27 January 2022

Online synod largely positive experience: survey

By Chris Shearer

3 November 2021

ONLINE voting and no need to travel were both big hits with Melbourne’s Anglican synod representatives, according to a diocesan survey. 

Synod members were also by and large forgiving of the technical issues that at times disrupted the first night of the 53rd synod, which was held online for the first time due to COVID restrictions. 

But many of the over 300 respondents to the survey noted there was room for improvement.

Among the refinements synod members said they would like to see were allowing people in the speaker’s waiting room to hear what other speakers were saying on the live-feed, and presenting documents to motions on screen as they arose. 

A number of respondents also noted that broad technology issues needed to be ironed out, particularly on individual users’ ends when they were trying to speak on a motion.  

Diocesan registrar Malcolm Tadgell said overall the survey results suggested that the online synod had been successful despite some technical difficulties. 

He noted that not only was it the first time the diocese had attempted to hold an online synod, but that it was occurring when restrictions prevented senior synod members and IT from all being in the same place.

“I think it was on balance a good experience,” he said.  

“It went probably as well as it could in the circumstances.

“What we saw was not just the outcome of an online environment. It was online in COVID with restrictions on people gathering and restraints on how behind the scenes communication could happen.”

The survey suggested that many respondents now had an appetite for some form of online participation in future synods.

Mr Tadgell said he was surprised that almost 80 per cent of respondents said they wanted either all online or hybrid synods. 

He said the diocese would explore its options, but that a hybrid synod would likely be one or more days of meeting in-person and the rest online, rather than offering a choice of either throughout. 

He also said he would not recommend a purely online synod unless necessary. 

“There are some things which I think there is no substitute for face-to-face,” he said. 

“I think we’re going to be exploring some online and some face-to-face in the future, and we’ll find a balance over time.”

The survey also found an overwhelming 90 per cent of respondents supported using electronic voting going forward, no matter the format of synod.

Mr Tadgell said the diocese would “definitely” look into including this feature.

“There was clearly very strong support for it and I think people liked the immediacy of it, the clarity of it, and the confidentiality of it as well.”

Clergy and lay synod members made up almost the same number of respondents to the survey, representing 50 and 48 per cent of respondents respectively. The remainder of respondents were either observers or ex officio representatives. 

Online synod: what you said

  • “I liked being able to attend online rather than having to travel into the cathedral. I found it to be a much more efficient use of my time.”
  • “I liked being at home for the night time sessions. It meant I wasn’t arriving home late on public transport.”
  • “The daily email with one complete document of all the papers for the session was amazing – please do that every year.”
  • “I thought the electronic voting gave more confidence to the count … and generated a greater level of anonymity about the voting which is also an improvement.”
  • “Online voting was fantastic! Loved seeing the numbers and getting a sense of the different views in the diocese.”
  • “Technology issues were frustrating, but this is the first time so it was a learning journey.”
  • ‘The synod service in the cathedral draws us together and sets the tone for the overall gathering and the President’s address. We missed this.”
  • “I found the online experience very troublesome and I wonder if it wasn’t even counter-productive. There were many who wanted to speak who were well-prepared but were unable to speak due to internet problems.”
  • “Legislation is extremely hard to do online – I suspect it would be necessary to do this in person in future to allow adequate engagement with the process.”
  • “The tech improved over the synod. I think it would be good, if possible, to have the Saturday in person, and maybe keep the most significant items for Saturday morning.”
  • “In not meeting face-to-face we lost the opportunity of collaboration with others ‘on the fly’. Often movers of motions and those seeking amendments can work together and then present more acceptable motions.”
  • “Clearly the tech had some issues, but if that could be resolved I’d vote in favour of having most – if not all – of synod online in the future.”

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