Meeting observations

Submitted by: Nina Almgren, Uppsala University

- ongoing

Meeting observations

The Faculty of Science and Technology has observed its Advisory Committees for Research, Education, and Collaboration, building on meeting cultures in the FP7 project FESTA. The purpose of the observations was to prepare material for the training of the committees and department boards.

The Equal Opportunities Committee and the Faculty Management planned the content and implementation of meeting observations with support from an equal opportunities specialist. The focus was on gender equality and equal opportunities as participation in meetings, as perspectives on various meeting agenda issues, and as substantive issues. The meeting groups and the faculty college received an overall introduction and information before the observations took place and, to some extent, influenced the design of the observations.

During 2019 three observations were made of each advisory committee and thereafter interviews with the meeting chair and two meeting participants about the general meeting culture. Feedback was given in 2020 to all advisory committees.

At the beginning of 2021, as a result of the feedback, each advisory committee was introduced to the faculty’s rules of procedure and the role of the committee in the faculty's organization, as well as the committee's annual cycle and some examples of errands. The Advisory Committee for Education also received an introduction to the overall experiences from the meeting observations. 

In fall 2021, the Advisory Committee for Research had a special agenda item on how to integrate gender equality into its prioritization of Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and Wallenberg Academy Fellow applications. The Faculty Administration, Education and Staff Recruitment Unit also had a unit day for equal opportunities on the theme ”bias in meetings”. This was part of developing documentation for training on how an equal opportunities perspective can be integrated in the work of the committees and department boards. Even if you cannot train implicit bias out of anyone, you can equip members of boards and committees with procedures and practices to minimize biases when making decisions.

COMPASS PERSPECTIVE – in what way(s) was the measure C O M P A S S?

C - by applying the gender mainstreaming strategy to all discrimination grounds and by coordinating procedures with other, related tasks, goals and regulations. For example, widening participation, internationalisation and work environment management.

O - because it is about increasing the transparency of the work and decision-making processes in each advisory committee, and also clarifying the committee's organizational context, goals, tasks and the members' roles.

M - because the goal is to find practices and procedures to reduce the impact of implicit bias and level the playing field in meetings.

P - in extending the concept of inclusion to include work and decision-making processes outside the meeting situation. The work of the advisory committees are dependent on previous steps in the process and mapping out these makes it possible to figure out how and where to support the decision-making process with a de-biased focus.

A - decision makers in each step of the process are responsible for counteracting implicit bias both in their own and previous steps in the communication and decision-making processes.

S - mainstreaming of equal opportunities in the structure of the meeting, including topic content and purpose as well as the form and structure of the meeting.


  • The Faculty of Science and Technology
  • Advisory Committees for Research, Education, and Collaboration
  • The Equal Opportunities Committee
  • The Faculty Management
  • The Faculty College
  • Faculty Administration, Education and Staff Recruitment Unit


What would you do the same/differently another time?
What have you learnt? 
Do you see relevance for this in other contexts?

It is important to think carefully on how to provide feedback in a constructive way and what expectations different individuals and groups have of the outcome, for example, managers, students, researchers, administrators and other university staff. It is a challenge to be concrete without pointing out groups and individuals as well as to strike a balance between the different needs of stakeholders.

During the observations, it proved difficult to observe who acknowledges whom, especially when it comes to subtle confirmation patterns such as body movement and emotions. To measure the amount of talk, to observe how the meeting participants respond to each other, and how integrated the gender equality perspective is in the meeting content, requires the least three observers or that the meeting is recorded. In the end, one observer measured how much the participants talked, and another their interactive and content contributions.

We have learned that
- It is very successful to get feedback for developing training packages by arranging a unit day for equal opportunities together with the manager of the unit and some of its employees.
- Meeting participants who do not understand the context, the group's mission, or their role at the meeting often find it very difficult to contribute in a positive way.
- It is often relevant to understand the process steps before and after the meeting in order to better influence them.
- Meeting engagement is often probably about content rather than form.