[Linux-aus] Writing a tool to help with a specific procedural task [was Re: [LACTTE] Mintues 6 Jan]

Andrew Cowie andrew at operationaldynamics.com
Sat Jan 10 17:15:17 UTC 2004

The topic is an off-hand comment I made in an email to the Committee
covering the minutes I wrote for a meeting we had 6 January. Anand's
response made me write something, and then I decided to Cc: it to
linux-aus. Why not. Everyone seems interested this week ;)

Besides, many of the people out there reading this are honest-to-god
real app developers, whereas I, despite a programming background, am
just a lowly systems & operations guy, not a glorious GNOME UI wizard or
the like.

So I figured I might be able to get some advice from people; in that
regard, if anyone wants to talk about this with me further, please
either reply privately, or seek me out at LCA or a LUG meeting.


On Sat, 2004-01-10 at 18:36, Anand Kumria wrote:
> > I have some new ideas of how to improve this whole process, but we'll
> > see if I'm Secretary again before I bother.
> Perhaps post them here so you don't forget?

Since you ask:

Given that so much is pro forma, I want a tool to help me write the

So: I'm interested in writing an app to do it - either a web app, or a
standalone GTK (or Java) one, or an app that combines both. Haven't
decided yet.

[A Web app is quick to write but makes for a generally lousy interface
which needs to be engineered around; a proper program (with, say gtkhtml
as the text entry widget, plus hooks to aspell evolution-composer style)
offers the text editing richness I would prefer, at the cost of having
to write the damn UI. Ordinarily such effort on UI would be overkill,
but it has bearing on another problem space I'm working on, and may
therefore be valuable. Some kind of OpenOffice form magic, if such even
exists, offers a third possibility]

Writing programs isn't really my job description, but...

What sorts of use cases? 

* Before a meeting, the agenda is set, right? So entering the agenda
should allow the minute taker to not have to worry about that during or
after the meeting - would make note taking easier; if the chair had
access to it, it might help the group actually follow the bloody agenda
in the first place.

* A distributed tool might even make collaborative agenda generation
more workable (as opposed to silly email threads that get all bunged
up), though raising the usual issue of "how". Wiki type collaborative
models offer some promise here, although Wikis themselves don't quite do
what I want.

* Meeting start, end, and attendees: Why on earth should I even have to
think about it? Recording and documenting it is a necessary formality,
but easy to get wrong (our collected Minutes being a case in point). It
would be nice to just "click a button" at start time - or even less than
that. IRC logs offer a good model here - date/time stamps nicely just
take care of the whole problem (on the data collection side, at least).

* Recording Motions (which have structure) and Actions (which don't
actually have any legal importance, but are enormously important to
helping the group to get on with actually accomplishing things) -
surely, a little interface with a drop down of either Meeting attendees
or all group Members should facilitate recording that (Motion by __^,
Seconded by ___^  -text-, amendments, carried/not-carried /  Action to
be done by ___^ -text-)

* And as for output? Well, with a little structured data, and a nice
output template, ta-da, beautiful set of minutes. Here, XSLT offers
promise if the backing store was to be (or output) XML.

* If it is dynamic [and, in this case, internet based], then marking
information as sensitive and not for public release becomes a real
possibility, as opposed to the current clerical and administrative

Minutes are just a few bits of information just plugged into a 
pro-forma - but as you know, I feel strongly about getting that right.
Anand, you (correctly) believe the way I do minutes is too much work,
but on the other hand, I can't get around my belief that it's necessary.
Such a tool as I have in mind might really help a person in the position
of being formal-meeting-recorder do the job quickly while simplifying
the task of producing quality output.

Certainly, this is a problem that most organizations have to deal with;
a good tool would be widely appreciated, I think.

It also dovetails very nicely on a R&D project that my firm is working
on in the area of creating infrastructure to facilitate teams working
through Procedures such as massive changes and upgrades. You see, I have
very specific ideas about how procedures should be run, and I'm good at
it, but I've long wanted some IT support to facilitate the process.

If only I could find someone to *fund* such development. <sigh>


Andrew Frederick Cowie
Operational Dynamics Consulting Pty Ltd
We focus on improving usabilty, scalabilty, and maintainability - the
factors that are the keys to making technology work - through team
building, creating effective procedures, and enhancing systems
Contact us!
Sydney, New York, Toronto, London

More information about the linux-aus mailing list