There are a number of potential forms that your hustings can take. Here we outline four options:
Option A – Traditional hustings
These meetings take a ‘question time’ format, where candidates are invited to respond to questions from the audience.
You might want to consider the following structure:
- Brief introduction of the candidates by name and party
- Short statement by each candidate (a couple of minutes each at most)
- Questions from the audience on issues relevant to the election being held, allowing each candidate to respond
- Final few sentences from each candidate.
Bearing in mind that you may have six or more candidates, you will need to ensure that statements and answers are kept strictly to time. You will probably want to have someone with a stopwatch who can notify the speaker that their time is nearly up (eg 30 seconds to go) and again when time is up. Online event platforms allow the ‘host’ of the meeting to mute speakers.
It is always a good idea to have someone lined up to ask the first question – people may be slow in starting, but they will soon warm up. These meetings are run by – but not for – the churches. People from all sections of the community should be encouraged to attend and to participate.
Decide how you want to handle questions – should questions be submitted beforehand to ensure that a range of topics is covered, or are you happy simply to take questions from the audience? If so, you should explain the rules if someone wants to ask a question and how they can do this in an online meeting.
Whatever you decide, this should be made clear to the audience at the start of the meeting. Also decide whether you will allow supplementary questions to be asked: remember that even if each of six candidates is given just two minutes to answer, each question will take twelve minutes. The chair or moderator could take several questions at a time. Questioners may also need to be kept in check by the chair – people have come to hear the candidates, not the audience!
Option B – Speed hustings
Based on a “speed dating” format, this type of hustings enables a dialogue to take place between candidates and the audience. It would take the following format:
The audience is distributed into online breakout rooms, with each breakout room allocated a candidate and a facilitator. Candidates can make a short introductory statement, and then respond to questions from the group before moving on to the next group, after a set amount of time.
Having spoken with all of the break out rooms, the candidates are each invited to sum up with a short statement to the whole audience at the end of the evening.
Option C – “People’s politics” election meeting
Whereas a traditional hustings places the emphasis on hearing from politicians and parties, a ‘People’s Politics’ event begins by hearing from those whose voices are not often heard within the political discourse before asking candidates to respond.
The event would take the following format:
- Identify individuals or representatives from groups who are often marginalised within society: this might be someone from a homeless shelter or users of a food bank, groups with learning disabilities, young carers, asylum seekers or any others that might be applicable to your local context and to the election being held who are willing to share their stories (up to three people is ideal).
- At the event have the Chair introduce the format, the candidates and those who have been invited to share their story.
- The first person shares their three-minute story then poses a question that they would like the candidates to answer.
- Each of the candidates in turn responds to what they have heard and attempts answers the question. This should be a three-way conversation between the Chair, the person sharing their story and the candidate. It is not a dialogue between the candidates.
- Once all the candidates have done this, the Chair will thank them and thank the person who has shared their story, before inviting the next person to share their story.
- Once all the stories have been heard, and responses from candidates given, the Chair has the option to ask all the speakers to come to the front of the stage and take questions from the audience (time permitting).
Much of the success of this event relies on facilitating individuals to share their stories. For some of those individuals, this may be an intimidating process: ideally you should spend time with them in advance ensuring that they are comfortable with the format and what is expected of them. Some may wish to have their story written down. For others speaking for three minutes may be difficult and in these instances an interview approach between the Chair and the story teller may be advisable.
Knowing what question to ask the candidates may also be difficult for those sharing their story. If this is the case, you may need to help them think about the question in advance. The question does not need to be complicated and often simple questions such as “If elected, what would you do to address this issue?” can be very powerful.
The second significant part of the process involves facilitating the discussion between the candidates and the story teller. In this instance, it is important that the Chair ensures that both individuals are allowed a fair contribution and that they do so in a measured and constructive way. This should be explained to participants in advance of the event.
Option D – “Interview Series”
Instead of trying to organise a public event, this idea would see a well-briefed moderator interviewing each of the candidates; they would ask the same or similar questions and would give each candidate the same amount of time (say around 15 minutes). The interviews would be recorded at a time to suit the individual candidates. Once they are recorded they should be edited into a single video then uploaded. and uploaded when they have all been recorded. You should edit the videos together, making sure each candidate is fairly presented, that they have all been able to answer the same questions and are all given the same amount of video time to speak.
The moderator would need to be prepared to think carefully about the questions and would need to ensure every candidate is represented fairly and accurately, and that no-one is getting more or less publicity. The coordination group would also need to put energy into ensuring publicity for the video is circulated widely.