Group discussions

Closed 15 Dec 2023

Opened 6 Oct 2023


The Government has set up an inquiry to find out more about what happened during the severe weather events earlier this year. Share to prepare offers a way for groups of people to come together and share their stories and experiences of the weather events that affected them, their families and communities.

Here we share information for those people who will be leading discussions and submitting responses on how to host a community group or organisation discussion. It takes you step by step through a process.

This is a basic guide to help you to facilitate a group discussion.  You can use as much or as little of this information as you want.

Establishing your group

Anyone can form a group including:

  • people with a shared experience;
  • those with a shared interest or profession;
  • family groups; and
  • people who are already part of an organisation or a community group.

If you are bringing a group together, think about who you might want to be in the group. If you are inviting people to be part of your group, make sure they understand what the group will be doing and that they agree to take part.

A group of six to eight people should give everyone the chance to contribute. If you know all the people in the group well, think about how the group will get on together. You might want to set up different groups.

You can also arrange for your group to meet with another group, or groups, in your area to have a discussion. This would allow everyone to listen to other people’s experiences and share their own.

Appointing a facilitator

It’s important to have someone leading the group discussion. That person may or may not be the same as the group organiser. Your group’s facilitator should be good at listening, summarising and encouraging people to get involved and participate. It is often useful for that person to be someone that the group trusts and who potentially has experienced the weather events too.

Preparing to meet as a group

As you prepare for the meeting, ask those involved what additional support they will need to engage and share their experiences. For example, do you need to organise translators? This can take time to arrange.

Organise the meeting (online or in-person) at a time and a place that works for everyone. For example, it may be best for you to meet in the evening or on the weekend. Give people plenty of time to organise to be involved. Also, ask people what time of day works best for the group. Some people may prefer to meet in the morning while others may be at their best at other times of the day.

If your group is meeting in-person, choose a location that people feel safe in and where they feel they can be themselves and speak openly. Try and include a quiet and private space where people can go if they need to take a break from the discussion.

Sharing personal experiences from events like this can be difficult and emotional, and people may express these feelings in unpredictable ways. It’s important to be prepared for potentially difficult and emotional conversations. It may be useful to consider whether you need support people available, and how best to support group members, including yourself, after the discussion.

Having tea/coffee and snacks available can help people relax and get involved. You will need to organise these in advance. Make sure you check on people’s dietary needs.

If you are running your meeting online

Encourage participants to always have their cameras on (if access and comfort allow) and microphones muted when not contributing.

Make the most of your chosen online platform for those who wish to use functions such as chat function, hand raising, reactions, breakout rooms and digital whiteboards. Consider having an extra person to support this.

Make sure the members of the group understand the discussion is private and that, if you are recording the session, you are only doing so to capture notes – and the file will be deleted once this is done.

Starting the discussion

The facilitator should start the meeting by welcoming everyone, introducing themselves and stating the timing and structure of the discussion. We recommend 1.5 to two hours (with at least a 10-minute break) for a group discussion. However, it’s important to decide how long the meeting will be and how many breaks are needed, based on what will work best for the people participating.

Ask each person to introduce themselves.

Establish parameters for the meeting at the beginning. For example, talk through confidentiality, sensitivity, respect, honesty and allowing everyone’s voice to be heard.

Gathering information

Share the survey question with your group beforehand so they can think about their responses. The questions we would like your group to answer are:

  • How prepared do you think local and central government agencies were?
  • How well did local and central government agencies respond to the weather events?
  • How well prepared do you think necessary services were for the weather events? (including services such as electricity, water, telecommunications, and waste collection)
  • How well do you think necessary services responded to the weather events? (including service such as electricity, water, telecommunications, and waste collection)
  • How prepared do you think your community was? 
  • How well did your community respond?
  • How prepared did you feel in the lead-up to the weather events?
  • How prepared were you during the weather events?
  • What went wrong or did not work well during the emergency response, and why?
  • What worked well during the emergency response, and why?
  • What, in your view, would have been most helpful in the lead-up to the weather event/s?  
  • What, in your view, would have been most helpful during the weather event/s themselves?
  • Is there anything else you would like to tell us?  

Or you can use the questions below to guide your group’s discussion, before filling in the survey [hyperlink to survey].

What were your experiences during the weather events?

Please share with us in your own words what happened to you in the run up to, and during,  the weather event. You can talk about things in any order and in whatever way is comfortable for you. You can take us back to the start and tell us everything you think is relevant or you can just tell us about one thing that happened. The most important thing is that we hear about the experiences you wish to share.

What were the impacts of these experiences on you or the people you know?

You may wish to share information about the difference your experiences made to your day-to-day life, and/or the difference they made to your family or friends. This might include how you thought or felt at the time and how you feel now. You may wish to consider whether these impacts affected you in particular, or whether you think this impact was the same for everyone living in your community.

What lessons do you think we can all learn from your experiences?

You could tell us about things that could have been done better or differently, or what you think was done well. Please tell us about anything you think decision-makers, such as the government, local authorities or the people who provide public services, could learn from your experiences during the weather events.

Keeping things on track

Schedule breaks and always offer participants the opportunity to rest or stop entirely, especially if they become distressed from reliving their experience. Ensure everyone who wishes to contribute gets the chance to do so, and encourage a wide variety of thoughts and ideas.

Agreeing key points

In drawing the conversation to a close, it can be helpful for the facilitator to offer a summary of the main discussion points. This can help clarify areas of agreement and difference, and ensure everyone’s views are fairly captured in the summary.

After the discussion

At the end of the meeting, thank everyone for taking the time to participate. You might want to share with them, for example, that it takes courage to talk about these experiences and everyone’s contributions are valuable and helpful to the Inquiry. Reiterate that you will now be summarising the key points raised and submitting them to the Inquiry on behalf of the group. Reassure participants that their contributions are confidential. 

It’s not unusual for participants to feel unsettled after sharing their personal experiences. Allow them to take their time in leaving the meeting and, where appropriate, point them to the support available.

Capturing the information

If possible, have two people available to run each session: one to facilitate the discussion;  and another to write notes.

Before you start the group discussion, point out to participants that notes will be taken, identify the note-taker and explain that the key points/summary will be submitted to the Inquiry on behalf of the group or individual.

If you are the note-taker, you don’t need to write word-for-word notes. The most important thing is to capture the main points of what people say in relation to the three questions. You can use bullet points if this is easiest, but you may also wish to capture some detailed points or quotes.

Summarising the information

After the meeting, either the facilitator or note-taker should summarise the main points of your discussion using the three questions as headings. You can write notes in bullet points if you prefer or upload an audio recording of your summary to each question. Please do not include information that identifies a person, such as names or addresses.

When writing up your response, it is important that you only include information which your participants have told you about their experiences. Please do not add any information which was not discussed by the group.