Dimming my own light

I’ve always enjoyed being under the influence. Whether alcohol or more illicit things, I usually have a good time, even when the times aren’t particularly good.

This is absolutely not a “drugs are bad” post. I still enjoy drugs (including alcohol), in the right context. More research is being done on the usefulness of drugs ranging from run-of-the-mill THC to ketamine to hallucinogens. No, this post is about why I used a specific drug to dim my own light (by which I mean “exercising my mind and expecting great things from other people exercising theirs”), where it got me to, and where I’m at now.

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2020 in Review

This will be my sixth year in a row doing these, so you can also read about 201520162017, 2018, or 2019 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what the last year has been like. Many of the headers in this post are based on my goals for 2020.

The phrase for this year was welcoming others, as I wanted to return to helping others feel welcomed. I did that to some degree, but even more so — I survived this dumpster fire of a year. You did, too! Internet high five!

Let’s pause for a moment, because wow, wtf, 2020

Before getting into the rest of this, I want to pause and just say: WTF, 2020. Having infrastructural social support systemically undermined under Trump since 2016 culminated in this horror show. So many people are suffering. Un- and underemployment, evictions, police shootings, and an eroding safety net were all true before this year, but way to come to a fucking head.

Thinking about goals for this year, let alone trying to devise goals for next year, is a habit I’d like to keep up with. It’s in no way to say “look at what can be done in a pandemic!” or anything of the like. I’m incredibly privileged, and routine is part of my coping. With that in mind, let’s proceed.

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Distributed playbook

While I was at Truss, I helped move us from a dozen people in the Bay Area to nearly a hundred across 20 states. Through monthly meetings to run experiments in improving our practices, we came up with the Distributed Playbook. It’s since changed format enough that I missed the original version, so I’ve ported it over from Github to a page on this blog. It, along with the onboarding guide, are two of the things of which I’m most proud from my time at Truss. Hope they can help you out, too!

Polyam Interviews : Noah

I’ve been navigating coming out as poly to my nuclear family and to my workplace for the past few years. I think we’re in a moment similar to the LGBT coming out, and I wanted a snapshot of how people are experiencing coming out as poly to different people in their lives. I think this is important to build solidarity and visibility. It’s not to tell anyone how to do anything, but I hope you find it useful in your journeys.

This is an interview with Noah, roughly transcribed and then lightly edited (so maintains the first person voice). It is posted here with his permission.

Tell me a little about yourself

About to turn 47. Straight white cis dude. Spent the first 25 and change years in Portland, the next 20 or so in Seattle. Married for 6.5 years in a house with my wife, some housemates, and cats. I’ve been with my girlfriend, who is married with 2 kids, for 13.5 years. I have another girlfriend of 7.5 years, she’s married with one kid and recently gave birth to a surrogate baby.

What drives you?

I like other people to have good experiences. Informed my career as a user experience designer. Realized in my early 20s I spent most of my life critiquing designs and systems thinking “why did they make that hard?” spend a lot of time thinking about how things can be better or more easily used to make people happier.

What is your relationship style?

I have less distaste for the term “polyamory” than I did 10 years ago. Representatives of polyamory 18 years ago were a lot more prostheletizey and nerdy. I refer to myself as “open” or “nonmonogamous,” but no longer correct people. The first edition of The Ethical Slut turned a lot of people off because it was so proscriptive and holier than thou. At its core, most of it was about understanding your own needs and communicating them.

My wife and I have romantic and physical relationships with more people than each other. From friends we snuggle with, to party makeouts (although no one goes to parties or makes out with strangers anymore). Boyfriends and girlfriends we have relationships with.

Who have you come out to?

Have a friend group with lots of nonmonogamous people in it, I’ve been out with friends for a long time. I formally claimed the lable in the early 2000s, maybe 2003, although I had shrug-why-not tendencies before that. Not really jealous or possessive in my life before that.

Came out to my parents in a formal way in about 2010. Rest of family formally on our engagement announcement. Came out online, on the Twitter I use professionally in 2012. That counts as everybody, right?

Anyone you want to come out to but haven’t yet?

Marginally less cavalier in professional environments. Will tell coworkers, though not everyone all at once. For instance, if someone is asking why I was in Iceland, I’ll tell them I was there with my girlfriend, that it’s ok that you know, ok that you tell others. Telling one or two rather than broadcast. Tell them how long I’ve been out.

No one I’m specifically not telling. There are folk who may have not yet heard. But been with my girlfriend 13 years, so…

In short, there are some coworkers who haven’t heard yet.

Anything from this relationship style that applies to the rest of life?

Mostly try to be an intentional communicator, which I now only screw up sometimes. In my increasing age and awareness, becoming even more aware of consent and power dynamics in all things. Trying to remain cognizant and intentional about those issues.

Anything else you want to talk about?

Repeat an observation that many people have had: conversations nonmonogamous people have had about consent and risks of spending time with people have come in handy this year. What is my risk profile and risk profile of those around me? Seems like an unexpected benefit right now.

Polyam Interviews : Tilde

I’ve been navigating coming out as poly to my nuclear family and to my workplace for the past few years. I think we’re in a moment similar to the LGBT coming out, and I wanted a snapshot of how people are experiencing coming out as poly to different people in their lives. I think this is important to build solidarity and visibility. It’s not to tell anyone how to do anything, but I hope you find it useful in your journeys.

This is an interview with Tilde, roughly transcribed and then lightly edited (so maintains the first person voice). It is posted here with their permission.

Tell me a little about yourself

My name is Tilde, I use they/them pronouns, I’m an artist, activist, and engineer. I live in SF.

What drives you?

I want to leave the world a little better than I found it. Motivated by helping people, by trying to create joy and connection.

What is your relationship style?

I’m practicing nonhierarchical nonmonogamy. Trendy thing is to call it “relationship anarchy” but I think some people are using that term incorrectly. Anarchy is a political philosophy, and relationship anarchy would be applying that to relationships as well. While I identify with anarchism, I don’t feel like I’m conversant enough in political theory to confidently call myself an anarchist, so I probably shouldn’t call myself relationship anarchist either.

What I do is let every relationship find its own level, and don’t make agreements unless everyone impacted by the agreement is able to negotiate.

Who did you come out to?

I first tried nonmonogamy at age 18. I heard about it on usenet, and it made sense to me intuitively. How much I like one person doesn’t have anything to do with how much I like this other person. About a year into my first relationship, my girlfriend wanted to bring home another girl and I was like “awesome” and we ended up in a triad. I came out and got some major side eye from people I worked with at a grocery store but went with it anyway.

We broke up and people responded really negatively, “you couldn’t possibly have thought that would work.” I internalized that, and it took  me a few years to give nonmonogamy another try. Now it’s a big part of my identity, values, and life.

Recently I feel like I’ve come out a second time. Although my relationship style is nonhierarchical, for the past 11 years I had one partner that I was clearly closer to than all others, which made it easier to pass as monogamous. But now I have 3 people who are really important to me. Figuring out how to talk about that to make it legible without giving too much detail or making people think I’m hitting on them has been tricky. I used to lead with “this might be weird but…” but that magnified the awkwardness. Now I try to be casual (“my partners and I went to the beach this weekend” and just trust myself to read the room.

Anyone you want to come out to but haven’t yet?

Don’t think so – I’m out to everyone who’s super important to me. Biggest one was my dad. I came out to him maybe 5 years ago, but didn’t feel like he got it. More recently I told him I wanted to share more details about my partners, but I wasn’t sure he was comfortable with that. It was a very good conversation. He said he had some bias against nonmonogamy because he’s less familiar with it, but that the most important thing to him was my happiness, and he wanted to hear more about my partners. 

I’m out on the internet, because people can unfollow me if they don’t want to hear about it. 

Anything from this relationship style that applies to the rest of life?

The ability to hold multiple viewpoints in my head, negotiate, mediate conflicts, and calendar things, are very useful in a business context. I feel like I could write a whole blog post about how nonmonogamy skills have boosted my career.

Practicing nonmonogamy helped me become a secure person. Sustainable nonmonogamy requires trusting that my partners are with me because they want to be. It took a lot of work to develop that trust, and the belief that I deserve love. This work might have happened otherwise, but nonmonogamy sped the process along.

Anything else you want to talk about?

I don’t think nonmonogamy is for everyone, I’m not a polyamory evangelist. My hope for the future is that more relationship styles will be normalized, and we’ll have more tools for support for people who want to try out alternative relationship styles. At the end of the day, I want more options, freedom and acceptance for everyone.

Polenesian people have asked polyamorous people to spell out “polyamorous,” so please do that for the blog and URL.

Polyam Interviews : Rowan

I’ve been navigating coming out as poly to my nuclear family and to my workplace for the past few years. I think we’re in a moment similar to the LGBT coming out, and I wanted a snapshot of how people are experiencing coming out as poly to different people in their lives. I think this is important to build solidarity and visibility. It’s not to tell anyone how to do anything, but I hope you find it useful in your journeys.

This is an interview with Rowan, roughly transcribed and then lightly edited (so maintains the first person voice). It is posted here with their permission.

Tell me a little about yourself

I’m 31, and have been poly since I was 15. Moved to the Bay Area from Philadelphia 6 years ago. I’m a therapist and have been for 4ish years, but working in mental health before then, as well. I like cats. I think that attachment work around poly is really interesting, how different styles show up with different partners. Being transmasc is a thing I like people to know about me.

What drives you?

First thing that comes up for me is a memory of when I was 18 and had been hospitalized for a couple weeks for being suicidal. I remember looking out the window of the inpatient facility. It was fall, end of November, leaves changing, and I remember apologizing to the trees for not realizing how beautiful life was. 

Finding beauty in things that are dying drives me. Impermanence. Recognizing that things are not just what people say they are. I find hope in looking at things in a new way. Things aren’t just how they look to be. Finding things outside of what I’m being told.

What is your relationship style?

No idea currently. I’m some version of single for first time since I was 14. No touch at all right now (COVID). Nonhierarchical poly / kitchen table poly. I like it when my partners and partners’ partners and I can hang out.

Who did you come out to?

Variety of spaces, all been surprisingly welcoming for the most part (at least initially). Favorite place was when I was interviewed for an administrative role conducting intakes at a marriage and couples counseling center. They wanted to be working with nontraditional relationships more. I mentioned I’m poly so I can talk about it with people, and I’m good at Google Calendar. Got the job. 

With my sister, she was confused by it but then advocated to my parents about it. They see it as a way I relate and it’s fine.

My dad was real weird about it. He’s come around a bit after my sister advocated, but a few years ago I had told him I was seeing someone besides the partner I moved across the country. He said it sounds like a good friend you kiss sometimes. I expressed that yeah, but it’s not just that — if you were to come visit, I would want you to meet him. “If I meet him, I’m not going to sleep with him.” Which was weird. Dad was not good about it, when I was dating [one partner] and we visited NY. My dad made weird comments about not wanting him in the house because I had a primary partner who was not him. Made a comment about how you can do whatever elsewhere. Like if we were a Kosher house and didn’t want ham in the house. Later, something my sister said helped them come around. Kind of jarring because of how enthusiastic they were suddenly.

Mom into astrology in a way I don’t understand. Somewhere in my chart it said something about two partners, which I guess was her way of supporting it.

Cousins have been welcoming of my seeing multiple people. One cousin was the first person I told about dating a second partner when I was 17.

That cousin’s sister, when I told her about having multiple partners said some of their friends in Georgia did that.

Started telling people around 15 was “[Boyfriend] and I are both attracted to other girls so we work on that in our relationship.”

The more people you know, the more people you come out to.

Anyone you want to come out to but haven’t yet?

No. A few clients I’m out to because they’re also non-monogomous, and it can get incestful so we need to avoid that. Heard stories of people needing to navigate being at a play party in close proximity to a client’s partner or close friend or something. I only look at parties that have a guest list. Some play parties ask who your therapist is on the registration (I can’t list my clients but they can list me because confidentiality).

Anything from this relationship style that applies to the rest of life?

Promotes open communication in a way that seems unusual for people who have ideas of not even recognizing they’re taking parts of relationships for granted. Don’t know if it’s queer or poly or both to not know if you’re dating someone or not. On the East Coast it shows up differently. West Coast people assume they’re dates more often. 

Letting people know how you feel. Interesting that some people use “commitment” and “monogamous” as synonyms. I have been very strongly committed to multiple people. Feels sad to equate those two. Focusing so much of your attention and time on one person who is not your self, extending yourself to just one person sounds really sad in the way I hear about it. Can’t imagine being monogamous and therapist, the amount of care and attention I have for my clients. They don’t know much about me, but I care about them, can’t imagine how to do that from a monogamous framework.

I connect more with “nonmonogomous” than with “polyamorous” because of some of the connotations of “poly.” 

But I’ve been this way for so long I can’t understand the impact on other aspects of life? The only monogamous relationship I’ve been in was also the only abusive relationship I’ve been in.

Anything else you want to talk about?

One monogamous relationship that feels relevant. I remember telling him I prefer seeing multiple people, how I understood relationships. When we started seeing each other, I was also seeing someone in prison, but had to break up with him. When I said I’d like to see other people besides you, this feels limiting. I’m also someone who is often assumed to be flirting so ended up not saying a lot while we were dating so it wouldn’t seem like I was flirting with people. He said poly relationships don’t work out, but none of his mono relationships had worked out before. He even said to me, “I don’t know why you’re so proud of having been a slut.” I’m comfortable with it, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to be proud of it. People are fun, sex is fun. Nonomonogy seen as being about sex, but it’s not for me at all. About relating with people in a way that allows for it to be a possibility. Differing emotional depths allowed in relationships. Lot of assumptions made that I can date multiple people at once, what does that say about your relationships and how to attach to people?

There’s often a focus on people not being jealous. Jealousy is a real feeling. Have it, look at it. I sound like a California therapist. What are you feeling jealous of, what is lacking? It’s ok to have jealousy and to explore it. Ok to not have jealousy. Trying to turn all jealousy into compersion is dumb.

RecoveryCon Report Out

Last weekend RecoveryCon happened, a distributed conference to examine how we can come out of this pandemic better than we were before. A blog post on how the facilitation happened already got posted, and now that the participants have approved the notes for public viewing, here they are, followed also by our Joy Gallery (things that are bringing us joy right now).

Sessions

These are very rough notes from session report-outs, linking to the track’s notes doc.

Supply chain: How we can organize the supply chain for emergencies. What’s going wrong right now, how it can get better. Anarchist organizations and organizing. Challenges of adoption and disseminating information to get people to use the system. Mechanisms that have prevented organizations from centralizing too much power.

Resilient organizations: gentler with ourselves and each other. This is unprecedented, we’re communicating differently. Internalize, feel it, express. How different organizations are trying to adapt. Yearning to connect, be of service. Not everyone is online. Social innovation, getting through the day. Invitation as a way to communicate. Going from community to life organizing and coaching.

Reclaiming streets: How our streets are changed right now, how to sustain those places. Not just pipes to get places. Less use of public transit from this pandemic but bikes as key. Political will to keep this momentum up. How can we take these experiments and make them more human scale, open to all, plan and build?

Putting your own mask on first: Make spaces meet basic need. Shit, sleep, eat. Many people are relocating right now which is not great. Get a bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen into a reasonable state. Bathrooms often only place you can be alone and vulnerable. These spaces are important. Change concept of success – instead of “hit these things or you’ve failed” – but instead “what is the smallest increment on the way to a goal you can be proud of? Cultivating joy and satisfaction. 

Resilience & Rehabilitation: Incarceration, systems and narratives in place that are very broken. Are the majority of people in the state system convicted of violent crimes? Internalized the narrative of what the system is and who’s in it, why and how they’re there, what should happen after. Parole is really social death, people go back to prison because of parole violations not because of committing another crime. Showed a video clip. And interventions of restorative and transformative justice. Focus on healing process for survivors. 

End of capitalism: Weird, deadly time we’re in. Need to look at new models already out there for a global context. US, UK are grappling with things that aren’t new. Patterns from elsewhere in the world. Think about transfers in one direction, need to go in other directions as well. Imagine alternatives. How do we change incentives? Challenge false dichotomies. Cooperative buy-outs.

How are we collaborative?: How we’ve collaborated during this time. Moving collaboration entirely online, better than half on half off. Not having to travel but still having access. Challenges of everything being online. Divide between digital and non digital conversation. Everyone has to contribute. If there’s a digital divide it’s difficult. STructure so everyone can participate. How things can improve: siloed and fragmented, lots of work within single communities. Conferences like this help, but not clear how this scales. How do we get the right people to talk at the right time?

Campuses: Many US campuses on path to closure. Physical space, use for space that is changing and not what the market structures would deem. Could we build with intention and in community? Concepts of education, pulling away from a system that encourages disparity. Experiences to the table. Book recommendations. Paths forward to making and taking space, like squatters’ rights. Fighting entrenched class structures. How to not need to feel productive at all times.

Data for all: Questioning assumption that data is record of record, faithful construction of reality. Constructed, produced. Produced in all types of new ways we don’t know the repercussions of. Dominant narrative of data generating new insights and how to meet those needs, but also new ways for data to control us without our consent. Concentrated interests extracting value out of us and our systems. Even when I’m presented with a request for consent, I don’t know, don’t have a meaningful way to opt out. Our paradigm of more data should shift from individual consent to harm reduction. Do we need new kinds of institutions to mediate these discussions?

What art is giving you visions for the future you want? How can creativity be part of future-crafting? Ways art can bring our imaginations closer to what another world could look like. Star Trek, UKL. Art in community, collaborative process being deeply fueling, esp with other collaborative processes. Meaning making and community building of having a physical object. Street art as assertion of people in space. Dystopian art as highlighting or telling us what we want to avoid?

Fun, creative, and inspiring opportunities for the future of [digital] communications/socializing more vulnerable populations participating. Rope people into ways we want to connect online. Serendipity of real world is missing. Town Online is trying to mimic that, but not really there yet. How we can get to conversations, like rooms for conversations like a house. Brackets and multithreading in chats to track topics. Using video chat with shared activity without expectation of eye contact. How to emote with avatars? Changing video call backgrounds as framing conversations. Annotation as something everyone can contribute to

How do we plan for a post-scarcity society within a society that is collapsing? What is hope? Redefining hope, going from this model of “everything will be ok in a few months” versus what I can have hope in today. Changes expectations and outputs of what you’re capable of. Prepper talk. Differences based on environment, and who is around. Unevenness of post scarcity. How unevenly distributed these crises are. We’ve seen alternative systems of sharing value, but it happens at small scales and in homogeneous places. I believe other worlds are possible, but I don’t see a path towards the multicultural world I want to live in. Security in a world of collapse feels bubbly.

We were all scared to show up. There’s not a lot of capacity to do things, including for the organizers and facilitators. But we’re glad we did.

Joy Gallery

  • Bookcases! Lots of bookcases: https://twitter.com/BCredibility/
  • Old Oakland Railways –
  • Gardening. And the badgers.
  • Listening to the wind in the trees
  • Putting a sprig of rosemary or lavender in my mask as I talk a walk in nature
  • sunset on the rooftop (I’m trying to make a ritual of it)
  • Micro moments to fill in
  • Vicarious cat interactions through lots of videos/tiktok compilations
  • Seeing people’s rooms/homes in the backgrounds and getting to know them in that way
    • This piñata head:  
  • The poetry of Keetje Kuipers (example)
  • Somehow ended up in an all canadian group
  • Playing scrabble with my best friends – i have won 1 game of 700. Keep on 
  • Art – making beauty out of struggle
  • Convening spaces for community across the world – humanitarian wise. It is hard but people really appreciate it
  • Reconnecting with old friends, virtual hangouts
  • These Twitter threads:https://twitter.com/kylosbarechest/status/1264208265245683712
  • https://twitter.com/vilruse/status/1263891922168545281
  • I (Zephyr) have been putting out a small newsletter every Friday of only good/cute/queer/hopeful things – https://tinyletter.com/zalsoa
  • MINECRAFT (building huge group projects with friends)
  • Being with my son
  • Being able to enjoy my art installment around my nome Meural 
  • Reconnecting, finding my grounding and sense of place 
  • Being outside, hiking, connecting with my friends

What’s bringing you joy right now?

Facilitating a distributed conference

I was pretty sure it was going to be a disaster the day before. Hell, the week before. Having multiple tracks of participatory sessions meant that people would need to move from video conference link to video conference link. We didn’t have a shared chat space consistent across all the “rooms,” and I was anxious to go to other links myself to gather people, leaving the core room unattended.

It could have been terrible. Instead, RecoveryCon was a smashing success, with people joining from all over the US, plus the UK, Germany, and Turkey. We ran (mostly) on time. We shared back what had happened in sessions. We cried a bit together. And we ended 3 minutes early.

Another blog post will happen soon with a summary of sessions, links to notes, and our Joy Gallery; but for now I wanted to tell you about facilitating a multi-track open-spaces style event. A caveat that a high proportion of my friends are facilitators and/or are tech savvy. YMMV.

The logistics

We had as many video conference “rooms” as we had tracks. This will come into play with the agenda. One “room” should be both a track and also where you start / regroup to. This means anyone coming to the conference at weird times is swept up in a session without extra overhead. It also gives a consistent sense of a “common room” that people know to go to if they get lost or booted or whatever.

Start a notes doc for each track, including headers for each session and reminders of when to come back to the main room. That way, folk don’t need to ask about it. It will be a bit of a Thing when times change and you have to go update each doc, but oftentimes folk will have already updated it for you. You will be able to see this in the notes doc when the content overview post goes up.

If I were going to do this again, I would have a chat of some kind with the session leads and facilitators to coordinate and remind about coming back. This time it worked out great, tho!

The agenda

This was bananas to me. I am in the school of facilitation that does not share the agenda for an event, but rather encourages people to be fully present by asking them to trust me and giving folk whatever comes next as it happens. This time, I shared a spreadsheet of when various things were going to happen. This spreadsheet also provided a source of truth so far as links to video conference rooms and notes docs so folk could self-sort.

All sessions ended up being the same length of time, which was different than originally planned. I tried to add in complexity where it wasn’t needed, and we organically got back to a simpler state.

Expectation setting

In addition to a version of the participant guidelines from Aspiration I give (and was reminded to do so this time — thank you), we also had the expectation of all watching the clock together, and of returning to the main room. I asked at least once on each front for those to be repeated back to me, and made the main room clear in the communications emails sent out to attendees.

We also set the expectation of collaborative note taking as active listening and of reporting back on sessions so folk who went elsewhere still felt like they got something out of the sessions they missed.

Thank you

Thank you to all the amazing folk who came to RecoveryCon and made it what it was. Special shout out to Greg, for helping with organizing; to Liz, for having boundaries; to Adrienne and Heather for facilitating tracks; and to Cheryl, Beatriz, Nathan, sevine, Julie, Courtney, Lou, Ahmet, B, and two other folk I missed for leading sessions.

Collaborative note taking : a practice for distributed meetings

Now with a few edits via suggestions from Dirk. Thanks, Dirk!

I was recently on a call with a humanitarian group. They were wanting to make their now online-only meetings way better. There were activities, there was polling. It was a good time.

But the same problem arose for many of the participants I’ve seen in many past meetings — connectivity issues caused people to lose chunks of audio, meaning they lost the thread, meaning they couldn’t fully participate. It was frustrating for everyone in what was otherwise a really solid time.

I realized not everyone knows about collaborative note taking. This is something I started doing as part of digital disaster and humanitarian response in the Open community, and later honed more by live blogging with the Civic crew. The benefits of collaborative note taking are many-fold:

  • People who are dropping in and out (or who are simply late) can catch themselves up by looking at the notes.
  • An accessible, lower bandwidth way for those in low connectivity environments to follow along and participate.
  • A way to collect audience participation, feedback, and questions in an effective way when the group is too large for everyone to speak much (or at all).
  • A way to guide the audience into different channels, to links, etc.
  • A way for audience members to participate rather than being distracted by outside stimuli.
  • You have notes at the end of your meeting! Bonus points for turning it into a blog entry your participants can share and reflect on. Be sure to turn your intros section into a thank-you section.

To make this work the way I’ve been doing it, you need a few things:

  • An app that allows multiple people to edit the same doc at the same time. I’ve used etherpad and Google Docs most.
  • An agenda that you can clearly define.
  • 2-4 people willing to lead the way with note taking.
  • Some norms.

Picking Your Tool

Etherpad is from our lovely open source communities. It’s great for quick and dirty, little formatting, etc. Piratepad was a favorite of mine, with the caveat that pads disappear after a set amount of time. Google Docs is nice if you want to have more embedded structure and formatting, and if you don’t mind Big Brother so much. There are some great options out there in addition to these. Pick your tool based on the circumstance you’re in.

The Agenda

I’d suggest setting up your doc in advance with your agenda. I use headers in Google Docs and then use the “table of contents” function to build the agenda at the top with space to take notes below. Use italics below the header if you want to add more detail than a header allows. You can also add in links to outside activities into the agenda so you don’t have to scramble later.

It’s also nice to have an “intros” section in the agenda because not only is it good practice to have each person say at least one thing to get them involved, it also gets them practicing adding and correcting things in the doc for the rest of the meeting. If folk fill out their part in advance of the meeting, all the better.

Your agenda will change, expand, and contract as the meeting happens. Let it. Trust the note takers to update the headings.

For a retro, I lay out the steps we’ll take and what should go into each section. The “Generate topics” header is followed by “take screenshots of all the cards and post them here.”

The Note Takers

From the Civic team, I learned that 3 is an ideal number for live note taking and live blogging. One to capture the meat of what’s being said, one to edit for clarity and typos, and one to pull in outside links and images. Other participants may jump in to edit names they know, fill in more detail, or find more esoteric links.

For that retro, different people would jump in to take notes for each other, so everyone got a chance to fully participate.

The Norms

Give each other space

When there are no carriage returns after where you’re typing, no one can add things in. The text gets awkward. Give some space between yourselves by hitting enter a few times, and maintaining that space. You can always delete the space later.

In retros, we would sometimes end up with the next agenda item on another page, so far away! But people had plenty of space to add things in after one another.

Encourage audience participation

Add in bullet points when you want the audience to participate. Remind them of the prompt in text. Start asking questions in nested bullet points below what they’ve put in. Others will start doing the same.

For a retro, we would ask people to add a plus sign after the action items they thought they were worth investing time in doing. We’d total them up and have a live prioritization of what to spend time on.

Communicate

Tired of being the person pulling in links? Type it. Ask for someone else to take over. Someone watching will type that they will, you delete the communication, and they get started.

In the retro, I once typed “brb, phone call” and returned to notes still being robust, as someone had immediately taken over for me.

We’re better together

Most folk are scared of taking notes because they never have before, or they disdain it because it seems like administrative work. By making it a group expectation, you end up with more participation, better notes, and everyone is on slightly more equal footing.

Let me know about your experiences or questions in the comments!