So, the EUDEC Council meeting has been over for almost a week, and until yesterday I was on self-enforced vacation, which went very well. Chloe Duff and Or Levi — who are organizing the IDEC@EUDEC 2011 Conference — were here, and a great time was had by all.
Anyway, some of has felt that during this Council meeting we reached a whole new level of effective collaboration. There are many different aspects to this and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. We spent a lot of time developing our methods, and in this post I want to share a few of the ways the Internet has become a vital part of how we work in Council. Perhaps some of you will find them useful.
Here are the main ways we use GDocs. Some or all may be relevant to other organizations or endeavors. Scroll through until you find something you like, and let me know if you have any more ideas or any questions in the comments below!
Collaborative text editing
When Council has to create a text and we decide everyone should work on it together, we just put the text in a document, all open it, and start carefully going through it. We can add comments or make changes and everyone else sees them live. Whenever anyone wants to try something out, they can do it right away and we can discuss it immediately. It works surprisingly well, especially for putting the final touches on something that’s basically done. I would generally recommend not trying to edit any text in a group of more than three people unless you’re sure it’s very near done.
Live collaborative minute-taking
We noticed during our weekly VoIP conference calls that we can use Google Docs to take minutes live, which lets everyone contribute and improve the minutes, and saves us the bother of approving last meeting’s minutes every week. When everyone can give their input as the minutes are being written, they always end up better reflecting the collective understanding of what was discussed and decided. In this last live meeting we took all minutes this way from the start, and it worked great.
The live workplan
This one’s a tiny bit trickier to set up and makes use of spreadsheets rather than just plain documents. The live workplan is a spreadsheet in which each sheet is a day of sessions, and each row lists the title, moderator, goal, starting time, duration and ending time of an agenda slot, break or other activity. The columns where time is kept are set up so the starting time (except for the first slot) is set by the end of the previous slot, and the end of each slot is calculated from the starting time and the duration (in minutes). This means you only have to set the starting time of the first session for each day
We originally used this format2 to just create a plan for how we’ll use our time, but it eventually evolved into a live workplan, in which we can extend a session ad hoc and immediately see what that means for later sessions. This means we can be flexible about time and take extra time when we need it, but we can also tell when we’re taking too much time and starting to push important sessions off the back end of the schedule. It’s especially good to combine this system with “open work sessions” — slots at the end of a day where sit together and work on different things separately or in small groups and talk freely. These are useful if the time remains available, but not crucial when the time gets eaten up by earlier sessions.
It’s usually too complicated to start really moving things around in a full discussion, so whenever things got complicated we just decided on the immediate change or extension and one or two of us worked out the rest of the details during the next break or meal-time.
The virtual WHITEBOARD
This document is perhaps the coolest of our tools. It starts as just an empty document which we can all use for jotting down ideas and thoughts. During difficult discussions, it’s often the document we beam on the wall. The moderator can use it to write up the points we should be focussing on, adding details as they come up.
We also use the whiteboard to collaboratively keep a speakers’ list. People can add and remove themselves independently, meaning the moderator can better pay attention to the discussion itself. Having the list in a place where everyone can see it also means nobody is ever stuck wondering when it’s their turn, and any mistake made when adding people to the list (wrong order, wrong name, etc.) can be corrected without losing a moment of discussion.
We started using the whiteboard in live meetings and have just figured out they would be equally useful for our weekly “chat”. I look forward to trying it out there for the first time tomorrow.