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1997 Guidelines for the Conduct of Meetings Held by Electronic Mail

These guidelines are derived from a set prepared by The Internet Society of New Zealand for its own use. Despite some difficulties experienced with meetings by email, the Society believes worthwhile results can be achieved by email meetings by nearly anyone nearly anywhere.

An email meeting will be initiated by a message from the Chair outlining the reason for the meeting and the proposed agenda. This message will be posted so that all interested parties have access to it. This message will have "Reply-To" set so that a reply sends a subscription request to the automated mailing list to be used for the meeting. The list to be used for the meeting will be used only for the meeting and will have a default Reply-To header sending replies to the list, not to individuals.

All members wishing to participate in the meeting will acknowledge this to the mailing list to be used for the meeting within forty-eight hours. Members not acknowledging within that time will be counted absent. Absent members may join a meeting only with the Chair's permission, which they should request by private email to the Chair. The Chair will arrange with the Secretary for that person to be added to the mailing list.

  1. Messages acknowledging presence at a meeting should not carry discussion as well. Specification of the intent to participate in the Subject line of a message will permit automatic processing of these by mail filters and may facilitate management of mailing lists etc.
  2. If the Chair grants permission for a late joining, notice of the arrival of the member will be posted together with a summary of discussion to date. A member joining a meeting after it has started may only revisit a completed part of the discussion if significant new information can be added and only with the Chair's permission.
  3. A request to the Chair for inclusion or re-opening of a discussion topic must not take place on the main meeting list but by email to the Chair. Discussion may not be restarted once a vote has been initiated.
  4. A meeting may request that an invitation to join the meeting be extended to an individual whom the meeting feels may add value to the item under discussion. The request should be made to the Chair, and only the Chair may extend an invitation to any other individual.

The Chair will open the meeting with a statement of the reason for the meeting, any background information and a set agenda of topics for discussion and the order of discussion. The Chair will then specify an intended duration of the meeting with a projected timetable for the calling of votes.

  1. Business may only be dealt with in the sequence in which it appears on the agenda. Business not appearing on the agenda may not be discussed.

At the end of the 48 hour period the Chair will announce the list of participants to the meeting and the meeting will officially be in session.

  1. The person chairing an email meeting may transfer the role of person chairing the meeting to any other member present, unless the meeting disagrees.
  2. Once the list of participants has been announced, all those on the list will be deemed to be present for the remainder of the meeting for vote-taking purposes, unless one or more participants have been given leave by the Chair to leave the meeting, at which point he/she will be listed as absent.
  3. As with late joining, permission to leave a meeting prematurely must be sought by private email to the Chair. Granting of permission will be announced by the Chair to the meeting as well as by email to the requestor. The requestor will then send an unsubscribe message to the mailing list software.

The Chair shall keep strict control of discussion in the meeting to ensure it moves towards an outcome. The Chair will summarise progress at suitable intervals. In general the summary should occur at least weekly and more often if the volume of discussion requires. The summary messages will bear the header "SUMMARY to [date of summary]". Summaries will be additive, rather than cumulative (ie. each summary will be of discussion since the last summary, not since the opening of the meeting, including previous summaries).

  1. Participants in the meeting will need to maintain discipline and keep on topic. Decisions as to whether a matter is on-topic will be at the Chair's discretion. When a matter is ruled off-topic, it must be abandoned immediately. An appeal by private email to the Chair, in the case of disagreement, is permissible and the Chair will answer by private email as to his/her reasons for so ruling, if he/she has not already done so.
  2. Meeting participants must query or object to a chair's summary within forty-eight hours of the summary being posted if they feel it has left out something important or skewed the arguments presented. This is done by private email to the Chair in the first instance, and then by a single message to the meeting list with the header "OBJECTION to Summary".

Messages during a discussion must be clearly labelled in the Subject line to facilitate ease of message management by recipients. To facilitate automatic sorting of mail messages, it is important that participants do not change the headers of a message when making a reply. When a new topic for discussion is reached, it is the Chair's responsibility to initiate the matter for discussion and start a new header.

  1. The list will also be automatically gatewayed to a web application (such as Web Crossing) which will thread messages by subject line and will become the official record of the meeting. This web site will be private to the organisation and, while the meeting is in progress, each meeting will be private to the participants. This will allow accurate research of previously covered topics and discussions. It will also enable latecomers to a meeting to catch up on what has gone before.
  2. The existence of this record does not excuse the Chair from regularly summarising the main points of the meeting.

The Chair will determine when a discussion has progressed sufficiently to achieve its goals and will announce either a vote or that a consensus has been reached. Determination of this point is at the Chair's discretion, as no single formula will be applicable to each meeting.

  1. When a point is raised which needs to be addressed by the meeting, if participants do not respond within a predetermined period (to be determined by the Chair for each individual case) it is taken that they are in agreement with the point raised. (Hopefully, this will have the effect of ensuring that the participants make it well known if they do not agree.)

Votes must be returned within 5 working days from the Chair's announcement. A vote may be terminated and the result announced earlier than the 5 day period if all meeting attendees have recorded their vote.

  1. The Chair will designate a vote-taker either from the meeting or a member not present at the meeting if independence is required.
  2. Each participant in the meeting will be allowed one vote on each issue on the agenda. If a vote has not been received from a participant deemed to be present at the meeting, that person will be understood to have abstained from the vote.
  3. It is possible for subsequent matters on an agenda to be discussed independently during the 5 day period in which a vote is being taken.

If a meeting did not attain its required quorum, the Chair is responsible for presenting the results of the meeting for ratification to all those eligible to have been present at the meeting. If a quorum was present, ratification is not required, but the Chair is reponsible for informing the absent members of the decisions of the meeting.

  1. If the meeting was a sub-committee meeting, the sub-committee Chair is responsible for bringing the deliberations of the meeting to the attention of the parent group for subsequent discussion or ratification.

Once the full business of the agenda has been concluded, the Chair will declare the meeting closed and inform the Secretary that the separate mailing list is no longer necessary.

a) If a Web-Crossing or similar gateway is in place, the maintainer of the Web-Crossing site will also be informed that the threads constituting the meeting records may now be made available to whatever wider group is appropriate.


These guidelines assume that there are two people responsible for ensuring that a meeting proceeds. These are the Chairperson, who coordinates what happens before, during and after the meeting, and the Secretary, whose role is to provide support for the mailing list software. In your organisation the division of roles may be different.

Good chairing is the key to effective e-meetings.

Meeting participants should not inject too much "personality" into the messages, but should seek to remain courteous. Remember that many of the signals such as tone of voice on which we rely when communicating face to face are lost in communication by email.

Participants should discuss the points raised on issues objectively and evidentially where possible.

The preparation of meeting summaries may be delegated by the Chair, but it is the Chair's responsibility to ensure that regular summaries do occur.

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