Meeting minutes

I’m considering some research into how meeting minutes are produced and what use they’re put to. What technologies (broadly intended) are used? What’s included and what’s left out? What options do participants have to edit the minutes afterward? And to what uses are minutes put later on? References or relevant thoughts/experiences appreciated.

On further searching I found @Christoph’s post about a talk by du Gay that mentions minutes, and an exchange he had with @katarina.friberg about this very topic: what’s included and left out of minutes.

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Ooh - is there a link for that?

For technologies, would you include paper and pen in that list, or are you looking literally for platforms?
We serve many boards and committees at Lucid Meetings, and I know the other meeting management folks do as well. There’s also a class of technology called a Board Portal designed specifically for the management of legal agendas and minutes. BoardVantage is an example in that class.

In practice, most groups that keep official minutes use Word, or if they’re more tech-savvy and less regulated, Dropbox or Google Docs.

It occurs to me now that you may not be looking only at legal minutes, but also as meeting records in general? I ask because the two can be quite distinct, and when it comes to official minutes at least, there are rules. Meeting records have some rules they should follow, but these aren’t generally understood or used by most folks. Much to the dismay of anyone who gets a court order to produce their meeting records.

I will be obviously very keen to see what you find! Let me know if you’d like to talk sometime.

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I mean pen and paper, computer, shorthand, whatever. You can find the earlier discussion by searching for “minutes.” (Perhaps Christoph can insert a link.) And yes we should talk! You know some things that I obviously need to.

I’ll took the opportunity to add those links to your post, @dgibson1 (I hope that was okay :grimacing:). I’d encourage everyone to provide links wherever appropriate. To insert a link, just use the :link: icon in the toolbar of the editor.

This is a good example for the use of @-mentions, like I did with @dgibson1 here. The effect mentioning someone is that that person will be notified by email about the mention so that s/he can react to it. (In this case, you could count on me dropping anyway, but not all kunsido members are visiting the forum as frequentlly as I am :wink:

Back on topic:

This is a great research topic! Do you already have funding or are you in the planning phase? I wonder if this could be something for an international comparison? As I may have mentioned earlier, I am interested in different meeting cultures and so far what I had in mind was mainly different cultures (or styles) of conducting the actual meeting and different uses for meetings, but I realize that ways of minuting meetings certainly would be part of a meeting culture.

I’m working through U.S. National Security Council minutes from the Cuban missile crisis to see which meetings I have both sorts of data for: minutes and audio recordings. So data collection is basically complete or nearly so. External funding would help but I don’t consider it essential, unless I really want to scale up.

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A post was split to a new topic: Meeting culture

I’d be curious to discuss your study design/ approach with you. Since you’re looking at meetings of a single organization, I suppose you’re not pursuing a comparative approach but looking more in depth at how, for example, certain formulations from the meeting re-appear (or not) in the minutes?

Do you also intend to look at the other way: how minutes are used/discussed in subsequent meetings?

BTW: If you prefer not to do it world-publicly, there are several ways of making the conversation less visible:

  • visibile only to kunsido members, i.e. people who are logged in
  • visible only to a smaller group, e.g. the symposium participants
  • private conversation by sending a PM, visible to only you and me (and whoever else we invite)

These meetings were fairly unstructured and often chaotic so my question is how the minute-taker transformed that into an orderly exchange. It’s hard to find meetings that left behind both sorts of data because normally a meeting that’s being audio recorded doesn’t also need a minute-taker in the room. How minutes are subsequently used is a separate question and I’m mostly interested in that inasmuch as it’s easier to motivate the research if minutes are actually put to some use.

I’d say it’s more than that, at least potentially, because if you want to understand how unstructured conversation is turned into neat minutes, part of the explanation obviously has to do with features of the conversation but probably at least as much with the intended/expected use of these minutes. Admittedly, there may be other ways of bringing in that teleological aspect, other than looking at how they are actually used in the next meeting (especially since that may not even be their main intended use) but since you’re looking at a series of meeting with (presumably) the same note taker, chances are that reactions to previous minutes will condition the writing of future ones for the same group.

I suppose you’ve thought of all this already, just thinking aloud to see if I understand your plans correctly.

Anyway, so do you have an idea of how/where to start? Read minutes, then listen to the meeting and see if you notice something? Or a more structured approach?

Yes I’ve been getting this idea from Elise Keith and others: minutes are produced in anticipation of how they’ll be used. I’ve been thinking of Garfinkel’s “Good Organizational Reasons for ‘Bad’ Clinical Records” so like to think this idea was lurking vaguely in the back of my mind.

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As for my method, I have some hunches/hypotheses but haven’t decided whether I want to invest a lot of resources into quantitative coding.

By the way, I take a first stab at some of these issues, related to the fidelity of minutes and ex post accounts, in a forthcoming book chapter:

Gibson, David R. 2018 (expected). “The Microfoundations of Macroviolence.” In Ritual, Emotion, Violence: Studies in the Micro-Sociology of Randall Collins, edited by Elliot Weininger, Annette Lareau, and Omar Lizardo. Routledge.

This is the paper I presented at the symposium last summer though I don’t think I said much about the data quality issue then.

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I think I wouldn’t. This is a really interesting topic to explore and I wouldn’t want to limit my heuristics to a strictly deductive approach.

I think some inspiration for this can be found in the literature on organizational communication. In particular the Montreal School of org com with its text - conversation dialectic. In a nutshell, the argument is that organization is constituted in and through communication and this happens through the continuous process of translating text into conversation and conversation into text. So (although “text” has a broader meaning here), this maps nicely onto the translation of meeting talk into minutes and vice versa.

A reference to look at would be:

Taylor, J R; Cooren, F; Giroux, N & Robichaud, D (1996): The Communicational Basis of Organization: Between the Conversation and the Text. Communication Theory 6(1). pp. 1–39. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.1996.tb00118.x

A final thought: one of the first questions I would pose in your study would probably be to what extent the minutes are collaboratively produced by the members and to what extent they are the notes of a passive observer, as it were. The difference between the two extremes is obviously immense and constitutes in itself a dimension of meeting culture (or minuting culture). But also researchwise the difference is one between studying interaction and someone’s (assumed) cognitive processes. Real world practice will probably be “somewhere in the middle” (though in the meetings I’m currently examining minuting never becomes a collective issue - unless you count voting as part of minuting[1]). So my hunch is that a particularly interesting aspect of studying minuting from on interactionist perspective would be to look at how the minuting responsibility is negotiated throughout the meeting.

  1. The fact that it is always the secretary who counts the votes makes that seem plausible ↩︎

Thanks for that citation! I’ll read that immediately.

In my book I did a quick comparison between maybe 30 seconds of audio transcribed using CA with a transcript produced by scholars. Here is a link.

The role of group members in editing minutes before they’re made official is something I discuss in the book chapter I referred to earlier. It was done in the Soviet politburo, and it’s done in my department — so I suppose it’s a wide-spread phenomenon as my department and the Politburo don’t have much else in common. I’m cultivating some connections to some experts on bureaucratic processes in the U.S. government and this is one thing I want to explore with them.


I have nothing new to add to your study. I emphasize that each group needs to guide the secretary on what works for them. Our community beautification group doesn’t record the meetings. Nobody has the time to listen or even read that much, even if it was text translated. I as secretary of course ask for corrections after I email out my notes, which have expected actions and homework in bold after brief summaries of the discussion, motions, decisions. So far nobody has had to argue with me, but if it was a political group, I would want recordings to back up my notes, and of course to help keep the minutes accurate.

One thing I got from a very helpful conversation with Elise Keith is that minutes as I know them–which aim to reflect most substantive statements and often attribute them to particular individuals–are the exception, especially in the corporate world where minutes can be subpoenaed.

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So that means they can be ordered to be shown shown in court as evidence, which means they would then be public, right?

Now, what exactly is the problem if the minutes contain substantive arguments? Is it that those arguments will be used against the company in court? Or that the information will be public and competitors can use it? Or perhaps that those arguments will be attributed to individuals?

Reminds me of that decisive NASA management meeting that decided to launch the Challenger space shuttle despite strong opposition from several engineers. There’s at least one documentary about that meeting and I when I saw snippets from it the other day, I was wondering how exactly they reconstructed the arguments for the film. I’m not sure how much information was in the minutes (or if they were even written before the launch), but since they reported a unanimous decision via phone to the launch centre, I’d assume that’s what the minutes said.

If I had been one of those engineers who was against the launch, I would probably remember quite well how vehemently I argued against management and much less how I eventually gave in for no good reason…

Anyway, here is one version of how they reconstructed the meeting:

Elise can speak more authoritatively but I imagine that if a corporation is accused of price fixing, for instance, its records could be subpoenaed and those could include meeting minutes where that was discussed. Diane Vaughan’s account of the Challenger decision drew, I believe, on ex post accounts and perhaps some meeting records/minutes. But I should re-read that section of her book and will update this post if I have that wrong.

Couple of notes for clarification. First, ANY record can be requested as evidence in court, regardless of whether it’s an “official” sanctioned record or not. This is one of the reasons we don’t support a way to add private personal notes in Lucid Meetings; there is no such thing as a truly private online record when the courts come calling. I firmly believe that if you don’t want other people to see your note, you shouldn’t type it up. Pencils rock! And yes, we have had customers who have been required to produce all their meeting records for court cases.
Before starting Lucid, I worked at an eDiscovery company where we built software used by the legal community to scan and analyze electronic records for evidence. (Tip for the CA folks out there; there’s some really cool scary artificial intelligence available in the forensic community.) Legally, you can use Tweets and Evernote snippets and email and anything in court.
FWIW: this is also why I think it’s a terrible idea to keep audio recordings and transcriptions for every meeting, even though these are features we support in our platform. Super handy in some cases, but also quite risky.
About the risk here: it’s not just about getting caught doing or saying something uncool. Cost is a HUGE factor. Larger companies regularly purge their electronic records to manage this risk. If the courts demand a company turn over electronic records, they have to “produce” all of them in a format the lawyers can use. This can cost the company millions of dollars, all before the case even gets a hearing date. It’s too great a financial risk. (Another fun side note: you can get all the Enron records before the scandal broke, because they were required to produce those for court. Ediscovery professionals train using those records. Mostly we looked for evidence of cheating on the company’s fantasy football league.)

The bigger deal for formal minutes in publicly traded corporate boards and government groups is that they are required to post them publicly. So the risk here is not just from the legal courts, but also the court of public opinion. When you have to share what was decided, by whom, and how, then the pressure goes up both to follow due process and to make sure your documented minutes show that you followed the process. All the extra conversation leading up to that decision usually gets omitted - why risk that it will be taken out of context when you got to a defensible result in the end?

Here’s a simple example of one way the public meeting laws get invoked from a town just south of Lucid headquarters.


All of the above, actually. Also, that the general public itself will take offense at something in the minutes and work to take the organization or individual down.

Another example: in the standards-setting communities, meetings often begin with an IP policy declaration to prevent exactly these kinds of problems.
In a standards group, you have people representing different companies and interests all meeting together to decide what the new global standard ought to be. If someone representing a company offers an idea to the group that the company claims to own, this causes huge problems for everyone both legally and financially. So, there are super strict rules about what you can and cannot share in these meetings. It makes for quite the dance, as every company tries to secure a competitive advantage for their IP without tipping off the other competitors in the room, and the competitors reading the minutes, while also working to abide by all the rules.