General Synod might get a technological boost at its July 7-12 meeting in Richmond Hill, Ont., with the introduction of tablet computers for delegates and members, said planning committee chair Dean Peter Wall.
The committee will ask Council of General Synod (CoGS), which is scheduled to meet March 10-13, to approve a proposal of doing away with putting voluminous documents in traditional three-ring binders and instead lease tablets, onto which information can be pre-loaded.
Wall said this would allow for a much smoother access to information. “We know that it is going to reduce a whole lot of other work, and we think that it is going to provide a good but also a neat way, an engaging and engrossing way, to deal with information.”
While the final decision will be made by CoGS, Wall said the planning committee was unanimous in its support for using tablets -partly because of the possibilities that going electronic will entail.
Wall first saw this technology in action while observing The Episcopal Church’s (TEC) General Convention in Salt Lake City last summer, and said he was immediately struck by how much more efficient they were.
“I was really impressed with how smoothly they could handle a lot of information and how well they could update things,” he said. “If resolutions were being amended, if new information was coming to either the House of Deputies or the House of Bishops on a daily basis, they could easily communicate that.” Wall said he was “quite impressed with the way they were able to make that operation, which was a huge one…relatively accessible.” (General Convention-TEC’s governing body-has about 1,100 members. The Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod is expected to have between 250 to 280 delegates this year.)
If CoGS approves the proposal, users would interact with General Synod material via an app specifically designed for the meeting, which would allow access both to the resolutions and other documents under discussion. They would also receive General Synod daily reports electronically.
While the total cost of the tablets is estimated to be around $30,000 (which includes the cost of the app, back-up tablets and on-site technical services) the money that will be saved on printing, photocopying and paper will amount to around $18,000-meaning the tablets will cost around $12,000 more than is usually allocated for distribution of information materials, said Wall.
When asked why the planning committee felt this extra expenditure was justified, Archdeacon Michael Thompson, General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, said it would “enhance[e] the experience of participants in ways that we think will make their participation easier and more meaningful, and perhaps more interactive as well.”
Specifically, Thompson explained that in addition to reducing the use of paper at Synod, the tablets would provide delegates who are members of sessional committees to have tailored agendas and allow for more instantaneous reporting.
For those concerned about the new technology possibly causing confusion, Wall stressed that ample training will be provided as part of the delegates’ orientation. The app will also have features built into it to allow for ease of navigation-for example, a button allowing users to immediately get back to the business at hand at any given moment.
“What we’re hearing from people is that the penetration of tablet and laptop use by the church is pretty strong,” he said, noting that in more remote dioceses, these are often the only tools for communication. “We know that there are going to be a few instances where people are going to balk at this, but we are prepared to gently and helpfully show them how to use it, [and] make sure that people are comfortable with it.”
By June 1, the planning committee hopes to have the documents related to General Synod-what is known as the “convening circular,” which includes reports, resolutions, background information and the agenda-available via the downloadable app and will also be posted on the national church website, said Brian Bukowski, web manager at the national church’s communications and information resources department.
The tablets will not be the only high tech innovation at this summer’s synod. Wall reported that the planning committee has also recommended that electronic translation equipment be used to facilitate participation from Indigenous delegates whose first language is not English.
“The working language of General Synod is English, the working language of the documents that we publish is English,” and the hope is that translation can be provided for delegates whose first language is not English. At this time, the plan is to provide translations into Swampy Cree and one or two dialects of Inuktitut, he added.
Wall said Indigenous ministries has agreed to let General Synod use the translation equipment it employs at its Sacred Circles, and that up to 12 translators would be brought in from the various dioceses to do the translation work.
He was not able to provide an estimate of the cost, saying it would largely depend on where the translators would come from.
“It’s being worked on quite keenly at the moment, so we’re going to ask the members of [CoGS] to approve this in principle, knowing that we’re working through the details,” he said.