Recently, ERoSH, the national consortium of sheltered housing,
chose to hold its first e-meet as a replacement for its executive
meeting. As a body of some 15 trustees, members usually travel to
London from around the UK to give what is in effect a day, given
that there is up to four-and-a-half hours of meeting and between
two and six hours’ travel time.
A quick audit showed the cost of the traditional “going to one
place” meeting: 59 person hours, 44 travel hours, and travel costs
of £300. The e-meet had no travel cost or travel time and only
needed 25 person hours.
After deciding against the expense and palaver of video
conferencing I presided over the e-meeting following a protocol
(since upgraded) which is available at www.shelteredhousing.org
How does it work? There are key “roles”. A presider is the meeting
moderator but not the usual chairperson. The tabler is a person who
can lead on a particular item. A participant is a usual “attendee”
of the meeting. An observer is a person who is copied in, who might
be an officer who provides information or clarification. The
recorder is the minute keeper.
At a set time, those who wish to engage in the process e-mail the
presider who then creates a “group” which effectively becomes the
list of those “present”. All are e-mailed by the presider for each
agenda item by way of introduction inviting the tabler to copy
documents or make a pitch or presentation. The participants can
comment at any stage.
Each agenda item stays “live” until a record is agreed; usually a
summary of the item by the presider or possibly the chair and the
recorder notes this as a minute. The process is repeated item by
item until the presider declares the meeting closed.
It is certainly not linear, in the sense that several things can
happen at once as the agenda can be driven in waves allowing those
receiving the e-mails time to digest attachments and to respond to
the initial and subsequent e-mails. For example, one person could
comment on item 3 while others were digesting item 4 and a tabler
was introducing item 5!
It was an amazing experience: nine people participated, 161 e-mails
were exchanged, the meeting lasted 90 minutes and achieved all the
business that the usual four-and-a-half hours would achieve.
As for feedback: one person hated it; five found it challenging but
exhilarating; one came to the meeting late but caught up on the
e-mails and was a crucial contributor.
We are used to a certain style to conduct business but I suggest
that it’s worth trying out a new way to maximise resources, reduce
travel, and engage people who might otherwise not attend
I found that we achieved the same quantity of business. I felt
people could participate in the creating of “there&then”
minutes and decision recording. I believe that as much debate,
clarification and information exchange happened as usual. I hope
others will try it!
Meic Phillips is assistant director of Epic Trust, a care
and support provider in London