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Help Sheet

Communication between group members

Regular contact and two-way information exchange between the group and its members is important for maintaining the existence of the group.

Informal two-way exchange

For small groups an easy way to inform all group members (those that attend meetings and those that are unable to attend) of the group's activities, actions, plans, discussions and decisions is to issue a regular bulletin.

Bulletins can be used to let a wider group of interested people know what your group has been up to, and can also provide an easy way to regularly communicate between group members.

A double-sided, hand-written A4 piece of paper, or a short electronic version, is all you need (in fact shorter is often preferable to longer).

You might produce two versions of your bulletins, one for just group members, and one that is written for a wider audience, as there may be some information that's appropriate for members' eyes only.

Bulletins can be easily turned into a two-way mutual learning exchange. For example, you might invite group members to write a short opinion piece, discussion paper, or idea, which can be sent out with the bulletin to all group members, or included within the bulletin.

Editorial policy is an important consideration for your group, particularly if you are inviting contributions. For example, if people are being asked for their opinion they need to know that what they provide will not be edited without their permission. They shouldn't, though, expect that everything they provide will always be printed. There may be very good reasons for leaving some things out - there may be space or legal considerations, for example.

There does need to be some rules. These need to be developed by the group but might include things like:

Rotating writing

Another option for encouraging mutual learning within a bulletin is to rotate the writing amongst group members.

For example, a specific section of each edition of the bulletin could be left for the writer to have their say about any topic they see as relevant.

Other content of your bulletin can include:

The bulletin as history

Cumulatively a 12-month collection of monthly bulletins provides an easy record of annual activities, and can serve as an 'annual report' of the group's discussions, decisions, activities and achievements.

Monthly bulletins supply information without being too onerous to produce or too onerous to read.

They also ensure the group maintains regular and predictable contact with members. This is especially important for group members who may not be able to attend meetings but wish to be kept informed of what has been discussed / decided within meetings.

Monthly bulletins don't need to be beautifully designed and professionally printed; in fact, there are advantages if they are not. A simple bulletin that can be photocopied or forwarded on as an email will allow group members to show a friend or other interested parties, who may then request their own copy.

Costs of communication

There is no doubt that good communication between members is essential for a group to survive, however in a small group this is often the largest cost item.

The inherent costs involved in using 'snail-mail' (the post) as a method of communication with members can be daunting.

Costs for stationary, printing / photocopying, envelops and stamps can all add up to substantial amounts during the year, especially if the group membership is large or if bulky newsletters are being mailed to members.

With the explosion of electronic communication systems, many groups have become more reliant (and in some cases solely reliant) on email as the primary method of communicating with group members.

However, you shouldn't let the lack of computer equipment, computer literacy or knowledge about keeping databases stop you from maintaining contact and continuing the communication exchange between the group and its members.

It is still possible to keep a simple paper-based list of group members' names and contact details (mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses) and keep in touch without using email, or by using a combination of email, snail-mail and face-to-face methods of communication.

Group members will probably want to be notified of upcoming meetings and any changes to the meeting time/date/place. They may also consent to other information being received from the group (newsletters from other similar groups, information about relevant forums they may wish to participate in, etc.).

The group members need to decide who will be the contact person to receive this information and who will be responsible for sending it on to individual group members who have consented to receiving it.

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