Friday, April 03, 2020

Remote Meetings for Running Australia

Previously I suggested Australian governments and organizations interpret existing laws and rules to allow electronic decision making. NSW councils have been told they can hold electronic meetings for the next sixth months, due to the . I suggest that this will be needed for more than six months, and should be made a permanent feature of the way local government, and other organizations, work. The technology exists to allow people to participate remotely, and there is no good reason to not do this.

It will be interesting to see how taking turns speaking is handled at council meetings, which, like state and federal parliament, can have robust debates. Most of the video conferences I have been to were relatively informal with a dozen people, who could speak at any time. A few large ones, with hundreds of people, required clicking the "raise your hand" button, before the host would switch on my microphone.

Videoconferencing usually also comes with other feedback features, such as a up and down thumb buttons, which might be used for a quick indication of support for a proposal at a meeting. Webinars (as distinct from Video Conferences) tend to have more feedback features, such as polls which might be used for formal votes. However, there would need to be a way to limit this to a subset of participants (that is the elected members). Given there are not many who can vote at a council meeting, a simple show of hands should be sufficient (with a virtual hand or by voice for those without a camera).

The NSW COVID-19 Local Government Resources page says "Requirements for members of the public to be permitted to attend meetings can now be satisfied by live-streaming the meeting using an audio-visual link.". Video conferecne systems, such as Zoom can typically have hundreds of participants, and webinars thousands. If a larger number of members of the public are expected (a council could have hundreds of thousands of residents), there is the option of streaming the video. This would also a way to have two levels of participation: those in the video conference who can interact, and those on the streaming service. Some streaming services (such as YouTube and Facebook) allow comments from participants. It should be noted that council meetings, also allow for the public to present their case to a meeting, so these people would need more than just streaming.

ps: In my 1997 final report as President of the Australian Computer Society I proposed all MPs and Senators of the Australian Parliament be provided with secure video conferencing to their offices, and half the sitting days replaced with electronic meetings.

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