Scribing How to

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Presentor: Sean Ellefson
Date: 6 March 2012

Why We Scribe:

  1. To record the discussions, proposals, commitments, and decisions that occur in Free Geek's many, many meetings,
  2. To propogate these records for the entire organization to see and reflect upon,
  3. To expand institutional knowledge and awareness.

My Minutes Taking Philosophy

  • I record minutes like I took notes in college. That is to say, pretend you're spending thousands of dollars to sit here and listen to this meeting
  • Treat each set of minutes as a stand alone document.
    • I should be able to reread minutes without having to reference other documents for summaries
    • Minutes should provide enough information so that people who weren't able to attend can feel like they did

What Good Minutes Want

  1. The date
  2. A list of the attendees, facilitator(s), and scribe
  3. Clear organization:
    • Seperation of topics and items
    • Explicitly marked Action Items
    • Written in, and formatted for, plaintext
  4. Context!
    • Include summaries of previous actions, the topic, and any information that will help to describe what is happening

In the Meeting

  • Good facilitation is important in a meeting, and especially for minute taking. The facilitator should be checking with the scribe to ensure that important items are being included. That said, it's not always feasible due to the nature of some discussions and human tendencies towards tangeting.
  • When in doubt, about anything, stop and ask!
    • What should go in the minutes?
    • Who is committing to this?
    • Is this a proposal? A decision?
    • How do you spell that?
  • The most important thing is that the final product will be usable. My advice is to take down everything, and send the draft, no matter messy, to the committee for paring down and review. minutes@ is the bottom-line, though it's always a good idea to include a finalized version to the committee's list as well.

Minute Taking Styles

RFC 822

Recently, the Technocrats have been experimenting with a different model of minutes taking based on RFC 822, which describes the formatting and syntax for e-mail headers. Various members of the Technocrats committee have begun implementing these minutes in other meetings, and so far it seems to help. They look something like this:

Topic: The Roof is on Fire
RT: 25565
Content: Roof is still on fire.  We should probably put it out.
Commit: Sean will send an e-mail to HR RE: fire safety policy
Commit: Paul will look for and procure some fire extinguishers
Commit: Vagrant will write a script to notify us when the roof is on fire again.
Proposal: We don't need no water, let the m***** f***** burn.
Concerns: Um... it's burning the building down.
Decision: Blocked, we really should put it out.

It can be a bit chunky, but has then benefit of clearing labelling each item, as well as making it easier to grep specific items (but that's probably not useful for the average user).

Socratic Dialogue

Advanced Testing's meeting minutes have taken on a form where each discussion item would attempt to list out the participants responses towards items. It serves quite effectively to convey the nature of the discussions, as well as the input from its participants. It looks something like this:

* The Roof is on Fire... Again.
Sean: Didn't this happen last week?
Vagrant: The script seems to be working well.  We were aware of it before we came in today
Paul: I'll get some volunteers to use fire extinguishers purchased last week (COMMIT)
Sean: I forgot to e-mail HR (CARRYOVER)
Paul: We should invest in a flame retardent roof already (PROPOSAL)
Everyone: Sounds good! (PROPOSAL PASSED)

One issue with taking minutes in this style is that it can be somewhat cumbersome to track commits and other actions items. However, it requires less translation of the discussion into a general, readable format.

In Conclusion

Taking good minutes can be immensely challenging. A scribe is multi-tasking like mad: listening to the discussion, devising language to best represent the action items, and typing, typing, typing. The most important thing to remember is that you can stop a meeting for clarification as necessary. Finally, the sooner you can send out the draft to the list, the sooner you can get input from other committee members about what they should look like.

Suggested Feedback

  • A review of previously taken minutes
    • Good examples
    • Bad examples
  • Standard notation practices
  • Example meeting templates
  • Examples for topic seperatation and action items