What is a Town Hall Meeting?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A town hall meeting is an informal public meeting that gives the members of a community an opportunity to get together to discuss emerging issues and to voice concerns and preferences for their community. A typical meeting is attended by both citizens and officials, giving everyone a chance to talk personally in a relaxed environment about the things which matter to them. Typically, the organization and leadership are minimal, encouraging people to settle their differences amicably and with help from friends.

As part of his Four Freedoms series, artist Norman Rockwell paid homage to American town hall meetings.
As part of his Four Freedoms series, artist Norman Rockwell paid homage to American town hall meetings.

The concept of the town hall meeting is borrowed from the traditional town meeting style of government used in New England. In this style, the citizens of a town get together to decide on issues of important to the community, like budgeting, purchase of new equipment for emergency services, and so forth. All of the members present can vote, and they can also discuss issues directly with elected officials. The town meeting system continues to be used in many small New England towns, with citizens also voting in regional, state, and national elections.

Town hall meetings are a forum which allow members of the public in attendance to speak.
Town hall meetings are a forum which allow members of the public in attendance to speak.

Many politicians have seized upon the town hall meeting as an excellent public relations tactic. By organizing such a meeting along a stump tour, a politician can indicate that he or she really cares about the issues which constituents face, and the politician also has a chance to meet people directly. For personable politicians, this can be a great way to win votes and followers, as people are often impressed by politicians they meet in person, especially candidates for major offices.

Small towns may utilize a form of direct democracy, also known as participatory democracy, at town meetings.
Small towns may utilize a form of direct democracy, also known as participatory democracy, at town meetings.

The structure of the meeting is usually very loose. Typically, officials sit in the front, facing the group, and the group is seated in rows. When the meeting is opened, people in the group can ask questions or bring issues up, and the officials and other members of the group may respond. When heated issues arise, the atmosphere may become less orderly, but usually members of the group are capable of policing each other to ensure that everyone is heard.

People attending a town hall meeting might have grievances to air.
People attending a town hall meeting might have grievances to air.

Participating in a town hall meeting can be an excellent experience. People of all ages and backgrounds show up at such meetings, bringing their own perspectives and issues to the table. Especially for people new to a community, this can be a great way to learn about the issues facing the community, and to get an idea of who holds the most power and influence in the community, as well.

Town hall meetings might be conducted by focus groups.
Town hall meetings might be conducted by focus groups.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

bchbabe

@Mcangel05 - You have some great points in discussing the effectiveness of town hall meetings. There is no town hall meeting invitation because it's open to all rather than closed board meeting that people have to run for office in order to be a part of. If anyone and everyone can come then there is certainly potential for a lack of order and more likelihood for chaos. Despite that meeting minutes are still important to keep so that the points that are made will be acknowledged. Many people came to a town hall meeting in my hometown to protest a Lowes which was being built in my neighborhood and though the citizens protested at numerous meetings, but the planning board still voted in favor the Lowes anyway because they claimed it would benefit our community more than keeping the peace.

Mcangel05

A townhall meeting is a great way to have an informal meeting while still being able to share facts and opinions. Not all votes are counted towards results, but it's a good way to get a consensus on what people are thinking and feeling. When changes are being made in a community it's helpful for town officials to consult with the citizens before making decisions that may impact the functionality and lifestyle.

Though they can get frustrating, I think that they're certainly valuable to the community.

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