Patricia Esslinger, Groupware Facilitator
How Pat's Technology-Enabled Meetings Work

This high-tech approach to running a meeting uses a computer for each member of the group and the facilitator--personal computers networked together and a big screen wall display.

The electronic sessions

Take a look at a picture of one of Pat's electronic meetings.

Sample scenario of a computer-assisted session

Sessions are tailored to the needs of the group, but a typical meeting might include the following activities (not necessarily in this order).

Brainstorming: Participants write their ideas on their own machines/keyboards. When comfortable with what's written so far, each participant triggers it to go into the record, onto the big board, and on to the screens of the other participants' and the facilitator's computers. Ideas do not identify which participant contributed them. In addition to listing ideas (usually one-liners), there is room on the screen to add comments. The originator of an idea can explain the idea; others can read the explanation and comment back on it, raising questions or adding points. Comments/background are saved for use in further discussion.

Facilitated oral discussion: The facilitator leads discussion of the brainstormed lists, working from the big screen. Group oral discussion refines the idea list, groups items, and eliminates redundancy. Facilitation staff edits from the facilitator's computer onto big screen as discussion proceeds. (This is like using marker and flip charts--except much faster, with better format and legibility and an editable record.)

Breakout groups: Small groups of participants work together to flesh out ideas or all or part of the refined list of brainstormed ideas. One member of each group records ideas on the computer and triggers to the facilitator's computer. The facilitator displays all the group products on the big screen and other participants' computers when ready for discussion.

Rating/ranking/assessment: Participants individually assign ratings to listed ideas, or proposals, assessing them against criteria. The criteria may be developed by the group. The computer analyzes statistically, shows percent of agreement and disagreement, displays graphically (bar charts, graphs, etc.), illustrates degree of consensus.

Voting ("opinion meter"): At any time, facilitator or participant can call for a vote (on a scale of 1 to 10 or whatever) on how comfortable all participants are with discussion so far, things the group has apparently decided, some aspect of assumptions, readiness to move discussion past this point, etc.

Technical help throughout: Facilitation staff is available to help participants use software--although not much help is needed. The software is very user friendly.

What's So Great About It?