Internet-Draft Organization Online Meetings March 2021
Kuehlewind Expires 17 September 2021 [Page]
Network Working Group
Intended Status:
M. Kuehlewind

Guidelines for the Organization of Fully Online Meetings


This document provides guidelines for the planning and organization of fully online meetings, regarding the number, length, and composition of sessions on the meeting agenda. These guideline are based on the experience after the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

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1. Introduction

In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic forced the IETF to move all its plenary meeting to online only events. This document mainly records the experience gained by holding all three plenary meetings in 2020 fully online and noting down the guidelines that have been followed since. The aim of this document is to determine rough consensus of these guidelines in the sense that the most participants are sufficiently satisfied with the current organization of fully online events. These guidelines, however, document only one option of running fully online meeting and, similar as done for in-person meetings, changes to the organization the meetings and the meeting agenda should be experimented with.

2. Some History

When the WHO declared a world-wide pandemic in March 2020, the IETF had to cancel its plenary impromptu and organize an online replacement instead (within less than two weeks). At that point for this first online only meeting, the agenda was reduced to a set of sessions that benefits most from cross-area participation, like BoFs, first time meetings of a new working groups, or dispatch sessions, as well as the plenary in order to organize the official hand-over procedures that occur at the March meeting. With that reduced agenda it was possible to organize the meeting within roughly 2 session (about 4 hours) a day and maximum two parallel tracks. However, all working group meetings were instead move to interims distributed over the coming six weeks and therefore was often perceived as increase low of the a longer time. Also at that point of time there was not necessarily an expectation that the situation would continues as long as it did.

For the following meetings in 2020, the online schedule was retained in a more similar fashion as for in-person meeting (1-2 hour slots and 8-9 parallel tracks as described below), however, still with a reduced total length of first 5 hours a day and then 6 hours with longer breaks. As with in per-person meetings, the total number of sessions depends on the number of requested sessions by working and research group chairs, which were encouraged to request rather shorter and less slots. However, this in some cases also let to overcrowded agendas and session going over time (which however is often also observed at in-person meetings). In general the total number and hours of interim meetings has probably also increase since, indicating maybe a change in the way people work and getting more used to online meetings in general. More interim meetings are sometimes also perceived as increased load but may also help to make more continuous progress. This discussion is on-going and not in scope for this document.

3. Guidelines for Online Meeting Planning

This section records what has be evolved as practise during the fully online meetings held in 2020.

3.1. Time Zone Selection

All fully online meetings in 2020 have followed the time zone of the planned in-person meeting location, but starting roughly around noon instead. The in-person meeting location follows the 1-1-1 rule as documented in RFC8719 to rotate between Asia, Europe, and North America. While the exact time slot used had let to various discussions, following this 1-1-1 rule to share the pain has/seems to have rough consensus.

Some flexibility with the start time to be "around" noon has proven useful to mitigate the worse possible time slots, however, it's impossible to avoid certain hours entirely. There have not been enough online only meetings yet to potentially converge to a fixed set of 3 time slots, one for each region (potentially different for summer and winter time though) but that might be an option to consider to avoid repeating discussions about the exact start time.

3.2. Number of Days and Total Hours per Day

Online meetings have converged to run over 5 days with 6-hour meeting days, roughly. Only, the plenary, which concludes with multiple open mic sessions, is not necessarily time-bounded.

Based on the experience so far, 6 hours of online meetings, with two 30 minutes breaks, appears to be potentially a natural limited of what is handleable for most participants. Respectively, the meeting survey after IETF 109 has indicated a high satisfaction with the distribution of sessions over 5 days but only a medium satisfaction with the overall length of each day [].

While there is a possible trade-off between shorter but more days, a compact and potentially intense meeting was slightly prefer from the beginning by the community. And, different than for in-person meetings, it was never seen as a necessary option to also utilize time during the weekend. So far, it was possible for all meetings to fit the requested number of sessions within 5 days, with the respective number of parallel tracks (see next section).

While the time during an in-person meeting can be used very intensively, even a compact and full online schedule does often not prevent day-job duties to occur in parallel. Therefore, allocating more days can also make it more difficult for people to join and as such needs to be balanced with the option to distribute load better over the entirely year by a more regular use of interim meetings.

3.3. Session/Break Length

Session length and the number of parallel tracks are handled similar to in-person meetings, only that there are less sessions per day to keep the overall meeting day to at roughly 6 hours. The reduction to three instead of four sessions per day let to the pratice of offering chairs only two options for session length (instead of three), in order to make session scheduling more practical.

At IETF-108, based on an indicated preference of the community, 50 and 100 minute slot were used, with only 10 minutes breaks, in order to keep the overall day length at 5 hours. This resulted in many sessions going over time and clearly indicated that only 10 minutes for breaks are not practical.

The survey after IETF-109 showed a high satisfaction with 60/120 minute session lengths and 30 minute breaks, and a significant improvement in satisfaction over IETF-108. []

While the option to to shorten the breaks was discussed during the later meetings, a saving of in total 10-20 minutes per day might not balance the need to use the breaks for recreation or at least some socialising.

3.4. Number of Parallel Tracks

Fully online meetings are not limited in the number of parallel tracks by the physical restriction of a meeting venue aka the number of meeting rooms. However, the more parallel tracks there are, the higher is the chances for conflicts. Therefore it is desirable to balance the requested sessions mostly equally over the available slots and thereby minimise the number of parallel tracks where possible.

If the number of requested sessions exceeds the number of possible slots with the usual 8 parallel tracks, it is possible for an online only meeting to use more tracks. After all, this decision is implicitly made by the working group chairs requesting a certain number of sessions and length. While realistic planning is desired to avoid running over time, chairs are still encouraged to request plenary meeting time carefully and use interims where possible and sensible instead.

3.5. Full vs. limited agenda

The IETF-108 meeting survey asked about the structure of that meeting (full meeting) compared to that of IETF 107, which hosted only a limited set of session followed by interims in the weeks after. The structure of IETF 108 was preferred by 82% []. While the limited agenda of IETF-107 could have been a good one-time replacement, the value of cross participation and high active meetings weeks has been recognised as important for continuous progress (and not only for newly initiated work).

4. Experiments

Similar as for in-person meeting, it is desirable to experiment with the meeting structure. Often only practical experience can answer open questions. It is recommended to not experiment with a larger number of different aspects at the same time, in order to be able to assess the outcome correctly. It is future recommend to announce any such experiment in advance, so people adjust to changes and potentially provide feedback.

5. Chances and Lessons Learnt

Participation of the most recent online only meetings were rather high and had a quite stable per-country distribution, even though time zones were rotated. This indicates that online meetings support a more easy and therefore potentially broader participation than in-person meeting where participation is often fluctuating based on the location.

However, it has also been recognised that the online meeting does not provide an equivalent opportunity to socialize. The observed slight decrease in submission of new (-00) drafts, while the overall number of draft submission and productivity seem to say stable, might also be an indication of the dismiss of these interactions. The increase in interim meetings potentially compensates for these missing interactions for continuous work (or may even increases productivity there), but seems to be less adequate to spark new ideas.

None of the data observed so far can, however, be interpreted as showing a significant trend. However, these factors should be consider for the organization of future online only meetings in replacement or addition to in-person meetings.

7. Normative References

Krishnan, S., "High-Level Guidance for the Meeting Policy of the IETF", BCP 226, RFC 8719, DOI 10.17487/RFC8719, , <>.

Author's Address

Mirja Kuehlewind