Friday, January 16, 2009

Question for the Community: Robert's Rules and Technological Advances

A little over a year ago my church was in the midst of major conversation about the future of our property and whether or not being good stewards of our property meant hanging on to every square inch, or using part of it to help build an affordable senior housing project.  Please, let's not debate that topic here!

The first time that the vote came to the congregation people seem to have thought it was a sure thing, so they did not make coming to the Congregational Meeting a priority, and the motion was defeated by six or so votes.  Following that vote I was bombarded with questions such as:
  • Why could we not just email our vote?
  • Why could we not vote by proxy?
  • Could we do it conference-call style for people out of town?
The answers to the first two were easy, one thing about voting in person is that we believe that the Spirit is present when we meet and discuss, and votes should be made because of that, not because you've decided before you get there.  I know this to be true in our Presbytery as well.

But the last question, that's the one that I struggled with.  I believe my frank answer was simply "you didn't ask me that a month ago so that I could investigate."  People were obviously unhappy with both the decision and my answer.  Sometimes that's my role, though, and I'm okay with it.

I've thought about it, but I don't know how practical it would be for our congregation to try to incorporate such things into our meetings, even before thinking about Book of Order or Robert's Rules.  I'm sure that I could rig the sound system to incorporate a phone line.  What happens when someone says that we need to include video if we're doing voice?  I think that would cross a line for me, but I'm not sure why.

So my question to you is, what does your church/organization do now to incorporate technology into Congregational/Other Meetings?
What do you plan to do in the future?
What do you think would be too much?
If you've tried this, what pitfalls or perks would you share with other congregations considering such a move?


John Shuck said...

It sure would seem unwieldy to me. I have to think that if it is so crucial, they better get to the meeting.

As I was reading your story I was thinking that any big decision lost or won by six votes is not nearly a consensus which a project of that magnitude would probably need to succeed.

The technology could be useful for educational purposes, though.

Elaine said...

We generally flip switches that make round things in the ceiling give off great quantities of light, and occasionally even talk into things that make the sound MUCH louder.

Norman, OK

Stushie said...

We've used conference calls at our Session meetings. it means that an elder out of town can make decisions when discussing are taking place. However, there is a stilted conversation at times and some awkward silences. I also had to ask the conference caller if he or she had any questions or points to make just before the vote took place.

There is no provision for email voting in Robert's because you cannot guarantee that the email writer is the legitimate voter.

Pinkhammer said...

I have no practical information to add to this discussion as I have no experience to pull from, but one thing that came to mind is Skype. Even if they can't do video, you can call someone on their cell phone rom Skype and they would hear what the computer microphone picks up. Might be worth doing a test run to see how practical it would be to use in this way.

Reyes-Chow said...

With all of my traveling we have agreed that if needed, I can moderate via skype video. Not ideal, but we talked with our clerk about it and we think it is fine. There IS something about conversations that require some read of nuances that can only be done in person. Our session agrees upon things via online interaction, but meaty things we still do in person. Something like tokbox that allows for video conferences might be a good tool as well.

paulboal said...

We've done a couple of minor votes via email, between session meetings.

I think that voting via email or having meetings with participants on the phone can be very challenging, until the group gets used to it. I've work in distributed corporate environments where we need to have very technical discussions. After doing it for a while, most participants get used to the slightly different rhythm of a voice-only meeting.

As you'd expect, one thing that helps most people is to have some kind of visual component to the meeting, whether video conferencing or sharing a computer screen with the agenda and associated documents.

Lucy said...

FYI - in some jurisdictions "electronic" meetings (by telephone/computer/video) are not legally binding unless the bylaws of the organization holding the meeting specifically allow for it. So if you're dealing with something contentious, make sure a technology-aided meeting is legal. That being said, I agree with where John Shuck seems to be headed - if it's important and "close" then the meeting should be a top priority - or maybe it's time to back off and rethink the issue.