Supporting Remote Participation
The IETF provides tools to allow participation by people not physically present in a working group session, including people who are entirely off-site and people who are at the IETF meeting but may be in another session than the one you're chairing. It takes active management by the chairs for the tools to be used successfully.
The tools include:
- Jabber chat rooms
- Audio streaming
There's a temptation to rely on audio streaming as the primary means for letting people not in the room know what's going on. Don't do that. Be aware that some remote participants may not be able to listen to the audio stream. This includes people who are on-site but not not in your session, and people who are off-site but listening to another session. Scheduling conflicts are inevitable, and because people may be interested in or committed to work that's taking place in two sessions simultaneously, it's important to make sure that changes of topic or important discussions are flagged/mentioned in the Jabber chat room. This enables remote participants to switch audio streams and enables on-site participants to leave their current session and move into your room.
The primary challenge in providing quality support for remote participants is making sure that communication not only flows from the meeting room to the remote participants, but in both directions -- i.e. ensuring that remote participants can, in fact, participate, whether it's comments and questions in response to presentations or input when chairs try to get the sense of the room when a questions has been raised.
Unfortunately, audio streaming quality isn't always good, and sometimes the stream is mixed badly and listeners may only be able to hear part of a conversation. Be attentive to audio quality issues and try to identify problems at the start of your session. That includes verifying that both the chair and audience mikes are working and audible.
It's probably not possible to ensure that people who are remote will be first-class participants, but it is possible to make sure that they have opportunities to understand what's going on in the room and provide feedback. For the most part it involves being mindful that not every meeting participant is physically present, flagging transitions, and providing opportunities for feedback.
"Do this" summary:
- make sure that you've got at least one person acting as a Jabber scribe. Responsibilities include
- at a minimum, letting participants know when the topic has changed (new presenter)
- pasting a link (from the meeting materials page) to the presentation currently being discussed, and noting when slides are advanced
- relaying questions and comments to the room
- establishing a convention for such comments. For example, asking remote participants to use the "MIC" prefix for comments intended for the room
- making sure that remote participants are polled when the chairs take the sense of the room about a decision or question
- if there's a hot discussion happening in the room, letting folks know (yes, this is subjective, but if there's a long line at the audience mike, that's a good clue)
- some chairs like to have Jabber scribes do double-duty as minutes-takers, so that the Jabber transcript becomes the meeting minutes, or the basis for an edited version of the minutes; if so, make this clear to the scribe
- at the start of your session, ask remote participants in the Jabber chat room
- if anybody is listening to the audio
- if so, if they can hear both the chair and the audience mikes, and if the quality is acceptable
- when you're taking the sense of the room, make sure the Jabber scribe is polling the remote participants
- it's been suggested that when possible, project the Jabber chat room on the screen
- make sure that remote participants understand which tools are being used during a session. Please ensure that Jabber and audio streaming are working and are supported by people physically present (audio quality, Jabber scribing), but if other tools, such as WebEx? or Etherpad, are being used you must let remote people know early and often. Send email to the mailing list with the URLs, both as soon as you know them and immediately prior to the session. It is less cumbersome for people various timezones to know when the meeting is scheduled if the time is also given in UTC.
- people at the mike really should be identifying themselves anyway, but it's necessary for remote participants. Be very diligent in insisting that people making comments or asking questions identify themselves. If you couldn't understand them well enough to type the name, no one else could either. Clarify by looking at their name tag or asking them to repeat more slowly until it's clear. (It helps if the minute-taker or Jabber scribe sits near the in-room microphone.)
- also insist that questions and comments be made at a mike. If that's not possible (overcrowded room, for example), have someone at a mike repeat the question or comment and identify its source
- it is worth noting that the audio stream typically runs at a 5-15 second delay, and so it may be appropriate to give those proxying remote participant comments to the mic a priority interrupt/jump-the-line pass so that the comments are relayed while they are still relevant.