Answering your questions on how to redesign brainstorming meetings

Meetings belong to participants, too: overcoming tech barriers and snackable next steps

On Oct. 27, we hosted a webinar so people could ask questions about redesigning brainstorming meetings for asynchronous participation and the templates we released! We covered everything from easy ways to get started, to challenges people faced when trying to convince colleagues to try new things. Here are just five of the questions I was asked (reworded for brevity), with my answers:

Q: How do you recommend including people who are less likely to jump into a collaborative document because they are less tech savvy or aren’t interested in using new tech?

If someone is hesitant to participate in a collaborative document because they aren’t familiar with websites like Google Docs or Etherpad, I can think of two ideas that can help break down that barrier.

First, figure out what websites they’ve seen or used before, and start there. The most common platform is probably Google Docs these days, so I’d probably stick to that first. Then, when setting up your agenda, make sure to change the Google Doc share settings so anyone with a link can edit it, and so no participants need to login. Even if someone has exclusively used Microsoft Word on their computer, it’s most likely they’ve at least heard of Google Docs or seen it used, and will recognize some of the interface.

Second, instead of asking people to dive right in, you can try inviting them to another meeting as an observer instead. It’s even better if you can pick a meeting where your observer is invested in the outcome in some way — e.g. they’re rooting for the success of their colleagues, they’re impacted by the outcomes of the meeting, or it’s a topic they’re personally interested in. This way, they get to see others collaborating in a document live around something they care about, and this can be really energizing! The first time I ever saw people writing simultaneously in a document — not because they were working on writing a draft together, but because they were answering questions live, and leaving questions for each other — I could tell that I was experiencing something new and exciting and different, and I really wanted to try it myself.

Q: If people find this entire transformative process to be daunting, what’s one small change they can try in a snackable size?

As you’re looking at the examples in the templates, if any part makes you think, “Wow, I would really love it if someone did this during the meetings I go to,” try incorporating one of those techniques at your next meeting. It is completely OK to move one step at a time, that’s how my brain works too! Here are some examples:

  • If you’ve never asked all your participants how they’re feeling as they join your meeting, try starting with that. Based on what they share, adjust how you run the meeting in a way that feels doable to you. If a lot of people are really tired, acknowledge that, and see if there are parts of the meeting you can push to next time. If you hear a lot of excitement, see if there are parts of your meeting that can harness that energy.
  • If you love the idea of “Check-in moments,” where you ask people how well they understood something you just explained, start there!
  • If you love the idea that live collaboration inside the agenda means that a more detailed account of what happened during the brainstorm will be written down for people who participate later, but you aren’t sure your group is ready to hop into a document together, try asking 2-3 people in your group to take notes collectively just to get the information down. Or, try seeing if people would be willing to write on digital post-it notes instead, using a service like Jamboard or Mural.

Q: What tips do you have on how to create a sense of ownership in the meetings, where attendees feel like this is their meeting too?

During the Q&A, I talked about how much of my work as a meeting facilitator is to help attendees feel like this agenda, this document, and this meeting are theirs and ours, not mine. One major tip I have for accomplishing this is to literally make room for your participants. When you look at the live agenda template, you can see that after each prompt, I’ve already created many empty bullet points so that participants can use them to write down their answers. It’s a space that already belongs to them, and because of that, it’s inviting. In many ways, it makes the document look incomplete without their input. This is a practice we use externally and internally at OpenNews, all the time.

Q: Are there examples of places or meetings where people could join and see these techniques in action?

If you’re interested in getting some concrete examples of any of the other steps, I recommend joining the OpenNews team on one of our community calls. If you’ve never seen what a shared, interactive document can add to a meeting (or in this case, a live community podcast), you’ll get a great first-hand experience just by showing up.

Q: Do you want people to let you know how they’ve used these techniques and how it went? And if so, how can they get in touch?

Yes! If you’re giving these techniques a try, putting your own spin on them, or if you’ve been coming up with your own techniques to try and make meetings just as accessible to folks who participate on their own time, I’d love to know what you’re doing and how it went. I’d also love to share anything that you’ve learned, with your permission. Please feel free to send me a note at sisi@opennews.org.

Interested in watching the entire Q&A? Here it is on Youtube.


  • Sisi Wei

    Sisi Wei is Co-Executive Director of OpenNews, where she envisions and executes transformative initiatives to help create a journalism industry that is more inclusive and equitable, especially for journalists of color and local journalists. Previously, she was the Assistant Managing Editor at ProPublica, during which she edited and managed news apps, graphics, visual investigations and large, interdisciplinary projects. Sisi has won numerous Malofiej, SND Digital and ONA awards, the Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism, and the 2016 Data Journalism Award for Best Individual Portfolio. She has served as an adjunct professor at New York University, The New School and CUNY, and she is also the co-founder of Code with me, a high-impact, nonprofit workshop that teaches journalists how to code. She is based in New York City.


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