I keep being asked about different ways a meeting might be written up – prompted by the national body for local authority home education professionals [AEHEP] meeting with ‘EHE support groups’ in Stafford last month.
I thought I’d set out the pros and cons of the main options here as I see it.
Anyone at the meeting can publish information about what was discussed and who said what, usually after the event but also at the time for instance by ‘live tweeting.’ Participants can also put their own slant on the discussion in their report. Participants might reasonably expect to be informed if this is to be the case and shouldn’t be surprised if they end up disagreeing with what comes out or feel it is unfair or inaccurate.
Run your version by everyone else
Anyone at the meeting can publish information about what was discussed but only after sending a draft to all present and securing their agreement that it is fair and accurate. Successive redrafts may be circulated to participants or held over till the next meeting if one is scheduled. (It doesn’t mean the author is necessarily obligated to add points requested by other participants.) The drawback is that it can take some time to negotiate a version which is acceptable to all parties, and the end result will necessarily be a compromise.
Official notes only
Participants agree that the official notes will be the only information on record. In this case, participants are usually sent a draft before the notes are released more widely, but may not have a lot of influence over getting anything changed (eg if they feel something was missed out) although they are more likely to succeed where they can argue that the notes are are an unfair or inaccurate portrayal at a personal level. The obvious drawback is that participants’ hands are tied.
Chatham House Rule
Chatham House Rule where the names of those attending the meeting are not made public and views which are reported as having been expressed at the meeting are not attributed to a particular individual.
CHR has attracted criticism recently with regard to the Stafford meeting – and rumours abound as to precisely where it originated and who benefits from anonymity – but it does have some advantages. For example, if participants are not identified, there is no imperative to work though numerous drafts trying to provide sufficient detail for interested parties while also ensuring that participants don’t feel their points or views are being misrepresented.
The Stafford AEHEP meeting appears to have been a hybrid of several different conventions. There seemed to be consensus from participants that the Chatham House Rule applied. Some of the people who had been at the meeting also seemed to be saying that only the official notes would be ‘allowed’ or that nothing could be said before the official notes were released.
When the official notes from Stafford appeared they included participants’ names but didn’t follow the Chatham House Rule under which the notes themselves said the meeting was operating.
I also don’t know how much chance everyone at the meeting had to comment on the draft before it was signed off, although I did notice that in the properties of the document the first edit was 28/04/2015, 07:18:00 and the last edit was 28/04/2015, 15:22:00, which is less than one working day.
For anyone wondering, my notes from the AEHEP launch back in February represented a different hybrid. Before the meeting I secured an agreement that I could report on my impression of what was said. As soon as the meeting finished, I went to confirm my understanding of the arrangement with the Chair and Vice Chair and I agreed it was fair that questions and comments shouldn’t be attributed to a named individual except for those who had already taken a public stance by accepting an invitation to be on the panel. Hence my notes came out quickly and had a lot of detail but relatively few names.