I've come across a blog post whilst researching some other topic and it inspired me to write about a recent discussion we've had to decide whether we should have audio recordings of our meetings.

I'm going to stop here for a second to define "meetings" as we have various types:

Eco Hacker Farm Monthly meetings - public and anyone who is interested can attend, the purpose of the meeting is to meet and discuss with anyone who wants to know more about the community, what projects we want to work on and hopefully set up working groups to get going on these projects. Non-location specific. Documented through meeting notes.

Project Management meetings - not public - meetings for the project managers (and occasionally other members and/or 3rd parties) to assess the current ongoing tasks and make decisions on how to proceed - location specific and/or non location specific. Documented through meeting notes.

Impromptu meetings - discussions over dinner with volunteers or visitors as to what needs doing and whether new tickets should be logged into the Project Management System (PMS) - sometimes online during private phonecalls etc. mostly location specific, not public beyond the random people sat at the table or on the call and not documented beyond logging any action tickets on the PMS.

IT Meetups- events to work on IT related issues, invite is public anyone can attend in person (no online facility). Location specific and not documented.

Before I continue I must say that this discussion was not held in any of the above mentioned meetings or verbally but impromptu and in writing on a ticket in the PMS. This in itself is somewhat unusual but perhaps (at least in my opinion) it also took out quite a bit of the emotional side out of it. i.e. there were no raised voices, people interrupting or talking over each other or hijacking the discussion. I'm only pointing out here what could have happened to the negative extreme. Instead people participating could walk away from it and get back to it with after a bit of time to think about what is being said/written.

Still it was quite an tense/emotional discussion with lengthy comebacks but good points were raised and agreed on including:

  • decision making process should be documented ie not only the result
  • people have the right to say they do not want to be recorded for whatever reason

It also highlighted many questions for which we had no immediate answers amongst which:

  • should all meetings be public?
  • if not then which ones should be public?
  • should all meetings be recorded?
  • if not then which ones or which parts?
  • where do we store the recordings?
  • should the recordings be public?
  • if not then what is the criteria for access?
  • if yes but not all then what's the criteria for the one's not/disclosed?
  • what do we do when someone in the meeting doesn't want to be recorded?
  • what changes do we need to make to the current decision making process?

What did we disagree on?

  • public disclosure of private life
  • whether the number of listeners interested makes a difference
  • if the extra work to tag the recordings with the agenda items is worth the effort relative to 2nd point
  • whether this would formalise (compared to current format) the tone of the meeting/s when people know they are recorded

There was also a suggestion to broadcast the meeting/s on a podcast but as we were not agreeing to recording in the first place this is also still pending agreement.

This blog post doesn't include all of the details nor all the points raised, neither does it name the participants of said discussion - this is intentional. The focus is not on the disagreement itself, I have no wish to reignite it neither do I see a value in pointing out who said what to whom but rather on what resulted from it and what insights I gathered from the experience.

Could the discussion have gone any better? Perhaps we should have stopped the toing and froing earlier when it was clear that there was no consensus rather than keeping trying to convince each other creating frustration in the process. Maybe avoiding repetition of arguments would also have helped reach a conclusion earlier, although I'm not sure in this case. These are my personal opinions about how I perceived the interaction.

One argument that struck me particularly was that there was concern that we would be criticised in future about not fulfilling our ideals (to what extent?). Another was how much weight do we give to emotion in the decisions we make, these are topics I'd like to write about further separately.

Perhaps the ticket could have outlined which meetings were being referring to and the motivation why although I'm almost sure that it would not have changed anything in terms of views at the end of the day.

You must be wondering by now what decision we did agree on, well we haven't quite agreed yet but there is a suggestion to test the recording at the next monthly EHF meeting as this is already a public meeting and see how we get on from there.

There may be have been disappointment along the way but this is normal to a point when people care about what they are discussing and subsequently have strong opinions. Ultimately we have to respect each other's views. Also understanding that we don't always look at issues from the same perspective - viewing this as not a weakness but a strength, to question things before we implement them, being self critical and willing to improve but also testing things out when needed before making a final decision. Ultimately we will also make mistakes that's human nature.

There's also the reality that there are going to be times when there is no consensus and then we have to work out how we should proceed. But for me the underlying principles remain, we agree on the ideals, we are willing to collaborate, we have our needs for self-fulfillment & personal aspirations recognised and at least partly met by virtue of overlap with the community goals.

As for the unanswered questions we will have to work through them individually and collectively after the testing and if need be discuss to what extent we take the implementation of our ideals.