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Virtual Sunshine

KGS has some comments and recommendations for encouraging virtual participation in ALA committees that the MLA Taskforce on Social Networking Software should pay heed to.  She points out that

online committee work is potentially far more open than a meeting that requires all the hurdles of face-to-face participation. But it’s not open if you don’t know about it. Time, place, manner: these are the facts our members are entitled to.

But it would be easy to solve this, she goes on:

Give each committee a wiki page, tell them to advise members how to follow their discussions and to announce incipient actions, advise ALA members to subscribe to the feeds, and we’re done. Take note of the ten-day notice for final votes; it’s fair and reasonable.

I would add just one thing -- it needs to be made explicit, then, to the committee chairs and members that business is not to be conducted except via the wiki, or at the regular, open, announced F2F meetings. 

As soon as I read FRL's post, I was thinking about how our local newspaper is continually haranguing the local city councils for violating the state's sunshine laws.   Too many of the legislators don't seem to understand that once a few of you get together and start making decisions, you're having a meeting.  Having a wiki for doing committee business is fine, but only if the committee members understand that you have to use it, and that making decisions and then using the wiki just to document what's already been decided isn't sufficient.

I've never been active in ALA (although I've been a member for over a decade), but I've been active in enough other organizations to know that people need more guidance than they typically get in how to be effective committee members and leaders.  (That's why we have Robert's Rules of Order -- gnarly as they can be, it's an objective reference that we can rely on to figure out how to do decision-making).  One of the ongoing topics at MLA Board of Directors meetings is how to provide better guidance and training for committee & section leaders in the ways of the organization.

It's not a trivial issue and you can't count on people -- even people with the best will in the world -- to naturally gravitate towards using these tools in the most open of ways.  KGS is quite right that the online venues can be double-edged -- they have the potential to create much more openness, but they can also, paradoxically it would seem, serve to make it easier to make the actual decision-making opaque.   Giving the committees a wiki isn't quite enough -- chairs need some explicit guidance in how to use them well.

And it makes me wonder -- what about those conference calls that we're fond of having in order to keep the work moving forward in between meetings?


Bart Ragon

Thanks Scott! This is an area that the SNS TF takes very seriously. We have just completed a set of blog guidelines for MLA. These guidelines are meant as simply guidance. Groups using social networking software need to establish a decent process to ensure success. And people need to understand the process and but into it. This is a tricky balance because you also want things to be open enough for free thought and creative ideas, just not so open that the business at hand doesn't get accomplished.

And oh yeah, social networking software needs to enhance the process not detract from it.

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