Simplifying Council Room Infrastructure – One Device to Serve Them All

The technology options available to modern public sector organizations are virtually limitless. Each may have the ability to improve user efficiency for their intended purpose, but when you start combining them, the benefits can end up buried beneath excessive complexity and the technology can become as much a hindrance as a help to those involved.

The Shiny Objects

Multiple-Mobile-DevicesWhen designing the technical framework for a new board or council room — or when refreshing the infrastructure of an existing facility — it can be tempting to incorporate a variety of the latest technology; we call this the “shiny objects” approach. However, this often represents the “bleeding edge” as opposed to the “leading edge” and is rarely beneficial to users, as the combination of disparate technologies can create operational burdens.

These concepts are exemplified in the tools you put into the hands of your board members and councilors. Despite the fact that, with few exceptions, such users are neither technologists nor technophiles, meeting room proposals or implementations commonly feature approaches where participants are required to use multiple access devices or systems for different aspects of meetings.

Keep It Simple

In fact, technology advances should instead provide simplification here. With the right platform behind it, the same device that offers “any time, any place” access to important board data can also be used for real-time meeting participation elements such as voting, requests to speak and (if allowed) participant collaboration.

In our earlier blog post “Bridging the Meeting Participant Technology Divide“, we noted how board members may respond unfavorably to needing numerous devices to function in a meeting — or even needing different devices for meetings versus other job responsibilities. That article focused on the psychological obstacles to technology adoption and how to overcome them; in this post, we’ll look at the practical side of how a single-device approach can make life easier for trustees, councilors and board members.

Bleeding Edge

To understand and fully appreciate the advantages of a single, unified access device, it’s instructive to first look at a recent example of the “shiny objects” approach. In addition to selecting a meeting management system, a major metropolitan school board was looking for a new trustee room and brought in an AV consultant. The consultant’s proposal included:

  • Voting terminals from a particular vendor, which would then need to be tied to the eScribe meeting management system
  • Having the board’s telephone PBX sense the incoming phone number for members participating remotely, and integrating it to automatically log the caller into eScribe
  • Apple iPads for members to take home, but different terminals to be used in the trustee room

While all of this was possible — eScribe integrates tightly with a wide variety of third-party solutions — the approach had too many technology bells and whistles for the customer’s comfort. Given that the trustees were currently using paper, the leap to three or four devices per trustee seemed untenable.

All of these aspects could be done much more easily — and unified on a single device — through the eScribe iPad application (or alternatively a Windows 10 application), which is exactly what the customer chose to do.

Leading Edge: Access Anywhere, Any Time

Unifying functionality onto a single device clearly makes meeting participation easier for users while making training them much simpler, and it becomes even more powerful when combined with the freedom of mobility. Rather than requiring members to use different devices in and out of chambers, the ideal platform allows them to use the same device in the council room, at home or on the road.

eScribe VoteAs such, first and foremost, the device and its corresponding application software must allow secure, remote access to meeting materials and real-time participation in the sessions themselves. The eScribe Meetings mobile app, for example, provides benefits to on-the-go members before, during and after meetings. Prior to sessions, users can browse upcoming meeting agendas and download content for offline viewing. The app also provides real-time access to agenda packages, resolutions and attachments during live meetings, and lets members download subsequent reports and minute documents as they are published. Robust security and role-based permissions ensure all communications and meeting content are safely protected.

Real-Time Participation

While flexible access to information through the device is valuable, it’s the ability to use the same device to actively participate in live meetings that’s truly empowering and efficient. Whether a member is present in the council room or connected remotely, the optimal platform lets him or her perform all key tasks through the single device interface.

In our case, the eScribe mobile app provides iPad and Windows 10 users with rich, real-time functionality including:

  • Voting. Meeting participants can electronically vote on resolutions in real time through their tablet, whether remotely or in the meeting room. Once voting is complete, the eScribe platform offers an advanced graphical display of the results. Featuring a horseshoe-pattern seating arrangement chart showing how each councilor voted, the results are shown on public displays for in-person attendees and included in live and recorded video streams to further bolster transparency.
  • Requests to speak. Participants can use the tablet app to submit requests to speak, which are automatically queued and sent to the meeting chair or organizer. Members can include comments with their requests, and indicate whether they will be speaking for or against the particular motion.
  • Note-taking and annotations. Members can augment the agendas and supporting materials on their tablets, adding text-based notes to agenda items or marking up attached PDF documents with underlining, strike-through, highlighting, free-hand text and virtual sticky notes.
  • Participant collaboration. If permitted by their organization, members can share comments with other participants through the app in real time, similar to instant messaging or live chat. In addition to private notes and group notes, the eScribe app allows the meeting administrator to send comments directly to the meeting chair. As the rules around such collaboration vary — some organizations don’t allow this at all, while others allow it before meetings but not during them — eScribe allows system administrators to granularly turn these tools on or off to match acceptable business practices.

Simple yet Sophisticated

As always, the goal of technology should be to make councilors’, trustees’ and board members’ jobs easier. Deploying technology just for its own sake tends to work against that objective, becoming another layer of complexity. Meanwhile, the lure of supporting ultimate flexibility at the device level often instead contributes to the lack of adoption by meeting participants. Unifying comprehensive functionality onto a single, portable access device like an iPad blends the advantages of advanced technology with the benefit of simplicity.

Meeting Management & Room Infrastructure

Beyond the participants’ devices, it’s important to apply the same philosophies to meeting management. In particular, when designing a new board or council room, be careful not to conflate meeting management with AV considerations. Your meeting management solution may need to work with your AV system, but that doesn’t mean the complexity of your AV infrastructure should negatively impact your meeting processes and workflows.

Even if your AV architecture is complicated and spans products from multiple vendors, your meeting management platform should be unified, intuitive and efficient. At eScribe, we don’t make microphones, cameras or displays — but what we do focus on, world-class meeting management software, can be the core that all of the AV elements in your chambers operate around.