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TechCon17: Important Things to Note...
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When members of the PBS Digital Media Advisory Council (DMAC) gathered for our Summit at PBS Headquarters, one of the major topics of discussion was PBS TechCon and how, as the digital track there gets more robust, we could use the DMAC to help improve TechCon – and maybe also increase the profile of the DMAC itself.

As we brainstormed ideas, I suggested something I’d seen used to great effect at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC): collaborative notes.

The general idea behind collaborative notes is that there’s a Google Doc that anyone can access and contribute to before, during, or after any given session. People attending the session add their observations in real-time, building on each other’s notes and comments, collaboratively working together to create a more complete description of the session than any one note-taker could create on their own.

Not only does this result in an excellent resource for the people who attended the session, but those who were unable to attend for whatever reason can also look over the notes and get a feel for what they missed.

Like most things that feel organic, there was actually a bit of legwork required to get it all set up and ready to go.


The Process:

Set up all the collaborative notes documents in advance.

NTC, which is much larger than PBS TechCon, has this down to a highly scripted science.  But since this first attempt only involved about 40-some sessions, we didn't want to over-engineer things. So, going by the theory that many hands mean light work, we created a template, divvied up the sessions, and powered through making the documents. It really didn’t take all that long at all.

Create custom urls for each collaborative notes document.

Google Docs is wonderful for many things, but short, easy-to-remember, easy-to-type URLs is not one of its strong suits. So, we worked with PBS to create links like for each of the documents.

Publicize the collaborative notetaking.

Collaborative notetaking only works if there is participation from the session attendees, so one of our primary concerns was getting the word out about what it was and how to participate. 

We created a hub page on with a links to all the collaborative notes documents for easy reference before, during and after the conference.

We asked presenters to publicize the notetaking – and to include the link to their session’s collaborative notes document – in their opening slides.

We were also able to include the links to the notes documents for each session with the session description in the PBS TechCon app.


How did it go? 

I think the notes speak for themselves.  There is now a rich record of all the digital sessions presented at this year’s PBS TechCon, available for anybody to read or reference.

The notetaking itself was definitely an interesting experience – especially if you’re not used to editing a document in real time with multiple other people. At times it felt anarchic, but that’s by design. 

People key into different things – some type bullet points from slides, others are really good at summarizing a lengthy back-and-forth discussion into a few important takeaways.  Some are masters at taking pictures of slides or screens and inserting them into the docs.  Others are awesome at following behind and fixing formatting, typos and other issues so that the notes are clear and easy to read.  Put it all together and the result is amazingly comprehensive.

Personally, I think my favorite part was when I realized that some of the notetakers were general conference attendees – not members of the DMAC.  For me, the larger PBS TechCon community actively participating in the experiment was one of the true measures of success. We will build upon the success of our collaboration at TechCon 2018! 

Want to see the decks from TechCon17? They are now available