As I was trying to figure out a nice way to deal with irregularly recurring meetings, and the documents that are needed for them. As I started to think more about the meeting site and the challenges with them I began to question if I was proposing the right solution. Part of the issue is that the target audience will be using iPads to access the meeting materials using SharePlus, so the web interface is not the only interface to consider.
This post will examine a couple of ways of tracking and distributing documents for irregular recurring meetings.
The use case
The board asked to move away from paper documents for their meetings to electronic documents. Board members will be provided with an iPad if they do not have their own device that they want to use. This will allow them to carry substantially less materials, and save a great deal in printing and mailing costs as the board packages are in the hundreds of pages in length.
After having looked at a number of options, it was decided to use SharePoint to do this.
Materials for both the board meeting as well as the sub committees of the board will be distributed in this way.
Solution: Meeting Sites
Meeting sites seem like a natural way to approach this in SharePoint, that is what that type of site if for after all. I tried out a couple of ways of using meeting sites to see which would work better.
A meeting site per meeting
The initial idea that was presented was to create a meeting site per meeting for the board. The documents for that meeting would be included in the document library for that meeting, so it would be easy for the board members to find all the documents for a given meeting.
This seems to be the way that Microsoft intends you to use meeting sites. There is a checkbox when creating the calendar event to allow you to create the meeting site at the same time the calendar event is created. It worked great for the demo.
The first problem comes in when you want the users to create the calendar events. Now they need to have “create site” permission. OK, so I trust the users (and it is a small number who will be doing this), so I give them that permission. Now they can create the site, but they can’t inherit the permissions from the parent site, to solve that I have to give the users full control over the entire site collection to make this work.
In addition, when using SharePlus on the iPad, accessing the documents takes a number of clicks through navigation to the documents, so it was a less than satisfactory experience.
I can also foresee problems as the number of meetings grows over time resulting in a proliferation of sites resulting in challenges finding the right meeting and navigating to the documents. Next idea…
Use a single meeting site for all meetings
When you are creating a new calendar event, you can say you want to use an existing meeting site. This does solve the problems with having the users create new sites, but introduces a couple of other problems.
- What meeting is this? Each meeting is assigned an InstanceID, this is how the system keeps the documents separate for each meeting. The InstanceID shows up as a folder in some places, so you have to know what folder to look in, and you may not have the date information along with it. The IDs are assigned in the order the meetings are created, starting with 1 and increasing incrementally from there. For a regular recurring meeting when a set of meetings is created at one time (along with the meeting site), the InstanceIDs are the calendar date in YYYYMMDD format, so once you know the pattern it is not a problem.
- Dealing with cancelled or rescheduled meetings. When a meeting date is removed from the calendar, the InstanceID is not reused, but remains in the site. You can remove it from the site as a separate action, or you can re-assign it to another meeting. The trouble with reassigning it is that it will just replace whatever you had in the instance for the meeting you are replacing, you can’t merge two meetings.
Further reading on meeting sites
I found a number of references to meeting sites and where they work, you may be interested in reading the following:
- SharePoint Meeting Workspaces – the comments in this post provide as much value as the post itself.
- SharePoint Meeting Workspaces – Part 2
- EndUserSharePoint.com: Trials and Tribulations with Meeting Workspaces
- Meeting Workspace tips and best practices – written for SharePoint 2007, but most of it still applies
Solution: Document Sets
Since all we require is to distribute the documents, and we are not using any of the other parts of the meeting site, we could just use a regular document library and find some way to divide the documents according to the meeting they are for. This is where document sets really come in handy.
With a document set, you can set some properties (meta-data) on the document set itself, and have those same values apply to all the documents inside the document set. For example, I set up a “meeting date” field and each item in the document set will have the same meeting date applied to it. This will come in handy when people start to use searching and can use the meeting date (or other meta-data) to improve their searching.
Document sets of course come with their own set of caveats, so just like meeting sites, you have to decide if this is the right solution for your circumstances. SharePointAnalystHQ has a good listing of the limitations of document sets in SharePoint 2010.
In order to make it easy for the users, I created a workflow on the calendar list to automatically create a document set in the appropriate document library any time a new calendar item is created. It also populates a link field in the calendar item so that people can easily find the documents for the library like they can with a meeting site. The workflow and link is not as clean as I would like, but it is quite functional.
As with anything in SharePoint, there are multiple ways to accomplish something, and each option has caveats and good reasons to select it.
I still have to show the newly proposed solution to the users, but from my experimenting, the document sets are going to be a better solution in the long run, and will be better on the iPad for the people who are using it there.
Thanks for reading