday at 6.30pm) were set two months in advance and promoted via a four-page advert in The Cable’s print product and in membership newsletters sent each week leading up to the meeting.
  • They also sent tailored emails about the AGM to people who didn’t initially RSVP. In the past, they have also printed and sent reminder postcards to members, with their names on. The team has also boosted posts on Facebook and used other organic social media activity to activate their members.
  • Before the AGM, The Cable put together an agenda of five interactive activities to discuss at the AGM, explaining why each topic made the agenda. Each team — editorial, membership, operations — had input in choosing the topics. This year, the agenda included votes and exercises on how The Cable can improve its journalism, budget priorities, electing directors, how it should use Facebook, and more.
  • Around 110 members attended the AGM and The Cable provided local cider, soft drinks and samosas at the start. Each AGM begins with reviewing the impact of the organisation’s work over the last 12 months, before going into the agenda. Each agenda item was discussed in groups of 4-6 people, who were given an information sheet and an exercise to fill in. For each topic, a Cable team member gave a five-minute presentation, followed by a five-minute discussion at the table, and then a vote.
  • Most votes have graded answers (either between 1-5 or 1-10) rather than ‘yes/no’ to make members think harder about what they are prioritising and why. After the AGM, the data from the votes are published in a blog post recapping the event, alongside minutes taken by a Cable member, and the exercises.

What did they learn?

  • Weekday evenings work better for AGMs, although no specific day works best. The Cable has discussed having a weekend AGM to allow people who work late and have families to attend but believe it’s a trade-off as members’ free-time is limited.
  • The vote made it clear that members wanted to see more opinion pieces. The team was surprised by the number of people who wanted opinion pieces (80% in favour) and believe that this is because members want a range of opinions to help understand issues beyond the headlines. As a result, they have been advertising for people to join a pool of regular and one-off freelancers. In just one week, they received over 180 applications.
  • Members also voted in favour of seeing stories with more direct links to the community. To help achieve that, The Cable has since reorientated its editorial team to focus on series that go deeper on a topic and add value (recent examples include racism against Gypsies and travellers and drug use in Bristol). This means both full-time reporters and other contributors have been asked to commission a package that includes written stories, pictures, infographics, multimedia, behind-the-scenes blogs and campaigning pieces. The team is monitoring the effect this has on visits to the site.
  • The vote also made it clear that members wanted the cooperative to focus on training the community to be able to do their own journalism. The Cable already runs annual, five-month media training programmes but have since hired a community media coordinator who will work with members to help them cover the stories they care about.
  • Although the 110 attendees surpassed The Cable’s aim of 100, the team realised the number of participants only represented 5% of Cable members. They are now thinking about how people who can’t make the AGM in person can contribute to it online.

In their words

Adam Cantwell-Corn, co-founder, The Bristol Cable

"It’s important to fully respect the membership and those who participate in the AGM. But we also have to ask ‘who isn’t in the room, and why?'. As there are still 1,900 members who didn’t attend the AGM and 450,000 people in the city at large, and we have to consider their needs and interests too to build a more representative and sustainable media co-op.”

How would you improve it?
“Two things: greater participation that precedes the event – crafting the agenda, refining the activities and involving members in the AGM itself – and also bringing some sort of online participation during the AGM for those who can’t make it."

Now try it for yourself

  • Spaceship Media’s method for dialogue journalism is used to get communities talking about tough topics people might disagree on. Worth thinking about when putting together a regular or one-off event, or when hosting a conversation online, for example in a Facebook group.
  • Another cooperative, Medor (Belgium) also published the agenda for its June 2018 AGM on the website.
  • The Ferret (UK), a cooperative based in Scotland, is hosting its AGM on 25 October. Check out their Facebook event to see how they invite their members.

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