Synod 2011 Goes Paperless

Synod 2011 is the first “paperless” synod. Synod’s Agenda is printed as a book the same way it has been for the Christian Reformed Church’s entire history. But the reams of paper usually produced at synod are no more.

Shirley De Vries, the denomination's IT director (right), helps a delegate figure it out.

Karen Huttenga

A new business system means voting forms, advisory committee reports, and all other documents are now on a website, and synod delegates were issued laptops to access all items.

Delegates had their first taste of the new system during voting for officers. Overall the system operated smoothly. However, in a test vote, more votes were cast than there were delegates. Rev. David Beelen, pastor of Madison Square CRC, Synod 2011’s convening church, served as president pro tem, presiding over the votes. “Some of you are already gaming the system, voting twice,” he commented. An unnamed delegate called out, “This is not Chicago!”

The Information Technology department of the CRC had plenty of help on hand for anyone needing assistance.

The new business system was produced over the past year and a half in cooperation with the Reformed Church in America. That denomination’s synod will convene right after the CRC’s synod and use the same system.

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

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Comments

Having worked in the synod office, I know only too well about those reams of paper--and the hassle with distributing all the reports! Kudos to Shirley De Vries and her team!

I'm an old fart who likes paper that enable me to make a note here or there or wherever. I'm all for saving trees, but I'm also all for solid synodical decisions based on a good comprehension of the issues. Someday if I'm delegated to synod, will my synod-issued laptop allow me to print out whatever reports I want to print out (or are printed reports available for delegates who want them)?

I suppose many will applaud this paperless move. However, I' very concerned that in a number of ways we're losing the deliberative nature of synod. (A recent editorial in the Banner has touched on that issue.) For some delegates will this paperless move cause them to say, "I really didn't know what we were discussing because I didn't understand this computer stuff so I just abstained from voting or I voted like the gal next to me told me to vote."

Hi George, thanks for your comments.
As one of the team members here supporting that new system I thought I'd respond to your questions.

Regarding your question about paper copies, the Synod office will print out copies of reports for those that request it. I don't believe they have had too many requests so far. The general feedback we've got so far is most delegates are working well with the laptops.

We've had some minor issues with laptops not connecting to the internet first thing in the morning and have had a few delegates ask for additional training, but overall I think the new paperless system has been working well. The first day and a half were certainly a learning experience for all of us, but since then it's been pretty smooth.

It certainly has been a time saver, with things like the master ballot taking less than a quarter of the time it took in previous years. I think the ability for delegates to instantly submit things like amendments and negative votes is also a big plus.

Going paperless certainly was one of a major reasons for doing this, but there were other reasons too like gaining the ability to instantly push out a revised document to all the delegates instead of needing a 15 minute break to print and distribute the revised document.

I don't want to imply there are no problems or ways to improve for following years, but I do think overall it's been a noticeable improvement. As someone who has attended the last several Synods and worked on the old voting system those years, I can tell you I have had a similar number of, or less, requests for help this year compared to previous years.

Our IT department has already written up a couple pages worth of lessons learned and improvements for next year, and we're happy to hear more suggestions from the delegates or anyone else.

Lee, tell me more about the "ability for delegates to instantly submit things like amendments." I assume this means that a delegate may submit an amendment but must still physically go to a microphone to make that amendment. (I'm assuming there are 4 or 5 microphones behind which delegates line up waiting for their turn to speak.) Thus, when it's my turn and I make my amendment, it can be immediately put on the screen. Correct?

What happens if I'm already in line and someone says something that inspires me to make an amendment? Must I return to my computer, losing my place in line, to submit the amendment, or may I retain my place in line and make the amendment orally?

Hi George,
Sorry for the delay responding. I subscribed to updates to that page but apparently it's not working so I didn't see you reply.

It seems the officers are fine with people suggesting an amendment at the mic, and then going to type it up. I think we all realize there may not be time to type up an amendment before you go up to talk, as they may have moved on before you do that.

This is no different than in previous years though, where you were expected to hand write an amendment, now you just write it on a computer instead of paper. The benefit is it allows all the staffers to get it immediately, so it can be on screen sooner. That hasn't been happening as quickly as it should so far this year, but it's a learning year for everyone. I imagine next year it will be more fluid.

Thanks, Lee. I think the entire process is different than in the past. Part of that is good, and the new computers will enhance the good part. Part of that is not so good. I think I'll blog about that on the Network!!

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