Quaker Values and Communication in the Electronic Age

Summary of notes of a Consultation Conference call on May 7th, 2015

Hosted by NPYM Ministry and Oversights Committee

There were 14 Friends on this consultation conference call including five members of the NPYM Ministry and Oversight Committee. Three queries were addressed in the course of the hour's consultation.

1. What electronic tools have been helpful in your Meeting/Worship Group? What and how?

Two general comments about technology: each new electronic tool, though initially useful, usually requires more work and finding volunteers able and willing to manage these tools.

Websites: A positive feature of having a website is the ability to post information that we want everyone to see e.g., a link to sections of Faith and Practice under revision. Websites are a great ongoing tool for newcomers searching for a meeting. A negative is the need for maintenance such that changes and additions may not make their way onto the website and newcomers, attenders and members become frustrated with out of date information. Many Meetings have found a listserve is more likely valuable for current communication.

Email: Email has also been very useful for general and immediate communication e.g.,for announcements and schedules. Problems include: messages not completely shown on a monitor; slow updates of information; and privacy concerns regarding Meeting minutes when those are shared via email . Email has been found useful for sending agendas and documents for consideration in preparation for Worship with Attention to Business.

For members experiencing vision or hearing difficulties, receiving documents ahead of time allows for information sharing using adaptive equipment at home to read all beforehand.. Communication has improved with a deaf Friend through the use of a blog and email that enables fuller understanding and increased depth of the individual's spiritual experience.

Quaker Cloud: One Meeting has substituted the Quaker Cloud for its website. Quaker Cloud was constructed by Friends General Conference with needs of Friends in mind and is serviced through Amazon or Google. An advantage (and a complexity for some) is the use of two areas of the Cloud: public side and private side (where the directory can be found, for example). This technology is newer and meetings are evaluating its effectiveness.

Drop Box is being used to share files, as is Google Docs.

Video Conferencing and Google Hang Out have been used by Western Friend to broaden communication with Meetings e.g., to share discussions and do minutes in the moment. (Only the host needs to have a GooglePlus account to participate.)

Skype is in use where Friends are separated by many miles, e.g., to conduct a membership interview or conduct a Meeting for Business.

WiFi in the Meetinghouse has been useful and helpful for several Meetings.

Projector to show agenda and minutes on a screen for Meeting for Business has been helpful to share information for one meeting.

A Sound System and Sensitive Microphones in the ceiling of the Meeting room, while expensive, has made it easier for people to hear in one meeting.

2. What troublesome issues with electronic communications have you faced in your Meeting/WG? How have you dealt with them? Was your Meetiing/WG successful in finding solutions?

There can be a culture clash between those who do a lot of blogging and those who don't.

Sometimes email is overused or misused. It is important not to copy or forward messages to others unless it is agreed upon. Email communication can foster misunderstandings and/or hurt feelings suggesting in person contact is preferable when emotionally charged issues arise. When email is used with a committee, it is important to include all committee members. These are some of the email etiquette issues that arise and impact fair and complete communication.

Meetings using listserves for communication have found that a moderator is needed for posting mail. Sometimes the moderator is the Meeting clerk; sometimes a committee clerk if it relates to the work of that particular committee; sometimes the moderator is simply the manager of the listserv, one of the jobs filled by the nominating committee.

3. Do you think that Meetings/WG should set guidelines on how electronic communications are used? If not, why, If so, what guidelines?

It is wonderful when many people in a Meeting have a sense of how to use electronics and are willing to support each other. Establishing guidelines re: electronic communication can encourage respectful, efficient Friendly use. For example, it is useful for a Meeting to talk about the use of names in published minutes.

Electronic communication is an incredibly broad topic. This is why creating guidelines together is important, clarifying our intentions regarding how we will use these various tools - what is best used for, how they work and how to avoid problems. We then can apply each piece appropriately. It is a part of building our community and using good Friends' process. We were reminded that Friends' testimonies are central as we sort through how we will use these tools. Four testimonies that relate to examples from our consultation come to mind:

Simplicity (Do we use email sparingly? -- not repeating what has been said)

Equality (Do Meeting members have the necessary skills to participate in the Meeting using these electronic tools?)

Integrity (Is there care with the reputation of others? Is privacy honored?).

Community (Does the attention and work to utilize a new technology consume our energy that we might have used to engage with each other face-to-face?)

Finally,. this consultation was conducted on a Conference Call. This, too is an electronic tool. On a conference call, some things work well and some things just don't. Especially facing decisions, we've found some can be done on email and others need to be discerned in person. An important component is keeping mindful of the Spirit as we work together on the phone. With an Ad Hoc committe, e.g., among those of us on the call, not everyone had met. It helped to take time to worship and focus and then go back to worship as needed. Also, we found that calls needed to be short enough to stay focused, say an hour or hour and a half at most. It's important to keep the Spirit at the heart of it while you're sharing.