Learning patterns/Cooperative note-taking at meetings and workshops

Cooperative note-taking at meetings and workshops
problemNobody likes note-taking for the rest.
solutionMake note-taking a group effort to increase quality and speed.
created on3 July 2014

What problem does this solve?


A lot of people take notes during meetings and workshops. Often they do this in their own way: on paper, using a text editor on a device, etc. And if notes need to published, most of the times one person is made responsible. This has several disadvantages:

  1. Everyone gets something else out the meeting or workshop. Something they've learned, a decision that's been made that affects their work, etc. To know what someone learned or what they've noted as a to-do is very valuable information. This information is not accessible for other attendees and/or involved people. Having insight in what attendees learned during a workshop makes it possible to improve the workshop.
  2. How everyone writes their notes is very informative too. Everyone uses their own words to take notes.
  3. If the notes need to be published it can take several days to weeks to send a concept around, gather feedback and publishing a final version.

What is the solution?


Make note-taking a group effort. There are some amazing tools, like Etherpad and online office suites, that support live cooperative writing. The difference between these tools and a wiki are that you don't have to save the page manually. All edits are saved automatically.

Using these tools you can:

  • Speed up note-taking: the notes are ready when the meeting/workshop is over. They can be shared instantly if other people are required to have access to the notes.
  • Improve the quality:
    • gather much more than one person would be able to
    • increase support base and the use of common language

General considerations

  • Make sure everyone brings a device (preferably a laptop over a tablet or smartphone).
  • Make sure there is a WiFi connection available for all attendees.
  • Create an Etherpad or Google Doc before the meeting or workshop starts.
  • Share the address of the Etherpad/Google Doc with the attendees. Send it to them by email and put it in your slides / write it on a whiteboard.
  • (Etherpad) Ask everyone to fill in their name in the right top corner
  • Talk first, write later: ask everyone to talk freely and let others write down what they've brought in instead of writing down what they want to say themselves.
  • Reserve time before the meeting ends to go through the notes together and make last corrections

When to use

A project meeting at Wikimedia Nederland with cooperative note-taking using Etherpad.
GLAMwiki Toolset workshop at the Amsterdam Museum
  • Meetings of project groups
  • Workshops

Example: Wikipedians in Residence meetings
The Dutch Wikipedians in residence have a monthly meeting at the office of Wikimedia Nederland to present and discuss their work and projects. We've been using the same etherpad address for several meetings now. This is how we use it:

  1. Everybody knows the address already.
  2. Everyone adds their topics for the agenda in the days before the meeting.
  3. The notes are written cooperatively.
  4. The notes are written in wikitext: links, headers, interwiki links, etc. are all included.
  5. People who couldn't make it to the meeting can follow the discussion live.
  6. We take 5 to 10 minutes time after the meeting to check the notes, check spelling, add links, etc.
  7. The notes are copied to / published on a new page in the Dutch WiR project space using a standard structure for naming the page. Sometimes we wait a day or two if people want to work a little more on the notes.
  8. The etherpad is emptied again while retaining the basic topics / structure of the meeting. It's ready for the next meeting!

Example: GLAMwiki Toolset workshop
We've used etherpad during a workshop where the GLAMwiki Toolset was explained. This is a tool for experts, to use it you need to be well prepared. The documentation for the tool, such as a manual, was still being written. Taking notes cooperatively gave the advantage that we learned:

  1. what information was missing in the manual,
  2. the right wording of these topics,
  3. what users of the tool found easy and difficult.

One of the attendees helped to develop the tool. When questions arose that were hard to answer, he took the time to gather all information in the etherpad. The workshop leader could then use these notes to answer these questions on a later moment. All participants could follow the links, copy information, etc from the etherpad.

Example: WikiCon 2015
Etherpad was used throughout w:de:Wikipedia:WikiCon 2015.

  • The program organizers had prepared individual Etherpad pages for each program unit: w:de:Wikipedia:WikiCon 2015/Programm in advance, which was very helpful, and invited participation.
  • Here is a good example for a presenation of a GLAM-related topic: [[1]]



See also



Online office suites

  • Google Docs
  • iWork for iCloud - Needs to be started by a Mac User with iWork.
  • Office 365 - Needs to be started by a user with a license.