Annual public meetings and outreach
Issued By: Treasury Board Secretariat
Contact Information: Governance Directorate
Tel: (613) 954-3937
Approval / Last update: July 2008
Section A – Accountability of Crown Corporations
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This document is intended as advice or guidance, and as a source of considerations and resource materials on the subject of annual public meetings and outreach. The document does not constitute a Crown corporation legal or policy requirement nor does it establish monitoring obligations on the part of Treasury Board Secretariat.
Executive Summary: Annual Public Meetings and Outreach
Crown corporations are encouraged to hold annual public meetings to share information and solicit feedback from the public, as confirmed in the 2005 Review of the Governance Framework for Canada’s Crown Corporations. Additionally, other outreach activities such as websites, surveys, publications and consultation meetings can assist in seeking feedback/informing the public.
Annual Public Meetings
The approach to conducting an annual public meeting will and should vary depending on the organization. However, there are key common features expected in an annual public meeting which include:
- be open to all members of the Canadian public (i.e. not exclusive);
- demonstrate transparency, accountability and accessibility in the eyes of the public;
- provide the public with a means to gain a solid understanding of the corporation’s operations and the opportunity to ask questions or make observations;
- enable interactions with the board of directors and key members of senior management (e.g. CEO, CFO) and the public;
- be conducted in a manner that reflects the national scope of the organization; and
- be evaluated for success and best practices shared within the Crown corporation community.
Each Crown corporation has significant flexibility in regards to its annual public meeting. The nature and scope of the meeting, as well as the location and timing of the meeting, will be determined by the Crown corporation, based on its needs and preferences. Though an annual public meeting by definition should be held once a year, the specific timing and length of the meeting is left to the Crown corporation.
Best practices have been garnered from recent federal Crown corporation annual public meetings, and include:
- provide public notice in a widely accessible manner, well ahead of the meeting date;
- time the annual public meeting to ensure maximum public participation and least expense (i.e. possibly hold at same time as a regular board meeting);
- develop a meeting format that meets the needs and means of the corporation, as well as the needs of the public;
- present a clear outline of the proceedings at the beginning of the meeting;
- allow opportunities for participants to speak; and
- release a meeting summary/debrief after the meeting.
Crown corporations are also encouraged to develop other outreach activities to provide the public with opportunities to access information or to influence services or approaches. These activities include: consultation meetings on specific subjects/initiatives; a public website (providing relevant legislation, mandate, annual reports, strategic direction, management financial details and contact information); surveys; questionnaires; newsletters; and reports. The outreach activities act as a complement to the annual public meeting, providing ongoing opportunities for public input into the activities of the organization.
The outreach activities should typically:
- promote the values of transparency, accountability and accessibility;
- reflect and communicate the corporation’s mandate, vision and activities;
- be thoroughly evaluated and continuously improved;
- be detailed in the annual report; and
- seek to actively involve the public through the solicitation of feedback.
All parent Crown corporations and any wholly-owned subsidiaries that have been directed to report as if they were parent Crown corporations are encouraged to have annual public meetings and to conduct a variety of public outreach activities.
This document provides key common features of annual public meetings and public outreach activities held by Crown corporations.
The Government of Canada tabled its comprehensive assessment of the governance of Crown corporations on February 17, 2005, entitled Review of the Governance Framework for Canada’s Crown Corporations. The Review identified 31 measures for improving the governance of Crown corporations. In the context of “Making Boards More Effective”, the Review addressed the need for each Crown corporation to hold an annual public meeting.
As follow-up to measure #8, the Government is committed to supporting Crown corporations in their efforts to undertake outreach activities, and in particular their efforts to hold regular meetings whereby interested members of the public have the opportunity to hear directly from the board of directors, and also make their views known to the board. The term “public” refers to Canadian citizens as a whole, as opposed to specific stakeholder groups of the corporation.
This document arises from Measure #8b of the Review of the Governance Framework for Canada’s Crown Corporations – Meeting the Expectations of Canadians which states:
Measure # 8b: The government will require that boards of directors of Crown corporations hold annual public meetings at which stakeholders could express their views and seek information about the activities of the corporations. Corporations are also encouraged to develop outreach activities to solicit input and feedback from stakeholders on an ongoing basis.
Mechanisms, such as public outreach activities and, in particular, the annual public meeting, give stakeholders and the public the opportunity to voice their concerns and question the board of the Crown corporation. Research for the Review revealed that, while most Crown corporations do in fact reach out to specific stakeholders, few Crown corporations were holding an annual public meeting involving their board of directors, that all members of the public could access.
Boards of directors of Crown corporations are encouraged to hold annual public meetings at which the public can express their views and seek information about the activities of the corporations. Corporations are also encouraged to develop outreach activities to solicit input and feedback from stakeholders on an ongoing basis.
3.0 Annual Public Meetings
3.1 Guiding Principles for Annual Public Meetings
The following are general, guiding principles that Crown corporations should be aware of during the planning and conducting of annual public meetings:
1) The nature and structure of an annual public meeting should reflect the nature of the corporation’s business, mandate, clientele and stakeholders.
Given the diversity of Crown corporations’ mandate and stakeholders, Crown corporations must be able to determine the nature and structure of annual public meetings as much as possible.
The method by which an annual public meeting is convened, (whether in person or by electronic means), is to be determined by the Crown corporation. For a national organization, deciding how and where to conduct a public meeting is crucial to its success. The method chosen by a Crown corporation should accommodate the participation of as many sectors of the public, from as many parts of the country, as possible.
2) Annual public meetings should demonstrate transparency, accountability, and accessibility, in the eyes of the public.
Reflecting transparency, accountability and accessibility will increase the public’s understanding of the Crown corporation’s operations and return value to such operations, through the public’s input and contributions. Wherever possible, the facilitation of a two-way dialogue that allows for public question and comment should be enabled by the annual public meeting.
3) Annual public meetings do not require significant expenditures.
Spending on an annual public meeting does not need to be lavish; an annual public meeting can simply involve holding an open board meeting and inviting the public to attend, as well as providing the opportunity to offer opinions or ask questions of the board and senior management. When planning the annual public meeting, Crown corporations should be aware of the public’s perception of the event. Gratis meals or draws for prizes may be inappropriate and are likely to be viewed negatively by portions of the public.
4) The on-going sharing of best practices on annual public meetings within the Crown corporation community will remain an important means for improving such meetings and for identifying where useful, certain common approaches exist.
As Crown corporations hold annual public meetings, it is important for each to share the lessons learned and best practices from their experiences, identifying where useful, certain, common approaches. The Crown Corporation Corporate Secretary Forum provides an excellent opportunity for the corporations to share their experiences with annual public meetings and to learn from their colleagues what worked and what didn’t.
3.2 Common Features of Annual Public Meetings
The following are the key features that can be reflected in a Crown corporation annual public meeting:
1) A public meeting is held by the Crown corporation at least once a year. The specific timing or length of this meeting is left to the Crown corporation.
In some cases, a Crown corporation might decide to hold more than one public meeting per year to ensure that feedback from a significant breadth of stakeholders is received.
The annual public meeting can take place to coincide with the release of the annual report, the summary of the corporate plan or another event as determined appropriate by the Crown corporation or could be held in conjunction with a regular board meeting.
2) Members of the board of directors and senior management should, whenever possible, participate in the annual public meeting.
The presence of members of the board and key senior management such at the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) provides the public with direct access to the decision makers of the corporation, providing the opportunity to question and to comment.
3) A Crown corporation annual public meeting is open to all members of the public.
Crown corporations should ensure that invitations are open and that all members of the public are welcome to participate in the annual public meeting. Other meetings held by the corporation may include only specific groups of clients or customers, but the annual public meeting is intended for the public at large. Section 5.0 provides links to information on planning inclusive meetings that provide for the special needs of participants.
4) The purpose of an annual public meeting is threefold: to provide information on the Crown Corporation’s activities; to solicit feedback from the public; and, to provide the opportunity for members of the public to ask questions.
Regardless of the format or agenda, Crown corporations should adopt an approach to the annual public meeting that fosters information sharing and discussion of their business. Annual report or corporate plan summaries are possible discussion items. In addition to providing information, the annual public meeting should provide the opportunity for the public to ask questions and provide feedback to the corporation as well. Subsequent annual public meetings also provide the opportunity for corporations to report back on any actions that have been undertaken to address public feedback from previous meetings.
5) The size and scope of the Crown corporation may impact the location of the annual public meeting.
Corporations with a national scope may consider different locations and mechanisms to deliver their annual public meeting than corporations with a regional or local base.
Crown corporations with national mandates may decide, for example, to engage the public by holding the annual public meeting in a different city or location each year. As well, technology may be used in creative ways to facilitate broader access or discussion (e.g., web casts, call-ins).
6) Evaluating the success of the annual public meeting will help the corporation to identify areas for improvement.
The nature of the evaluation of the annual public meeting is to be determined by the Crown corporation. Self evaluations or participant surveys are common methods used. Efforts should be made by Crown corporations to continuously improve the annual public meeting based on these ongoing evaluations.
3.3 Annual Public Meetings: Best Practices
The following best practices are based on the experiences of Crown corporations who have held annual public meetings. They have been collected by staff from the Treasury Board Secretariat who attended the meetings, or were shared directly by the Crown corporations themselves.
Promote the annual public meeting as a positive opportunity to further engage the public.
Crown corporations can set a positive tone around the annual public meeting right from the planning stage. Setting a positive tone for the meeting will foster interest in the annual public meeting and will encourage public participation.
Provide public notice in a widely accessible media, well ahead of the meeting date.
It is a best practice that notice of the annual public meeting be made publicly available at least a month before the set meeting date. The notice should be given through a medium that is widely available to Canadians (e.g., national paper, Crown corporation web site) and should include the date, time and location for the meeting.
It is also a good practice for Crown corporations to include a street or electronic address where members of the public may send questions they would like to see addressed at the annual public meeting. Such a practice provides those members of the public who cannot physically attend the meeting with a mechanism to access the Board and senior executives on questions and issues.
A communications plan that covers the pre- and post meeting activities can be helpful in ensuring that required information is made available in a timely and accessible manner.
Time the annual public meeting to ensure maximum public participation.
To garner public participation, careful consideration should be given to the timing of the annual public meeting. A meeting held at a busy time of year (e.g., holiday season), or an inconvenient time of day may limit public participation. Some Crown corporations align their annual public meetings with the release of an annual report or corporate plan. This often helps to give structure and a sense of purpose to the meeting, which in turn increases the likelihood that the public will be interested in attending. The annual public meeting may also be timed to coincide with a meeting of the board of directors.
Ensure meeting content is suitable.
For some Crown corporations, opening a board meeting to the public will provide the best option for the annual public meeting. For other Crown corporations, due to the nature of information being addressed at board meetings (e.g., sensitive commercial information), an open board meeting is not an option. When planning the annual public meeting, Crown corporations can choose the format that allows them to clearly communicate information to the public without endangering sensitive information. Regardless of the meeting format chosen, Crown corporations should be sensitive to the needs of the public and try to avoid overloading participants with technical details. If the information being discussed at the annual public meeting is highly technical, it is a best practice for Crown corporations to provide short, concise presentations or handouts that will clarify the issues being addressed, to ensure participants gain an overall understanding of the business, performance, and plans being discussed.
Present a clear outline of the meeting agenda.
Whether the annual public meeting is being held by web cast or on-location, it is a good practice for Crown corporations to provide participants with a clear outline of the meeting. A concise agenda detailing how the meeting will unfold, including the names and positions of each presenter will give participants a sense of what to expect. Participants will be better able to understand what is being presented and a sense of when they will be asked to put forward questions and comments.
As members of the public may not be familiar with the names and faces of all the members of the board and senior executives of a Crown corporation, name tags may be helpful.
Allow opportunities for participants to speak informally with Board members and senior executives.
Crown corporations have suggested some public participants may not feel comfortable getting up in front of the meeting room to ask a question or to comment. To meet the needs of all participants, some corporations have offered an informal meet-and-greet with the members of the board and the senior executives at the end of the meeting. The informal meet-and-greet should be included on the agenda and referred to during the general question and answer session as a further opportunity to speak with and question the board and senior executives. The informal meet-and-greet should not be viewed as a substitute to the formal question period open to the public. Each Crown corporation will have to assess their approach.
Release a meeting summary/debrief.
It is also a good practice for Crown corporations to release a meeting summary or debrief after the annual public meeting to provide information to those members of the public who were unable to participate. Some Crown corporations may choose to post a web cast or transcript of the annual public meeting on their corporation web sites. Others may issue a press release including a short debrief on the meeting outcomes. A summary of the annual public meeting could also be included in the corporation’s annual report.
4.0 Crown Corporation Outreach Activities
In this section
To facilitate a common understanding, the term “outreach” is described as:
Outreach are activities and initiatives that provide the public and/or certain stakeholders with opportunities to access information (and possibly comment on, or collaborate with a Crown corporation) on the mandate, plans, operations, management, services and/or finances of the organization. These activities should be in addition to the annual public meeting.
All Crown corporations already undertake a variety of outreach activities. Examples of known outreach activities, currently being undertaken include:
- Websites: The majority of Crown corporations have a website. Most of the websites clearly identify their enabling legislation, mandate, annual report, strategic direction, management financial details and contact information.
- Info Bulletins: Most Crown corporations also provide information to interested members of the public through regular newsletters, reports, and emails.
- Solicitation of Feedback: Some Crown corporations solicit feedback from their clients or customers. Such feedback is most often in the form of surveys, questionnaires, call-lines and online automatic forms. A few larger organizations have developed organizational positions or structures to regularly solicit feedback from stakeholders (stakeholders typically include individuals and organizations impacted or potentially impacted by the business of the corporation).
- Consultations: Many organizations also consult stakeholders, usually in relation to the corporation’s mandate. Specific initiatives of Crown corporations necessitate consultation between various stakeholders, often with conflicting views.
The details of outreach activities are often found on the websites of these Crown corporations. They are also found in a Crown corporation’s annual report, but are not routinely contained within a standard “outreach activities” section of the annual report. Instead, they are typically described in any one of a number of sections like “governance,” “corporate responsibility,” or throughout the document depending on the nature of the activities in question.
4.1 Common Approaches to Outreach Activities
The majority of Crown corporations are already engaging in outreach activities. The outreach activities discussed above act as a complement to the annual public meeting and provide ongoing opportunities for public input into the activities of the organization. Crown corporations are encouraged to continue to evaluate and improve their outreach activities on an ongoing basis.
The following are suggested guiding principles for Outreach Activities:
1) Outreach activities can be utilized to promote the values of transparency, accountability and accessibility.
A Crown corporation can make available, to stakeholders as much information on their organization as practicable, without compromising their commercial activities.
2) A Crown corporation’s mandate, vision and activities can be regularly communicated to the public, in a manner determined by the Crown corporation.
An effective Crown corporation extends an effort to communicate its activities to its stakeholders. Crown corporations may choose to use their corporate website or publication of their annual report to do so. Other ways to communicate the corporation’s mandate, vision and activities can include: newsletters, brochures and presentations.
3) Feedback from stakeholders can be solicited.
Interested members of the public (including stakeholders such as clients or customers of the corporation) can provide valuable input to the corporation, if provided with opportunities to comment on the activities of the Crown corporation. Information should be made available to members of the public so they know who in the corporation to contact for input.
4) Outreach activities can be evaluated and continuously improved.
Crown corporations can make efforts to continuously improve their outreach activities. New ideas for outreach activities or better methods for utilizing technology for outreach can be sought out and examined on a regular basis. Building a user-feedback mechanism into outreach activities (e.g. interactive feedback form, contact number or email for comments) will help to track whether current outreach activities remain useful and relevant to users.
5) Outreach activities can be detailed in the annual report.
Crown corporations’ outreach activities can be clearly identified in the corporation’s annual report. The nature and content of reporting on outreach activities in the annual report may be determined by the Crown corporation.
5.0 Other Useful Information
The following documents provide useful information on planning and holding an inclusive meeting:
- Planning bilingual meetings and events
- Bilingual meetings
- Guide to planning inclusive meetings and conferences,Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada
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