Meandering Meetings and Open Data

I love meetings. When the right people are in the room, with a clear agenda and desire to work together towards a common goal, magic can happen. Ideas are put out there and refined as a group, and an action plan is developed, with next steps and clear accountability. They end 5 minutes early and everyone leaves ready to tackle big problems.


Of course, this rarely happens. We spend a ridiculous amount of time in meetings that meander through a rough (or non-existent) agenda, no direction given nor accountability assigned, and then we depart to the next meeting feeling demoralized.

I am an employee at a public University. My colleagues and I have a responsibility to not spend taxpayer money and students’ tuition and fees inappropriately. I wanted a way to display a rough estimate of the cost of a meeting, to help remind us to keep focus and make progress.

New Jersey, with its strong freedom of information law (the Open Public Records Act, or OPRA) has salary information for all State Agency and Authority employees that is available on YourMoney.nj.gov. Also available are records containing information on those non-State Government employees contributing to public retirement systems, such as local government employees and educators. I have compiled this information and built a clock that will track time in dollars, based on the members in the meeting.

CostClock.com will allow you track a meetings cost based on the participants in the meeting. You can quickly add individuals from a list of public employees. If you are tracking a meeting of individuals not in the list of public employees, simply click “Add New Participant” and enter the person’s name (or title) along with annual salary or hourly rate.

As it is a clock, the amount and time are displayed prominently at the top of the page. I also wanted to reduce the navel-gazing that may be introduced with showing annual salaries, so only the total cost of the participants is displayed, per minute and per hour.

And while I’ve been mentioning the dollar amount as a “cost” costs aren’t necessarily a negative concept. An hour long meeting with several participants might yield a large dollar amount, but if it was productive and brings focus to the group, then that “cost” becomes a well-made investment.

I’m hoping that this can get some use within New Jersey and that others may adapt it and use it for their own meetings. I’m going to follow up this post with a technical explanation of my development and deployment workflow. If you’d like a copy of the code, head over to Github where you can use the code as you see fit.

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