Meetings help cooperatives make decisions and take action. However, without meeting notes, people can often forget what they agreed to do. So, taking careful notes and then making sure every member of the co-op has access to them is important for follow through and group accountability.
Minutes also serve as the group memory. The most complicated and controversial items are especially important to have clear minutes on. Later on people are likely to have different recollections and it’s going to be the written word that will stand as the official agreement.
Minutes, although seemly a chore, are a critical part of a co-op's meeting. Minutes primarily serve as an official record of what occurred, decisions made and update those absent; but also:
- ensure new group members can be brought up to speed
- facilitate transparency to non-committee members
- enable accountability for those present
- provide a historical context for present conditions
- keep people on track with action items
For the most part, minutes are simply a fleshing out of the agenda; but minutes should also include:
- a list of names of those present and the times they arrived
- the time and date the meeting began and ended
- not everything that is said but the main ideas
- any decisions and agreements that were made and how they were made
- outcome of any other items discussed (tabled until next meeting, sent to committee, etc.)
- any next steps or “actionables” and who is responsible for them
- clearly denote and emphasize any commitments to help keep aware of who is responsible for what
To be effective records, a co-ops meeting minutes should also go into:
- title of each item discussed, clearly labeled (skip a line between items)
On decisions, it's also helpful to include:
- reasons and intentions for a decision
- name and reason of anyone standing aside
If it's a major item, then it's also good to include:
- main points of discussion
- questions answered
- range of opinion
- concerns raised
- whether each concern was resolved or not
- "sense of the meeting"
- new ideas
Prior To the Meeting
This is not simply a clerical job but is one of the more powerful roles one can play in a group. For a board of directors, minutes are a legal document and are to be treated accordingly, i.e. they require an approval voting. Minutes can be as specific as an exact transcription of everything said or as simple as a quick list of resolutions; keeping in mind that too much detail and be just as counter productive as not enough detail.
Before the meeting begins make sure to have:
- a designated scribe/recorder
- pre-selected your recording tool (i.e. paper and pen or laptop, etc.)
- a final draft agenda on hand
- a sign up sheet if you do not know who is coming
- an idea of the amount of detail the group wants recorded
- a clear plan for dissemination of the notes
Verbatim minutes (who said what) are generally not as useful as an effective summary. Verbatim minutes place undue attention on the particular personalities involved, whereas consensus process trusts that any concerns coming up are valid concerns for the group and it doesn’t matter much who they come from. Also verbatim minutes take too long to read to find what you need.
If there is a proposal, and ‘’especially‘’ if there is a Consensus decision, that needs to be stated clearly and explicitly. During the meeting, if the co-op is nearing consensus, the facilitator should state the sense of the meeting and then have the notetaker read out the proposed minute, because it’s the minute that will actually serve as the record of what was agreed to.
It’s helpful for groups to have clear guidelines to address:
- How quickly will minutes be publicly available?
- What should a person do if they think a set of minutes needs to be revised?
- Which committees (if any) are expected to take minutes and if so how are those posted and stored?
After the meeting, ensure that the scribe:
- transcribes, edits and cleans up the notes ASAP
- emails out the draft minutes ASAP
Storage & Retrieval
You need to be able to access the minutes in order for them to be useful. That means:
- Storage is in a central location that everyone has access to (either physically or via a website).
- The minutes need to be organized by Topic and not just by Date.
Many groups create an Agreements Book or Decision Log that calls out all the decisions from the minutes into a separate document organized by topic to fulfill these needs.