February 7, 2012

Using Technology to Increase Participation

As committee chair, I take pride in our diversity. The New York Intern Program’s communications committee “meets” on a monthly basis and includes
  • A mother clanging pots and pans while preparing dinner for her young children
  • Exhausted interns who’ve just completed long days at their respective work sites
  • Board members calling in from cubicles and offices across the city
  • Alumni who are now engaged in ministries throughout the United States
Our committee is made up of older and younger members, and we are also ethnically and religiously diverse. But before I take too much credit for all this, I need to say that the main reason we are able to gather so many different voices is that 1) our meetings never last longer than an hour and 2) we never meet in-person. (We set these as ground rules and hold to them religiously.)

To a great extent, advances in technology have made this widening of the circle possible. Our committee “meets” using a free conference call service and we collectively edit our notes using a shared document on Google Docs. And though there are definitely some disadvantages to meeting this way (I miss being able to read the body language of some of our more introverted members of the group), I’ve come to believe that the diversity of voices around the table makes it worth it. Indeed, the mother clanging pots and pans, exhausted interns, office-bound board members, and geographically scattered alumni have told me it’s the only way they are able to contribute their voices.

Next week, ECF Vital Practices will be testing out a new Google service (Google+ Hangouts) that may ultimately help to expand the circle of participation even wider. Google+ Hangouts allows groups of up to ten people to do video conferencing for free. While this service requires high speed Internet, this may be a feasible video conferencing option for churches with tight budgets who want to widen participation on their leadership teams.

In an attempt to learn this new technology, I and a few others will be “hanging out” on the ECF Vital Practices Google+ page on February 16th and 23rd at 6 PM ET. Please join us! We will be joined by Greg Troxell, a parish administrator at All Saints Episcopal, Carmel, CA, who will 1) orient folks to the new hangout technology and 2) have a question and answer session based on Greg's article about how congregations can use the free online resources that Google offers. Note: There’s a ten person limit on the number of folks who can video chat at one time, but we will also be attempting to broadcast & record this conversation. This is truly an experiment for all of us, so please bring your questions and, well, a good sense of humor.

I, for one, will be there to learn how I can use this video conferencing technology for upcoming committee meetings. I want to be able to hear (and now see!) those with very little time to give including busy parents, students, professionals, and more. Plus, with video, I may be able to pay attention to introverts’ body language after all.