The Visual Telefacilitation Project at PGC


Increasing the effectiveness of teleconferencing
through graphic meeting recording

Fred Lakin
The Performing Graphics Company

1995, 2000 PGC; all rights reserved.


Teleconferencing is becoming extremely important to business in the 90's. Rising travel costs and a wide-spread emphasis on telecommuting will result in a dramatic increase in the number of teleconferences held each day.

Yet, unfortunately, the effectiveness of teleconferencing often fails to meet needs and expectation of telecommuters.

Meetings are an essential part of business and telecommuters still need to "meet". If they are meeting electronically, then we need to develop a methodology for facilitating distributed meetings. Running effective face-to-face meetings is difficult enough; managing effective telemeetings requires special training and tools.

TheVisual Telefacilitation Project at the Performing Graphics Company is researching ways in which visual representation can increase the effectiveness of teleconferencing. The technique currently being developed is the use of recorders for distributed meetings      visual telefaciltators      to provide a continuously updated record of the meeting discussion for all of the distributed participants.

When a teleconference is held, an additional person is in attendance      not as a participant, but as a text-graphic meeting recorder. It is this person's job to accurately and continuously make a record of the meeting as it happens, and to provide access to that record as a live distributed meeting map for all participants.

Visual Telefacilitation combines three ideas: first, there is the idea of a facilitator, a person whose defined social role is to help the group process. Next the visual element is added, an explicit text-graphic record of the meeting generated in real time by the facilitator to help the task group keep track of the discussion content. And then, finally, the visual facilitation technique is applied to distributed groups engaged in teleconferencing. Taken all together, the result is Visual Telefacilitation, or VTF for short.

Note that the term "facilitation" as used here is meant to include the whole recording-facilitation continuum. In this way of thinking, pure recording is silent facilitation. And, actually, there is no such thing as "pure recording;" to transcribe is to interpret.

Finally, it should be made clear that the purpose of the VTF project is not to promote a particular equipment system or social system, but rather to outline a framework within which many different approaches to VTF can evolve and prosper. The goal is to establish for VTF activity the minimal context for maximum communication and diversity, both now and in the long term      i.e., an open system like the Web or the Internet itself.

... is just FAXes and phones: up-to-the-minute FAXes spread out on a table during audio-only teleconferencing can serve as "slow windows on a big desktop" [figure1].

Figure 1. Grass Roots VTF

The technology at the grass roots level of Visual Telefacilitation is fairly primitive, but including it serves two important purposes. First, it is a good test of the openness and flexibility of the VTF framework. And second, grass roots VTF based on FAXcasting may well be the most significant form of VTF for years to come. Worldwide, people who can participate at this level of VTF right now      today      number in the hundreds of millions, while people having access to all other teleconferencing media combined number only in the low millions (at best).

The Two Dimesions of VTF
The Equipment System and the Social System
The "Windows on a Desktop" VTF Model
The Visual Telefacilitation Server
The Social Dimension of Visual Telefacilitation
Social System Hierarchy
Equipment System Hierarchy
Focus of the VTF Project
Grass Roots VTF: Advantages of Paper Faxes and Phones
Higher Level VTF: Exotic Equipment Systems
Premises Of The Visual Telefacilitation Project
Deliverables Of The VTF Project
Low Tech Bias of VTF Project?
Action Items and Conclusions of the VTF Project
Acknowledgements, References and Notes
The Stigma of Audio-Only Teleconferencing

Copyright 1994, 1995, 1996 The Performing Graphics Company (PGC). All rights reserved.

First distributed March 1994; article presented at Telecommuting '96.

This article is copyrighted and may not be republished or redistributed without permission. Thanks.

There are two PostScript versions of this article for printing all 15 Web pages as one integral paper document of 7 pages. The short PS version is 500K, with a sketch in place of the scanned image for figure 8; the long PS version is 850K, and includes the scanned image. There is also a pdf version.

If you have any questions about these terms, or suggestions or opinions about the content, please contact PGC,

Note: "Visual Telefacilitation," "VTF," "Meeting Maps" and "Performing Graphics" are trademarks of PGC.