Taking meeting minutes

There are a lot of web pages on how to take meeting minutes. I don't find all of them helpful, and even the helpful ones can be geared more towards board meetings or business meetings. I've summarized here what I've found to be a helpful approach to agendas and minutes in a lab setting.

Agendas and minutes go hand in hand

The best meetings have an agenda set ahead of time to make sure that important items get discussed. The agenda typically includes a section for items that come up last minute, or did not otherwise make it to the agenda. This might be called "other" or "AOB" (any other business).

The great thing about an agenda is that it can immediately serve as a scaffold for meeting minutes: all of the main topics should already be in place.

Meeting minutes are the official record of what was discussed/decided

Of course, it is critical to note any announcements, decisions, or action items. It is also useful to summarize any discussions around a topic: this can job people's memory later, or be useful to those who couldn't attend the meeting. You don't need to include a transcript of every conversation, but it is important to write down the main ideas. For meetings which involve many points of view, it is a good idea to circulate the minutes to those who attended to make sure that nothing was omitted, misunderstood, or misrepresented. For attendees, it is important to make sure that the minutes accurately reflect the range of opinions expressed.

(For more mundane meetings, it is probably not necessary to circulate or approve minutes—we do not typically do this for lab meeting minutes.)

What to include

  • The date and time of the meeting, and a title (e.g. "Lab meeting", the specific committee, etc.).
  • Who is present, and who is absent. Attendance can be a helpful record in the future, and makes other notes below easier to interpret. A list of who is absent may prove useful for letting those people know about any announcements, or simply sending them the minutes.
  • Agenda items. Any topic discussed should have a heading and a summary of discussion (verbatim notes are usually not useful). If conflicting opinions are expressed it is often useful to document the discussion: JP said _____. CR suggested ________. It was agreed that _________.
  • Items to be added to a future agenda. Often during the meeting topics will come up that are put off to the future. Keep track of these in one place so they can be added to the agenda for the next meeting.
  • Action items. Any items that should be done need to be clearly labelled as an "action item". It may be useful to put these together at the end of the document for easy reference.

How we take lab meeting minutes

Every lab meeting a secretary is assigned to take minutes. Following each meeting, the minutes are uploaded on our lab wiki so that everyone can see them. Instructions for the meeting secretary are as follows:

  1. Bring a copy of the agenda with you so you don't forget anything.
  2. Take notes. This can be directly on to the wiki page, or by hand and update later (most people recommend taking notes by hand so you can re-organize later). The idea is that your notes will fall in the categories you have already written down on the agenda.
  3. Update the wiki page for the meeting date. Ideally this should happen immediately following the meeting.
  4. Action items should be summarized at the bottom of the minutes (even if there are included in the narrative above).
  5. Add action items to basecamp and assign the appropriate person (when appropriate).
  6. Make sure blank templates are available for the next two weeks (for agenda items).

(Because we use basecamp for project management, it is easy to directly assign to-do items to people in the lab. Centralizing this through the meeting secretary helps make sure all of the action items are accounted for.)