In my last post I outlined some of the key steps for small non-government organisations and councils in managing board and committee meetings, highlighting the difficulties in finding a single program that would manage these tasks.
So far I have found only one Web 2.0 application specifically targeted to these processes: MyCommittee. This is a classic Web 2.0 program – hosted entirely online and managed through a web browser. All the data is also stored online and you can purchase different feature levels, paying for the application on a monthly basis.
Charges range from free (effectively a trial of the program, allowing you to set up one committee only with only 1 Mb of storage and limited features) through personal (US$19 per month, five committees and 200Mb of storage), standard (US$49, 15 committees and 1Gb) and premium (US$99, 35 committees and 3Gb) to enterprise (US$149, 100 committees and 10Gb). All paid levels of the program allow access to the full range of features.
How does MyCommittee work? Well, to quote the website:
“MyCommittee allows you to create and share indexed meeting agendas, minutes and documents and provides your members with a central location to collaborate and stay connected between meetings. It is designed especially for committees, boards and other groups that have regular and recurring meetings.”
After you have registered and created your own profile you set up basic information about your first committee, such as its name, meeting schedule and terms of reference. At this stage you also create standing items that occur at the beginning or end of every meeting.
You then access a dashboard with a number of tabs covering activities such as nominating committee members and other significant contacts, uploading documents and of course creating meeting agendas.
Choosing this option takes you to a set of new tabs which cover the sequence of creating a new meeting for the committee. You have the option of using the tabs or a wizard to step you through the creation of the agenda – or you can prepare the document in one go.
The wizard starts with general information about the meeting. The second step is to input meeting attendees from the committee’s membership, plus any guests. The third step allows you to upload and attach documents and the fourth to confirm the standing items. The fifth provides an option to incorporate “old items” – what might generally be called business arising, or items deferred from the last meeting.
The sixth step is the guts of the program where general business items are created. Sub-items can also be created, in effect allowing the creation of headings under which items can be grouped (though this could be better implemented). These items can be either be discussion or resolution items – if the latter is chosen, then additional fields for mover and seconder appear with a drop-down list of the names of attendees, though these can be left blank at this stage. Documents can also be attached to individual items.
In the seventh step the agenda is reviewed and then in the eighth and final step the agenda is distributed. Every attendee receives a notification of the meeting, the items (if any) that they are required to lead and a link to the stored agenda on the MyCommittee website. PDF versions of the agenda (and minutes) can also be created.
Whilst MyCommittee doesn’t go out of its way facilitate real-time use in actually running a meeting, the minutes wizard – basically a cut-down version of the agenda wizard – can be used during or after the meeting to prepare the minutes. Each resolution item now has extra fields to record what the decision about the item and whether it has been resolved or is still outstanding.
There are a number of additional features, especially for purchasers of the paid versions of MyCommittee. For example, you can automatically create tasks for members from action items identified during the meeting which will show up as business arising at future meetings – though these have to be added as separate items rather than being attached to a previous business item. Committee members can comment on agenda items online and there are facilities to discuss any subject, take polls of meeting attendees and search previous meeting minutes for information.
Verdict: there is a lot to like about MyCommittee – which is just as well, because so far it is one of a kind. Although there is a small learning curve, it would suit a small to medium organisation that has reasonably but not excessively complex agendas and which needs to handle attachments. Its interactive features would also suit organisations with active committee members, especially if the task management features are adequate for their needs.
The program still needs refinement, however. Whilst it is well laid out the interface can still be confusing and sometimes you lose track of exactly where you are. MyCommittee could also do with a split-screen presentation mode so that it could be used to actually run a meeting as well as recording the minutes. The task management feature is problematic for organisations with a staffed secretariat as it appears that actions can only be scheduled for committee members. The ability to change some of the terminology and to customise the layout of agendas and minutes, especially in the PDF versions, would also be helpful.
The biggest omissions however are the inability to view resolutions in anything other than chronological order and the lack of any facility to extract them for storage in a separate database. This would be a major problem for those organisations that need to track or refer to resolutions. The program’s creators have indicated that these features might be included in later releases, so organisations that need these facilities might consider holding off until they are implemented.