Working Group Meeting Experiments

This page is to describe different experiments in WG Meeting formats. At IETF 97, the WG Chair Forum discussed the idea of varying from the default of presentations with Q&A in a classroom style.

Small Group Discussion Experiment: IETF 97 NVO3

Written by Alia Atlas as Responsible AD.

Background: Little technical discussion was occurring about drafts either in physical meetings or on the mailing list. When I and the WG Chairs reviewed WG drafts, we felt that there were various technical aspects that needed more examination and thought. Work in some areas was basically stalled.

Persuasion: I suggested the idea of trying small group discussion. One of the WG Chairs was familiar with round-table discussions in another context but wasn't sure how it would work in the IETF context. Since the deadline for meeting requests was soon, I made sure to put in a request for a second WG meeting and I made sure during the schedule check that the WG meetings weren't on the same day or on Monday, so we'd have time to prepare during the IETF meeting. I did a lot of the proactive detailed brainstorming of questions that a discussion group could focus on. It was very useful to meet each concern with assistance, a first pass of the work, and checking back for agreement and remaining concerns. There was definitely interest in trying something new but getting it all lined up required focus.

Preparation: I suggested the idea of breaking into small focused groups to discuss different specific topics. The WG Chairs were receptive to the idea, but unclear on how to practically make it work. Critical aspects that we did to prepare:

a) Requested 2 separate WG meeting slots separated by at least a day. This allowed the small group discussion to happen the first day and have time to prepare a summary from each group to be discussed the next day.

b) Asked our awesome Secretariat for large pads of paper and markers and flip chart easels so that the groups could draw diagrams, capture key points, and so on. With short notice, three were possible.

c) Brainstormed a list of questions for the small group discussion. We ended up, instead, with broader topics ("Control Plane", "Encapsulation", and "OAM"). The number of groups was dictated in part by the available number of flip chart easels that we had to center discussion around.

d) The WG Chairs personally asked specific experienced IETFers active in the WG to facilitate a particular small group. This gave one facilitator per small group. The facilitator was responsible for asking questions and encouraging conversation and managing the discussion on the group topic. She or he stood up at the flip chart and wrote key points down. After the meeting, the facilitator took pictures of the resulting flip chart pages and also produced a brief presentation for the meeting the next day of what had been discussed.

e) Immediately before the first WG meeting, the WG Chairs, facilitators and I got together to talk about how this was going to work in terms of logistics. This included things like grabbing the flip chart easels and placing them in the different parts of the room for folks to circle around.

At the WG Meeting: The WG Chairs started the meeting in standard classroom style and we had a topic or two to discuss first. Then, the WG Chairs said the meeting was going to split into separate small groups for discussion and pointed out each location for each group. A couple key points:

1) People basically looked around at each other and weren't sure what to do at first.
2) I stood up and exhorted people to put away their laptops, pick their favorite group, and plan to go over and talk. Enthusiasm, energy, and conviction that of course this was what was happening seemed useful.

3) The room had about 90 people in; almost half left the meeting. The other half broke into three groups and ended up being approximately 15 people per small group.

4) One group ended up with a facilitator doing more lecturing and explaining, but even in that group - no one was looking at laptops and everyone seemed interested and engaged.

5) One group had 5-6 people coming up and drawing different scenarios and actively brainstorming together.

6) The third group had the facilitator primarily writing but a front row of 5-6 people discussing and others actively listening and learning.

7) The discussion period lasted about 45 minutes. The WG Chairs and I went from one group to another to check on how it was going.

8) After 5 minutes, it was obvious that this was working to facilitate discussion. I had several folks come up to tell me that they thought it was a really good idea to try. The WG Chairs saw it working immediately and were quite happy as well.

At the Follow-Up Meeting:

1) Each facilitator presented the key points from their group discussion. All perspectives seemed to have been represented.

2) During the meeting, there was significantly more discussion and interaction. The WG participants seemed to be energized.

To Do Better Next Time:

i) How to keep the energy and momentum alive after the meeting? One group suggested having subject specific mailing lists. It might be useful to encourage topic tags on email as an intermediate step.

ii) Ask facilitators to follow up on mailing list as well - a couple weeks post-meeting - to trigger discussion on unresolved issues and suggestions that need to be in a draft.

iii) Be willing to ask folks, if they seem engaged to write drafts - during group discussion and after.

Key Takeout Points:

a) Plan Ahead: topics, meeting slots, facilitators, flip-charts - but not significantly more work than regular presentation meeting

b) Energized Participants: expect and encourage discussion at summary meeting
c) Different appeal for different participants: tourists leave & come back for summary meeting, learners happy to listen and engage, active participants felt this was like a design team and became better invested.

To summarize, having the small group discussion seemed to be more productive than a regular meeting and to increase energy among the participants. While it did cause loss of those not interested in participating, there didn't seem to be contention or perspectives not represented in the group summaries. It's unclear whether the format has helped to spark any author groups or additional work being done, but I do think that there was benefit. The conversation quality in each small group reminded me of that in interim meetings. It helped identify those truly interested in the work. I would recommend more targeted topics for the discussion if it were repeated and I intend to think about which of my other WGs should consider it.

Last modified 3 years ago Last modified on Feb 7, 2017, 1:29:18 PM