Branch cyberdemocracy?

AFTER a debate that has gone on in the NUJ for the past seven years, the ADM (annual conference) in Belfast this Spring passed a motion supporting the principle of virtual meetings being given the same status as traditional "real" meetings. The motion instructed the union's National Executived Council to change to rules to give effect to this.

While there are others more experienced who have been using the technology for virtual chats and meetings longer, the Continental European Council (CEC) is one of those who have been leading the way. Without it the CEC would still function, but not so effectively, and this while using fairly simple, even primitive, technology.

The CEC has been using the technology to date is in holding virtual meetings in between its biannual face-to-face meetings. Initially we used the meeting facility on Yahoo groups, but with the NUJ adopting the stance of not using Yahoo - after it turned a journalist in to the authorities and he was jailed - plus changes by Yahoo in their groups menu we turned to a script called "Chatty :)" for holding the meetings. It is fairly "clunky" but has the advantage it is simple and anyone can use it no matter how low-tech the equipment or connection or how much of a novice the person is. We used it to hold virtual election hustings for the Continental Europe seat on the Freelance Industrial Council, without any problems.

Why virtual meetings? They are not to be seen as a replacement for a real face-to-face meeting. That has to be the first option and when there's a good turnout and people can get along then there can be no argument. But unfortunately this is often not the case. In continental Europe we have large geographical areas such as Spain where there are a reasonable number of NUJ members who are actively communicating and networking with each other via the mailing groups - though geography makes it next to impossible for them get together frequently face-to-face. There are areas in the UK and Ireland with similar problems.

Virtual meetings are not magic but they can be a means to aiding and improving communications, to help revive and create branches. They do not need to replace face-to-face meetings, which ould have conferencing facilities added. Far-flung members of branches who normally get to meetings rarely or not at all will have the chance to be involved.

What we need to do now is investigate the possibilities. There doesn't have to be one fixed option. It would be good to hear members' thoughts and especially of any hands-on experience. For starters, check out - specifically designed for web conferencing and live meetings.

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