Web 2.0 tools for the “back of house” – managing committee meetings part 1

Mention social media or Web 2.0 and most people think of the obvious suspects such as Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. However there are a number of online tools which are less well-known but which can provide major benefits for the “back-of-house” operations of small organisations.

First, a bit of background. Most people who work in the community sector, especially those who work in executive or management positions in non-government organisations, know only too well the regular grind of preparing agendas for Board meetings, not to mention the work involved in running the meetings themselves, preparing and distributing the resulting minutes and ensuring that meeting resolutions are implemented. Many council staff also have similar duties.

For many years I looked at ways in which this process could be streamlined using conventional software techniques. The problem is that whilst there were a number of off-the-shelf programs which could each handle some of the specific steps along the way, none of them could manage the whole process effectively.

For example, word processing programs are the obvious choice for preparing agendas and minutes, but do not provide a good solution for storing meeting outcomes. Database software does a better job of the latter but not the former, and neither category is particularly effective for managing or recording meetings in real time.

With the advent of Outlook and other email clients and calendar software came a crop of add-on programs that claimed they could manage meetings as well as handling meeting notifications, attendances, etc. However, it quickly became clear that the majority of these were aimed at running online meetings only, or at best very simple face-to-face project team meetings.

A couple of programs emerged that were aimed at managing complex Council meeting processes (for example, the Australian program InfoCouncil), or those of large associations, but in general these are too complex and expensive for most community organisations and I suspect even some smaller councils.

In the absence of anything else I cobbled together a collection of Word templates, autotext entries, macros and other techniques which I implemented both to speed up the whole process and to ensure some sort of consistency. More recently I modelled the whole process using the mind mapping tool, MindManager (a great tool which I will discuss in a future post) and also developed a map which can itself be used as a meeting template.

Through this process I identified seven key steps in committee meeting management, as follows:

  1. Prepare the agenda: depending on the size of the organisation this may be a solo activity and team effort, involving preparation of individual agenda items, incorporating attachments and assembling the final document.
  2. Distribute the agenda: distribute the agenda to attendees, either as hard copy or increasingly be email or as website downloads. The latter may require security features to restrict access.
  3. Run the meeting: if possible using the software to actually conduct the meeting and at the same time record motions put to the committee or board and their outcomes.
  4. Prepare the minutes: distribute the minutes to attendees, either as hard copy or increasingly via email or as a website download.
  5. Distribute the minutes: a similar process to agenda distribution.
  6. Update the resolutions register: I’ve deliberately elevated this as a separate step, because it is so important and yet so often neglected – both by committees and in meeting management software. Keeping a register of meeting resolutions is essential to ensure consistency with previous committee decisions and as a basis for developing the organisation’s policy positions. At the very least meeting minutes should be collated and kept in such a way that they can be easily searched, but the process is much more efficient if the meeting resolutions can be stored separately in some form of database.
  7. Implement the meeting’s outcomes: prepare action lists for committee members or organisation staff. These can be linked to the organisation’s management or project plans and a record kept of their implementation.

In my next post I’ll discuss a Web 2.0 online tool that attempts to address some of these tasks.

This entry was posted in Community Sector, Local Government, Meeting tools, Web 2.0 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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