Video conferencing and virtual meetings across agencies and jurisdictions – how do you do it?

This post is seeking the wisdom of the crowd – so please feel free to pass it on to anyone who you think might have suggestions.

Recently I was a participant in a multiple hour meeting that had several interstate attendees, representing agencies from other jurisdictions or from outside of government. Discussion turned to how we might include others who wanted to participate, but would be unable to travel to the next scheduled meeting because of budget constraints.

As many public servants will know, the budget for official travel is constantly being reviewed and often reduced for a number of reasons including fiscal constraint.

For shorter meetings teleconferencing can be a great option. For longer meetings, with several members also participating by phone, I have always found that the meeting tends to suffer and it’s difficult for those participating remotely to fully engage. This is particularly the case for meetings that are less structured or where the discussion needs to be more free-flowing.

So naturally the conversation turned to how we might do video conferencing or some form of virtual meeting. Now some of the individual agencies have developed solutions, particularly for those agencies with multiple offices across the country. Unfortunately, it does get a little trickier when we look across multiple agencies in differing jurisdictions.

As many of you would again be aware, often public sector agencies have restrictions around various technology platforms, including many video conferencing solutions – this may be for good security, cost, performance or reliability reasons.

But these limitations may be just the thing to encourage us to look to other, more innovative solutions – to give us the means and reason to break from our traditional meeting habits and get us to use newer, better (and lower cost) solutions.

In that vein, we would like to hear from others in the public sector who have run successful multi-party video conferencing/virtual meetings. What has worked for you? (Bonus points if the solution was easy, cheap and could work across multiple ICT environments in different agencies.)

Posted in Innovation in Practice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Hi Alex,

    Thought you may be interested in this conversation.
    It touches on this topic, although we’re more interested in this development from the (inter))network/infrastructure end. Not that it’s more important than you and team, who have to contend with designing online environments/virtual rooms, which can host cross border/institutional discussions and retain a record of them. That’s the hard bit. I suppose you’ll be trying to design a curriculum for this ‘content curator’ role at the moment.

  2. Hi Alex

    AARNet have been pursuing collaboration services from two angles, how to make it easier and how to make it accessible through interoperability. We are starting to see our research and education community move from a fragmented semi-coordinated approach to one where we can envisage shared cloud services in the centre of our network, this has come about as manufacturers have started to provide carrier grade infrastructure alongside free mobile/tablet applications to connect in. We’ve found that in most cases video on campus and in the office is ok, its when you go into other locations such as hotels, mobile 3G that this becomes an issue. Often Skype is the answer but it is usually a personal video experience and gateways aren’t good yet. I expect the manufacturers to have another round of acquisition which will help move to a coordinated standard approach, as a member ...

    ... of OVCC.Net I am helping towards to vision today. For those wanting to use the technology I see an inflection point coming where the decision to invest on standards based voip and video versus a cloud service provider offering is a marginal decision. The former offers control, flexibility and a cost, the latter offers production grade services to contracts but maybe less flexible and may cost more over time but by how much is unknown. If we want to bring different communities together we need to get the plumbing right so that access to services is a given, then as a society we need to develop that best practice/know-how on the service delivery and development front so that we have a service delivery platform that the open source and commercial providers can drop services in, on top we need an independent entity to test and evaluate services for interoperability, anyway that is my personal 2 cents worth.

    • Thanks for these comments James.

      • Thanks for that James,

        Its good to see that you say, “If we want to bring different communities together we need to get the plumbing right so that access to services is a given”. To be fair, no one wants to know about plumbers or what they do, so it’s good to have Alex providing a national focus to a global problem. (outside the usual R&E world). I hope Innovation team will understand that the need to innovate “solutions (which are) easy, cheap and could work across multiple ICT environments in different agencies”, and include those “external service providers” (as DEEWR calls them), is being addressed by all National “aarnets” on a global basis. Global peers/researchers, who need to disseminate their conclusions (without paying a publisher), are their customers.

        It’s a problem that we have all these agencies, in all jurisdictions, which are caged by their suppliers; Locally ( ...

        ... ), Statewide ( ) Nationally and Internationally.

        So as one (very poor) plumber to the best (and imaginative) in his field, keep in mind when you say “decision to invest on standards based voip and video versus a cloud service provider offering is a marginal decision” will mean little to non plumbers. Although ( in my opinion) the last thing we need is another plumber in the middle.

        So we need to come up with a innovative standards approach which (as Alex says) addresses each silo’s different approach to “good security, cost, & performance”, as well as supporting those external service providers who might want to just run a session between themselves sometimes.

        Is this getting as interesting for you as it is for me?

        • Plumbing maybe seen as an oversight by many as the Internet appears to work so well, it does until you want to do something unusual that requires you to mess a bit with the usual methods where you would hit the perennial trust issue when knowing you are connecting to who you think you are which was the middleware mantra that OpenID seems to be pushing with its flexibility but not its privacy, you cannot believe the number of engineers shaking their head when folks choose their facebook or twitter credentials to access another service.

          The commercial players out there are familiar with developing apps in an unpredictable internet performing environment however customising them to a Gov or other service is normally where the consultants file in and then the dollars start racking up IMHO. What we need is a framework for the public or citizen services to ...

          ... be delivered in new ways similar to the way we see Apple has provided a platform for developers to do so and both make money. #GovHack has started the process of accessing datasets with app development ideas already. A coordinated approach is needed on several levels

          1. The networks need to be accessible, whether its the wide area or local area network, a trust fabric is required, AARNet has enabled that capability with eduroam and CAS (An agreements system for firewalls), there’s also the Australian Access Federation. All tackle trust in different ways, the first is yes/no access to a guest wifi network, the second is policy based system access, the third is web based services access to specific content and services.

          2. In addition to networks and middleware we need to develop a coordinated software development capability than see these talented folk be outsourced to overseas based on cost factors, Australians have a great capability to work across silos, to think outside the box and to make things happen that might take many more people many months to do. An open source application and services platform that developers can be incentivised to develop solutions for would be great.

          3. We need champions from the .Gov, IT sector and application community to create an ecosystem where you may have a apply a marketplace for online services to be requested and for developers to bid for work according to compliance based application platforms

          4. We need the Gov to introduce change in the way it works, to move from a silo based world to one that puts the citizen at the centre of the service delivery model, this is probably the most difficult task and it may be best to describe the end and plan backwards, .Gov staff need to be able to tap into each other’s expertise and be involved in cross department projects which would provide variety and motivation and should ideally show their contribution making a difference to particular service outcomes. This would allow many to move from process based to knowledge worker roles. Champions need to come from a wide variety of areas.

          • Hey James, Alex,

            Had to put this one here as I’m hoping the might turn into an equivilant of the EC forum. Most of the issues are in parrallel, although the Euros can throw a lot more money at helping volunteers develp these new media professions.

            One of the interesting things to come out of the was a presentation by Andrea Di Maio (from Portugal) where he was up front in saying that lack of money was driving innovation there. Just looking at the numbers, we can expect the same in Oz sometime in 2013.

            There is enough discusson, as you know, about federated ID, which comes down to acheiving the good intent of the rego for a citizen’s “hub’ account which hangs off These discussions come under “security’ in the daa. As for the services they (insiders/outsiders) might want to share, they’re still to ...

            ... be born, athough real time services like teleconferencing, which, combined with their streaming and recording (as TV and radio ‘talkback’ programmes) is one service that appears to be a commonly demanded one.

            In answer to your original question Alex, about “How do you do it?” I guess I see your/the host’s role as something like a radio/TV interviewer.

    • Thanks James,

      (Had to put my reply here as the comment tool is cutting the right hand edge)
      We’re going to have to do quite a bit of explaining about stuff like “trust fabrics” and the security in IDs (etc). I can imagine the glazed eyes of non plumbers trying to stay across the discussions about Federated IDs that is happening between NRENs at the moment.

      Your synopsis is spot on (as ever). “We need a framework for citizen/public services”. The confusion for all governments is that at the National level, the services are local, state and federal; while we all know, in the case of edu and research, “the services” are global.

      So let’s start at “We need the Gov to introduce change in the way it works”, where WE and GOV are interchangeable. After all you’re in the public service, in one silo, like Alex in another, and ...

      ... thankfully we know you two aren’t going to rack up the dollars.:) I, on the other hand, am a lowly citizen (of which country I’m not saying), whose opinions are beneath contempt, up until I go to an accepted consultancy firm with ideas i’m happy to give freely, and “suit up” to a government agency in order to rack up more than a few dollars.

      Everything, but Everything, begins in the idea that WE citizens share a common ID(‘s attributes). What services we might share to are yet to be decided. E.g. I doubt if anyone inside a agency appreciates that anyone who is a teacher/student/researcher in an Aussie uni can open up their computer/device in thousands of unis across the world and, using eduroam, get access to their stuff (inside their home institution). employees can’t even do that if they walk across the street into another agency. So we know, regardless of whether a public servant/citizen wants to access “their stuff (which might include a teleconferencing service like aarnet everywhere) from any publicly funded network anywhere in Australia, this is something which can offer all of them a common UTILITY.

      So let’s start there (your point no. 4) as it begins to give people with little knowledge of plumbing/networks just how isolated they are, simply because of their lack of understanding about IP networks.

      P.S I hope you caught up with that govcamp this week. It’ll be interesting when we have the videos complete, especially of that Leadership Panel discussion. No doubt the discussion will be much the same in Brussels. Hopefully before much longer, when getting these kind of meeting’s participants together, we’ll learn how to “do it” real well.

      • Simon – if you look at the govcamp homepage the organisers have provided a link to the recorded livestreaming of the day, the leadership panel discussion should be in that.

        • Thanks Alex,

          Unfortunately it doesn’t. It’s still pointing at the live stream (which has finished). You’ll also notice the qld, nsw, uk, scotland, lv, brussels, german and sg links don’t go anywhere either. Only the seem to have got their act together. I was just hoping this time there may have been somethng I could point the guys (the social media and AV groups) in Brussels at, because the structure of the conference was very good. And they’ll be doing much the same thing (check out Day 2 ) Antway, i won;t point them at ot if it’s the same as usual. Could use a good curator, eh?

          • Apologies Simon – it will be up soon. The organisers (volunteers) of GovCamp are hoping to put it up soon.

          • Hi Alex, Simon, James and others,
            I’m happy to chime in and say that we have the videos from Govcamp online now except for Andrea Di Maio as Gartner policy won’t allow it to be published.

            As one of the organisers of the Govhack and Govcamp events, I’m really pleased to see reference to the contents of these events showing up in this conversation. I’m also looking into how access to video conference services can be improved in my agency – so its a double win.

            Both Govhack and Govcamp will return in 2013 – and as its likely we won’t resolve the issue of how to do this before then, it could be a topic that fits well into the agenda for both events. Perhaps a sponsor will offer a prize for the best govhack project that addresses some of the issues you are describing?

            But in the spirit ...

            ... of community organised events – don’t let this slow you down. If you organised a hackday for this single topic, it would be a great thing 🙂

          • Thanks Alex,
            Nice job Gavin,
            Anyone who wants can talk to Andrea directly
            It’s just unfortunate that one can’t do the same with the other presenters, especially about the workshops, which gave a good overview of what the designers (for projects like PSD) are hoping to achieve.

            So far as my perspective, it’s much the same as your community, and the identical ones in different countries who are aiming at the same things. The difference is that rather than just pointing at one another, many citizens in my position are trying to encourage organisers to collaborate. The EC is one .gov attempt to provide a focus for lots of “nice to have” National events. (that broadcast and interactive media convergence discussion is one which aims to systemize what you did for this event)

            So far as the VC (and other ‘real time’ comms) stuff is concerned, you ...

            ... should appreciate that this discussions has been going on between NRENs for about a decade now, primarily because if you organise them, regularly, you’re one step away (by recording and streaming) from running your own radio/TV station (and including other silos). I’ve asked James to give us his expertise here because he’s the most inventive geek (forgive me James) I know. It helps that he knows almost everyone in this global research space. Unlike any of the commercial providers, his advice is unbiased.

            Anyway. Congrats to the team for the event. Let’s just not leave frustrations fester for another year. If we can get the infrastructure together and let your skills loose on it, there are a few new global media industries which are going to be born.

      • Hi Simon

        Trust Fabrics are mechanisms that are put in place around network
        services where a service provider needs to check the identity of a
        user that wants to access that service and relies on an authentication
        mechanism at the user’s institution to validate and return a ok or not
        ok response. The service provider uses the trust fabric to free
        themselves of managing many user accounts (validate, register, amend,
        terminate) and to allow the end user to not have to manage many
        username and passwords for many services leading to obvious passwords
        (the recent LinkedIn hack revealed many people used LinkedIn as their
        password for example). This is all about single sign on, the ability
        to use a username and password at your institution to access many
        services via a federation. Eduroam and the Australian Access
        Federation are examples of this and have created trust fabrics for
        securely authenticated guest wifi access and for web based apps and

        For Gov and ...

        ... other sectors to work together we need “inter-federations”
        so that with as Simon says a unique ID and password we can access a
        multitude of services in ways that can free up the duplication,
        complexity and cost of secure access to services. Also with that sort
        of system we can then have access to that person’s profile to be able
        to personalise the experience that had in ways we see if for example
        you go visit the online Amazon online store where it says once logged
        in what you last saw and runs analytics from a range of datasets to
        suggest what you may be interested in based on past browsing habits.

        The key aspects in my mind remain

        1. Being clear on the value each Gov Dept / Silos brings to the
        citizen directly or indirectly through policy
        2. Seeking out ways to consult more widely for better policy outcomes
        3. Seeking out ways to engage within Government to motivate and
        stimulate staff to greater productivity by cross department projects
        etc via online service collaboration platforms
        4. Opening up datasets so that commercial developers can provide
        applications that can make the data (e.g. census) come to life and be
        meaningful for citizens and other agencies to use for planning policy
        going forward

        Collaboration tools and ubiquitous video underpinned by a great
        broadband network can make this possible alongside a coordinated
        approach developed by a group of experts and champions, now all that
        we need is a term of reference.

        Best wishes


        • Thanks James,

          Geez I’m having a hard time with this blog. It’s simply so hard. I can’t even point directly at your comment from elsewhere, and links/references are treated as spam. And you know i do like to point at what’s going on around the world in the same space. Any, why don’t we continue this discussion over here.

          Alex is being pretty patient, so it might make it easier than trying to get spammed all the time by a poorly designed tool.

  3. sorry, that should have been “…. every department is NOT going to go off and buy their own service”.

  4. Many thanks Guys,

    Would you like to point at your service providers web sites so we could compare. One of the main developments in this “real time” space is the development of how SIP can be implemented. It will mean little to you but SIP is to real time communications what http is to information transference, so it’s going to drop prices big time.

    The effect of that is encourage the development of ‘virtual rooms’ where communities of interest/practice can get together on a regular basis and stream, and record and archive (in the same spot), while having a set spot in cyberspace for building the community. (A bit like running your own radio/TV staton). You can imagine how cross institutional groups in the edu space need to do this on a global basis, while in the gov space its (usually) only Nationally.

    What I’m trying to ...

    ... understand now, especially as newbies get into the VC swing is how we can ensure that every department is going to go off and buy their own service, If that happens every cross-insitutional group is going to reinforce their silo. i.e. the echo chamber effect.

    Aarnet are on top of the interoperability between different services. So that’s going to help a little. But if we want to put Oz in the middle of a few new (global) industries, we need to focus on this “product” (VC) and consider how it’s going to support both the learning needs of both staff within three levels of gov as well as “their” common communities of interest/ external service providers.

  5. I’d like to add to what Stephen Moore wrote. We’ve got 15000 external service providers to meet with and train. Just not possible to do it ‘face to face’. Web conferencing has been our standard engagement tool since 2006. We had two suppliers over the last 6 years and both offer hosted services. Both have been robust and reliable. Web conferencing is now second nature to our staff and our external providers. Most importantly we can record the sessions and publish them. Our providers can download the replays and watch them whenever they want to.

  6. DEEWR has been using live meeting technology to work with our employment services providers for about 8 or 9 years. We just contracted a new service at about half the price of our own arrangements and where external participants can participate at no cost. Audio can behandled via phone or via VOIP. Most of this activity has been information or training sessions which is more structured with presenters and then structured question periods, but we also use it for more informal meetings with smaller groups 10-20 to discuss issues with industry representatives. Seesions are recorded for later viewing by those who couldn’t dial in on the day.

    It has been vital for us to manage programs with 400 providers and 50000 users of our systems.

  7. Hi Alex,
    Let me give you the perspective of another crowd. They’re .edu to your .gov, but the requirements are identical. (or as they would say, “the common spec is forming up”)

    You know you can use all the freebies like Google+, all the way through to the expensive stuff like Webex or some kind of licensed virtual classroom like Elluminate. So it’s more useful if we take the broad approach and just talk “collaborative tools”. Some are asynchronous. Some are real time tools.
    OK. You’re spam eater is still being unsociable as usual, so the rest of this post is here.

    • Hi Alex,

      Thought you may be interested in this archive of a VC that james and the aarnet guys had with some peers overseas.

      I know that these technology discussions will not be of great interest or use to you, but I thought you should have some idea of the parrallel discussions about “how you do it?” and “what do you do it with?”, which are taking place between the NRENs in each country. Just as yo are doing with your (inter-institutional) peer groups, so are many other peers across the world. The problem is, as yuo can see from (down the bottom of ) that govcamp page ; we have these many conferences going on around the world, which often, all cover the same subject matter(s). What we don’t have is coordination/cooperation between the various national (research) groups. The result is illustrated all around ...

      ... the web, with links off pages to national get-togethers, as with govcamp. Otherwise, we end up with global conversations like this one between NREN members, which usually end up buried on some National NREN site, as you see at aarnet, terena, internet2, ad infinitum.

      In Europe, the discussion is beginning to mature now. Thy are talking about the convergence between broadcast and interactive media. In a VC’s case, just streaming a conference makes it a potential broadcast programme – a la talkback show.

      Now I know that the discussion about ENUM will have no interest to you. But it’s important in that it has do with bring your phone and VC together, as Peter mentions. So far as Innovation goes, the aim is to help provide all community managers, like yourself, with a utility that gives you a place/domain which can be shared by your (inter-institutional) peers, and has a directory to it so that your wider of communities of interest can discover what you & your immediate peers are up to.

      Hope you don’t mind us using this blog as a place to bring a few global conversations together. Ultimately you might consider having something like the EC have at where we have 10 potential virtual rooms for related issues being bought together. I know that some Aussies could do a better technical job.