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How to Run Remote Public Meetings

The public meeting process has had to make many quick changes to keep up with social-distancing guidelines. Clerks are asking important questions: Are we small enough to gather onsite in a closed door setting with no public attendees? How can we ensure safety of our council members? What are options for transitioning to remote public meetings for all (council and the public)?

While there are changes and new considerations, civic meetings need to operate like they always have, ensuring that governments are still open for citizens. We surveyed clerks around the U.S. and compiled some tips to help you save time and run an efficient remote civic meeting.

Purpose-built meeting and agenda management software can streamline operations and make sure nothing falls through the cracks in a world with less face-to-face interactions. Read “How to Pick The Perfect Meeting Agenda Management Software” for more information.

Before the Remote Meeting

This phase can be the most critical for setting up a legislative process that’s entirely remote, but it can also take up the most time if certain pieces are manual. Here are time-saving tips to increase efficiency before a remote civic meeting.

Automate and Digitize The Agenda Creation Process

You can have hundreds of agenda items plus their supporting documents. Don’t spend an afternoon putting individual pieces of paper together to eventually complete a single meeting packet. Create a packet automatically through the push of a button using agenda software.

Communicate Who, What, Where, When, and How

COVID-19 did bring about a positive change to the legislative process: Remote public meetings allow for greater civic engagement. It is now easier than ever for citizens to participate in public meetings. They can simply log in and participate from home. You can encourage their participation with proactive messaging.

Share public meeting information with citizens ahead of time by:

  • Posting on your website
  • Posting on social media accounts
  • Sending an email

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to communicate any updates!

When you’re proactive with messaging, you’ll also reduce your workload. By providing all information related to the meeting online, you’ll receive fewer calls from citizens looking for information.

Enable Public Participation

The public may not be able to participate in meetings in person, so allow them to provide input and comment on agenda items before the meeting via email, voicemail, or agenda software, like Granicus eComment.

If Using a Web-Conferencing Tool…

Test:

  • Home Internet Speeds. Run some speed tests at each member’s house and send IT a screenshot to make sure they have a good experience.
  • Equipment and technology. This helps minimize disruption to public access and board operations.
  • Participants. Make sure all participants are comfortable with the tool (meet, raise hand, webcams, headsets, etc.)
  • Background. Ensure surroundings are optimal for video, public wants to see clearly see their representatives faces

Ensure Security

Make sure you have a secure platform with a password for the meeting.

Enable Citizen Participation

If you’re allowing citizens to join the meeting via your web conference, make sure you provide specific and easy to follow instructions for them to follow.  Post those instructions on your website/agenda when possible, and read them at the beginning of the meeting.

During the Remote Meeting

Now it’s time for your public meeting. As the clerk, it’s your job to ensure all procedures are followed based on established guidelines, and that there is enough time for productive dialogue.

Running an efficient public meeting is an art. Here are tips on how to ensure that all established guidelines are followed and that there is enough time for productive dialogue.

Have Supporting Documents Ready

Holding the meeting to the agenda can be challenging, but it’s important to keep the process moving forward. Having an accurate agenda and ensuring staff has the correct documents will save valuable time during your public meeting.

By digitally creating the meeting agenda, you can ensure improved version control and be confident that all supporting documents are available during the meeting.

Record Action Items as a Checklist

If you are not using a live minutes recording tool, clerks suggest you organize the list of action items in real time on the agenda. We heard that some clerks prefer to use checklists for action items, which helps them stay organized and efficient when they follow up post meeting.

Stream and Record Meetings

You probably have some citizens who attend every public meeting to voice an opinion. However, you can connect with citizens who have never participated in civic discussions by providing options.

Recording and live streaming meetings are important for increased access and transparency. You can also facilitate additional time savings when it’s time to prepare minutes after the meeting.

If Using a Web-Conferencing Tool…

Stay Muted

If participants aren’t muted, background noise may disrupt the meeting. Make sure participants stay muted by walking everyone through functionalities at the beginning of the meeting or sending tips and tricks beforehand.

Don’t Start On The Hour

Start virtual public meetings a few minutes late. Meetings tend to be scheduled right on the hour, so allowing a few minutes to pass is a good way to avoid technical issues that may result from numerous organizations using the tool at the same time.

Be an Expert

Know the web-conference functionality inside and out. Know how to mute and unmute participants, share a screen, make a user a presenter, remove a user, etc.

After the Remote Public Meeting

At the end of every public meeting, there is a moment of satisfaction. Not long after that, it’s time to get back to work. Here’s what clerks say leads to an efficient post-meeting workflow.

Don’t Wait to Tackle Your Action Items

As the list of action items grows during the public meeting, the number of steps you need to take depends a great deal on the tools you use to complete them. By using platforms that allow you to input motions and votes on agenda items, you’ll be able to better manage the to-do list.

Compile Minutes While They’re Fresh

Clerks unanimously agree on this time-saving tip: Compile minutes immediately. By taking notes, and using a tool like Votecast to record votes alongside the agenda, you can significantly cut down on the process of compiling minutes later.

If you live streamed your meeting using Granicus Video, the minutes you produce can be timestamped to allow users to quickly jump to segments of the meeting they want to watch on demand.

Post Information to Your Website 

Your website is likely your primary access point for citizens to engage with you after your public meeting. By posting information from the meeting, like meeting minutes, voting records, and links to the recording, interested citizens and stakeholders will be able to use keyword search to find the information they need. Of course, the more modern and user-friendly your website is, the more likely it is that citizens will find what they need easily, which will encourage future engagement in your public meetings.

Notify the Public Automatically

Citizens are wanting more options to stay informed on meeting information they care about. Today, not only can agendas be published online, but using our agenda management tools with the power of the Granicus Network, clerks are now able to proactively email their public meeting agenda to citizens the minute it’s published – saving time and pre-emptively reducing call volume. Click here to learn more about how to use Send Agenda>>

Bringing It All Together

As if running an in-person meeting wasn’t already tough enough, remote meetings have added some extra challenges. Adhering to these tips and streamlining your processes with agenda and meeting management software can help ease some of the pressure, so you can focus on a successful meeting.

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