Step 4: Dialogue

Conducting Discussion(s)

Engaging the NHC in dialogue is the most important aspect and the heart of the consultation process. As such, it is vital that it be conducted in a manner that not only informs the NHC of the Action and its implications, but also creates a suitable environment through which meaningful comments and feedback can be shared and received. Determining the mode of dialogue (written correspondence, tele- or video-conference calls, in-person discussions, etc.) is best performed during consultation planning (Step 2). However, there may be times when it is necessary to modify the means and level of dialogue with the NHC even after an initial notification has been sent out to the NHC.

Preparation is essential before engaging in a dialogue with the NHC. Even with the simplest consultations, or those that are done through written comments require the Office to be prepared before contact is made. Prior to a consultation meeting, it is important for the Office to:

  • Confirm consultation leader(s) and/or facilitator(s);
  • Confirm Office representatives to attend;
  • Assign speaking roles for Office staff (e.g., opening, background, closing, etc.);
  • Develop ground rules (including how to deal with conflicts of opinion and views during the meeting) and an agenda for the meeting;
  • Print materials for distribution (FAQs, maps, graphics, prior reports or studies, etc.);
  • Prepare presentation materials (slides, handouts, etc.);
  • Determine mode and system for collection of input (e.g., note taking, recording, etc.); and
  • Conduct practice “dry runs” of the meeting.

For in-person consultation meetings, it is also important for the Office to:

  • Review logistics (travel, audio-visual needs, signage, accessibility, directions to meeting space, etc.); and
  • Secure any meeting support services (recording, facilities, security, etc.)

On the day of a consultation meeting, there are additional items that the Office needs to consider. Since it may be the first time the Office is meeting with NHC leaders, making a good first impression can help the meeting and any future engagements be more productive. For in person meetings, the Office should:

  • Arrive early to set up and test equipment and greet participants;
  • Review agenda and double-check materials;
  • Reconfirm ground rules and speaking roles;
  • Confirm any cultural protocol; and
  • Reconfirm meeting support services.

Similarly, on the day of an e-remote consultation where teleconferencing or videoconferencing will be utilized, the Office should:

  • Email participant reminders and instructions for entry and participation (e.g., password for access to meeting, how to virtually raise hand to speak, whether there is a need to mute phone while others are speaking, etc.), if needed;
  • Ensure communication systems are operating and connectivity is established;
  • Conduct tests of presentations, facilitation controls, as necessary; and
  • Log-on or call-in early to greet participants.

During the consultation meeting, it is important for the Office to cover various administrative, cultural, and procedural actions to help start the meeting with the right tone, allow NHC leaders to effectively contribute their comments, and end the dialogue with an understanding of next steps. The Office should:

  • Have a sign-in sheet with contact information;
  • Greet participants as they arrive and assist them as needed;
  • Allow for cultural protocol to open the meeting and at the end to close the meeting;
  • For smaller consultation meetings, allow for self-introductions and brief remarks;
  • Review agenda and meeting purpose and goals;
  • Provide historical context for the Action;
  • Discuss the administrative process and milestones;
  • Remind participants on how to submit comments;
  • Remind participants about how their comments will be used by the Office;
  • Remind participants to leave contact information; and
  • Review schedule and next steps after consultation.

Having a successful consultation meeting with the NHC requires good facilitation to keep the meeting on-schedule and on-agenda. Without active facilitation, meetings can easily get off-subject and confuse or aggravate NHC leaders and result in difficulties for future consultation meetings and potential delays in completing the Action. Whether the Office facilitates the meeting or uses a 3rd party facilitator or moderator, it is important that they:

  • Relax – Most of the hard work was done during the preparation. Take time to establish rapport with participants. If you are visibly stressed, this can be misinterpreted as being defensive;
  • Be responsive to questions or create “parking lot” for issues not specific to the agenda;
  • Set ground rules for the meeting;
  • Ask tele- or video- conference attendees to mute their microphones when not speaking;
  • Create “safe” environment for open discussion;
  • Enforce speaking time limits and meeting length;
  • Manage participant expectations;
  • Maintain focus on agenda - minimize digressions and refer unrelated issues to the “parking lot”;
  • As appropriate, afford NHC leaders an opportunity to consult with one another in exercise of their self-determination and self-governance;
  • If time permits, go around the room to provide each person an opportunity to share their thoughts about the Action (this demonstrates to each participant that you value their voice and also allows introverts to participate without having to compete with extroverts);
  • Thank participants for their comments and attendance; and
  • Treat participants with respect and seek understanding of the message being conveyed rather than the technical application of the law. Specifically, participants may attempt to utilize terms and requirements from state laws or traditional practices. While those laws may not directly apply, the Office should be respectful of the message conveyed by the participants and consider the information conveyed in the consultation process. Be attentive to participant comments.

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