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magpie patrick

Hybrid Canal Soc meeting - virtual and face to face

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This question is related to canals in that it affects canal societies that I'm a member of, but it's actually a bit of an IT geek query

 

I'm involved in several societies where our meetings have either been cancelled or gone on-line - I'm referring to committee meetings and AGMs rather than social gatherings. As some of the meetings are also associated with a social gathering, e.g. a canalside walk we would like to get back to "real meetings" when we can (which is probably next year or even 2022, but particularly for AGMs the benefits of online are obvious - members who are distant from the meeting or prevented from travelling by infirmity can participate. The genie is out of the online bottle, it isn't going to go away. 

 

This leads to the logical conclusion of hybrid meetings. I have experience of two things

 

1 - music broadcast online with a live audience

 

2 - online meetings

 

An AGM (for example) is going to be a mix of both - with the music broadcast you need top quality equipment and high capacity broadband, better than for speech, but other than the bands and the presenter everyone else is a spectator, whether in the room or online. The relationship isn't so much asymmetric as one-way, in particular the live audience have no interaction with the online audience, they needn't, and probably don't, know the others are there. For the online meeting, the interaction is much more symmetric, but each portal (typically a laptop or tablet) there is an audience of one or at most two - everybody is interacting through the online system.

 

One option for an AGM would be for the chairman to in front of the "studio audience" and have a laptop on the podium logged into the online meeting, but that still has two audiences for one meeting, there needs to be a degree of interaction between them, for example, someone online must be able to hear a question from the floor and ideally know who asked it, and be able to ask a follow on question. Also, if we have three or four committee members on the podium (as we do for the coal canal AGM) they really need to be on the podium for the online meeting as well, and I know from experience that two machines next to each other logged onto the same meeting doesn't work at all well. 

 

We can (and will) get round some of these with procedural measures, e.g. questions must be submitted in advance, BUT I need a way of creating the feeling that every attendee is able to participate, that none are disenfranchised

 

So two questions really, for the hybrid canal society AGM - what equipment would we need in the room, and how good a broadband facility would we need at the venue? The latter will affect what venues we can use for this. 

 

All answers gratefully received!

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We've done mixed meetings at work over Teams where the meeting in the room uses a laptop with a separate tripod mounted usb camera that can be turned to point to someone asking a question. Microphones are a bit more of a challenge to be able to pick up the person asking the question, this week depend on the size of the room. Some of the small Jabra meeting microphones are quite sensitive so are able to pick up everyone in a small room, there are also conference units available the can have extension mics plugged in but these start to get a bit pricey, I've install Polycom units that can be paired but they are around £1000 each.

 

Bandwidth will depend on what meeting software you are using but a reasonable speed home broadband copes with video conferencing.

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At the boat club I founded we have run virtual AGM for 20 years. We run a special mailing list so all members can contribute, start and finishing date are set beforehand, yes jit takes a month but is simple and works. Votes are at the end by email sent to seperate email address.

Its not latest technology but it works.

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I've done this in a work situation, with participants present in the room and others online. The office conference room had suitable camera, microphone, screen and speakers fitted, so you might need to find a venue suitably equipped. Remote participants use the online chat system to either ask a question or to indicate they wish to speak. In the main meeting someone is monitoring the chat, and can advise the chairman/presenter that a question has been asked. At periodic intervals the chairman invites questions/comments from the room and those remote. The person monitoring the chat has the ability to unmute the microphone of an individual remote participant so they can speak directly to the meeting, and maybe also appear on screen.

Worked well enough.

 

Edited to add:

Remote participants were just using ordinary laptops with webcam and either built in mic and speakers or plug in headset. Software was Microsoft Lync, but should work just as well with Teams or Zoom.

Edited by David Mack

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3 hours ago, David Mack said:

In the main meeting someone is monitoring the chat, and can advise the chairman/presenter that a question has been asked

This bit is fairly crucial. Like David Mack I've done this for business but you MUST have someone who's only purpose is to administer the virtual part of the meeting. Not the Chair; they have other things to do. Not the Note Taker. And not one of the main presenters otherwise (as I know to my cost) it goes Pear Shaped when it becomes your turn to speak!

 

Good Luck!

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4 hours ago, magpie patrick said:

>>We can (and will) get round some of these with procedural measures, e.g. questions must be submitted in advance<<

 

It always used to be a basic principle of an AGM that there was NO "any other business" item on the agenda.

Otherwise, it was not an AGM, but a meeting, full stop.

 

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4 minutes ago, Machpoint005 said:

 

It always used to be a basic principle of an AGM that there was NO "any other business" item on the agenda.

Otherwise, it was not an AGM, but a meeting, full stop.

 

We already only allow discussion rather than decisions under AOB - technically the AGM does little other than approve the accounts and elect the committee, in practice it also allows wider discussion of objectives and progress etc. 

 

Edited to add, and occasionally big issues come up that need AGM approval  like tweaking the constitution - that's when we would really have to let members ask questions

Edited by magpie patrick

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1 minute ago, magpie patrick said:

technically the AGM does little other than approve the accounts and elect the committee,

 

Yes, that's what an AGM is for!

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Machpoint005 said:

 

Yes, that's what an AGM is for!

 

 

Indeed, but that's not the only thing it does, and even in this, those participating must feel enfranchised

 

Edited to add, this is the bit that really matters - members attending must feel they are also participating - poor sound quality, flickering images or internet connections falling over will hinder this perception. Add that to an awkward member wanting to make a scene about an issue they deem to be importnatn and neglected and you have a recipe for trouble. 

 

It's an AGM by virtue of the fact that matters that must be put before an AGM are covered - that doesn't stop an AGM covering other matters. 

 

 

Edited by magpie patrick

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51 minutes ago, magpie patrick said:

 

It's an AGM by virtue of the fact that matters that must be put before an AGM are covered - that doesn't stop an AGM covering other matters. 

In my experience the meeting has to include something else interesting, as well as the formal AGM stuff, otherwise nobody other than the committee turns up!

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2 hours ago, Machpoint005 said:

How many are needed for a quorum?

In one instance it's as low as seven - I am chairman of more than one society - more than two in fact (not all societies are canal societies) but that's not the point. If something of great import is being voted on the meeting must be accessible and the society in question needs to ensure it took all reasonable steps in the event of a challenge. If, for example, a society votes through a change in it's constitution, a member challenges it as they were unable to log in, and it turns out the modem was a tin can on a string, the challenge is likely to be valid even if the meeting was quorate. 

 

Many societies, including all those I'm involved with, could not legally hold a virtual AGM when lockdown came, the Charity Commissioners had to move pretty quickly as we were between a rock and a hard place, required by our constitutions to hold a physical AGM and required by law not to (and unable to book a venue). 

 

Most of the debates around AGMs relates to ensuring members feel enfranchised should they wish to participate, and around being secure in the event of legal challenge or investigation. Those dodgy votes on accounts, facilitated by holding the AGM in the basement of the gas holder at 3 minutes to midnight may not come to light because of a legal challenge, but because of an accident on a work party. Good governance is key. 

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Depending how many are in the "real" meeting a projection screen, a wide angle camera or two and a single microphone can work. Audio feedback can be an issue if the microphone / PA speakers aren't matched and designed to work together. It gets worse if a small subgroup also want to be in a group (I frequently have a dozen people at one end, four at the other and another half dozen dialling in independently; herding cats isn't in it! Fortunately all our meeting rooms have VTC installed)

 

A few other considerations (which apply to real meetings as well but are "different" in the virtual world)

  • The need / ability to allow members of the public (often in listen only mode)
  • The ability to handle aggressive / abusive members during discussion
  • Any business where one or more of those present must not participate due to a financial or other interest. But need to be re-admitted for the next item of business

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