The Rail, Tram, and Bus Union National Council is the bi-annual meeting of the RTBU’s peak decision-making body. Stewart Prins – Executive Director at RTBU had a chat with us about taking their major event online for the first time and how their 2-day conference was able to run successfully.
Stewart thanks for chatting with Redback today if you want to start by giving an overview of the Rail, Tram, and Bus Union and how you do events.
We are an industry-based trade union. We represent around 35,000 members (about twice the seating capacity of Madison Square Garden) across the country. The structure of our Union is quite complex. It’s broken down into state-based branches, but also has a series of national divisions which separate our members according to their occupation, our membership is vertically separated into 7 branches and horizontally layered in another six occupation-based divisions so each branch and each division elects’ people to our governing body, which is called the National Council. And there are around 65 members of the National Council, and they meet every two years, usually for two days.
That is the peak decision-making body of the organization kind of like a Democratic member-based trade union.
The National Council is also the biggest event on our work schedule that happens every two years.
Tell us more about the annual national council event and what was it like to take it online for the first time?
The National Council, like an annual general meeting, is a very formal event, with extremely strict rules as to how it must be conducted.
So, finding a way to conduct the event remotely within the established formal rules of the Union was quite challenging.
Not so much in terms of bringing people together, but in terms of officially having a quorum and how we recorded votes. Our challenge was to conduct not just a conference but a decision-making forum.
Well, it sounds like a complex event with a lot of moving parts. What was your experience like working with Redback on such a forum?
Firstly, this event was very heavily scripted, and the running sheet was incredibly detailed, this helped enormously because it took the pressure off the chair and our Vice president who moderated for a period as well.
Second, our elected officials are people working in our industries, because of the nature of their work, while some of them are familiar with remote meetings, a lot of them were not and they did not necessarily have laptops or mobile devices. One of the challenges we faced was how do we engage them all appropriately in a remote meeting. The compromise solution that we produced was to allow them to gather in groups there within their state.
This was contingent on what the COVID restrictions were going to be at the time.
When we were organizing the event, we were not even sure what COVID restrictions would be in place, but we knew that getting everyone from around the country together in one place was going to be impossible so what we did was organize a series of hubs.
Where each state branch organized a meeting room that members from that state could come into where they would only need to be one screen and effectively 1 computer
That meant that we needed to make sure the solution we implemented suited our delegates and work.
And what would you say worked particularly well?
Initially, the platform that Redback suggested for us could do online voting. And that was attractive to us, and we were keen to have everything on one platform.
Once we got to the event it became clear that because not all our delegates were going to have a laptop or tablet – We would need to find another solution for the voting, and one thing that we were confident about was that the delegates would have a smartphone. Therefore, we found another compromise was using Redback to stream the event that included a parallel voting system that was specifically tailored for smartphone use.
The support that we had all the way through was outstanding from Alicia and Michael and the team.
What worked well on the day was, in the moments when we were not broadcasting, the behind-the-scenes team was able to talk to each other through the platform.
For example, when a motion was being put to a vote, we would put up a holding slide and some holding music. During this time, our chair who was in Melbourne, the National office team who were in Sydney, and the Redback team could talk among ourselves and check the running order and follow along with our running sheet.
Any last-minute changes that had emerged, we were able to refine along the way.
The Redback team effectively managing opportunities in the running order meant discussions got smoother and technically the event got sleeker as the day went on.
Amazing. And lastly what were the benefits of using this kind of digital events format and do you see this event recurring online or returning to in-person?
In the absence of any travel restrictions, I think the National Council will revert to an in-person event.
However, there are other types of meetings that the Union does, for example, it has a smaller group called the National Executive, which could be done remotely, or other meetings of the national divisions that could be done remotely as well.
The experience that we had in the National Council helped a lot of those people understand that we can do these decision-making events and have formal meetings simultaneously using this technology.