Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Internet Highway to General Assembly

Second in a series of post about the October UUA Board Meeting

Last June a small group of volunteers at General Assembly (GA) in Minneapolis created a novel way for 11 GA delegates to watch two plenary sessions, participate in the plenary conversation, and vote (tabulated but not counted). What made this "novel" is that the delegates were in the state of New York; Athens, GA; Brewster, MA; Key West, and Houston. Using existing technology, duck tape, and baling wire, the trial was universally praised by its participants, and proved that the idea just might work.

And why would we want to do it? There is clearly no way that an "off-site" GA will capture the richness of experiences that singing, worshiping, and discussing with several thousand Unitarian Universalists brings. Yet the UUA Board is keenly aware that delegates typically do not represent our diversity of membership -- it is difficult for many people with family and job responsibilities, financial limitations, and/or physical limitations to take that much time and money to attend. Add to that lingering concerns about safety in Phoenix 2012, as raised in the responsive resolution from the Youth Caucus.

The Off-site Planning Team (co-led by myself and Mark Steinwinter) submitted three motions to the Board on Sunday, which were all approved:
  1. Implement a complete technology and process solution for Off-site delegate participation in 2011. Votes will be published but not counted for decision-making until 2012. The solution will address: 1) allowing offsite delegates to watch, listen, and speak during plenary session, 2) allowing offsite delegates to watch, listen, and speak during mini-assemblies, 3) queuing of offsite delegates who wish to speak, and 4) secure credentialing, voting, and tabulation for offsite delegates
  2. Place the following (non-C) by-laws change to Section 4.5 on the GA 2011 agenda: “Subject to procedures and guidelines adopted by the Board of Trustees, delegates not physically present at General Assembly may be deemed present in person to participate in and vote at General Assembly by means of remote communication.”
  3. Authorize expenditures for GA 2011 for off-site delegate work up to $75,000. Pursuant to policy 3.2.7.c, these funds may be taken from the General Assembly reserve fund.
Additional team members include board members Lew Phinney, Eva Marx, and John Hawkins; Christopher Wulff, who came to us through the Continental UU Young Adults Network (CUUYAN), Rev. Randy Becker, one of the original delegates; Tim Brennan, Don LaPlante, and Lynda Shannon Bluestein as liaison to the General Assembly Planning Committee. We will likely add more people to specific parts of the project. Interestingly, though the Board needed to approve the project, taking it forward is really staff work under Policy Governance®, so the 4 board members are wearing volunteer hats. It is an interesting experiment, with high commitment from team members. We will limit Charlotte to 250 delegates, focusing on congregational sites. Look for more information through multiple channels, including a dedicated site on the UUA website, and the opportunity for your congregation to participate -- if you can't come to Charlotte!


Anne Greenwood said...

That is truly exciting. I look forward to hearing more as the implementation goes forward!

Dan Harper said...

It's worth noting that a small team of volunteers has been bringing GA video coverage to the internet for quite a few years now. Headed by Mark Steinwinter, these volunteers not only streamed video coverage of Plenary and the Ware lecture, they also taped lectures and other events of interest to people who couldn't make it to GA in person. I can't remember now when they first streamed GA video to the Web, but it was some years ago. There were even a few years when some folks held a GA-away-fromGA at Ferry Beach, projecting the streamed coverage so they could all watch it (they even had their own banner parade concurrent with the real one at GA). And before that, it was volunteers who provided the very first (text-based) coverage of GA on the Web.

So what you're talking about in this post is the end result of many volunteer hours building up practical experience. Now that it's going to be taken to the next logical step, it seems worthwhile to give credit to those pioneers who made this all possible. Let's hear it for the geeks of the world who bring us so many good things!