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It looks like we have a problem related to controlling the pace of our voice discussions. Here's some background:

We're a hackerspace: a creative organization where one's status in the community is (among other factors) determined by doing things for the community and there are no set roles, everyone is welcome to tackle whatever itches them. If nobody decides to stand out and an activity is not considered critical, we try to do away without doing it. For example, a person making notes during our meeting is welcome, but if our usual reporter doesn't appear, we either make no notes or try to come up with a summary together. We're also trying to be self-governing: if a decision can be made by group without engaging the leader, that's the preferred way. As a founder, I have a special role, but I'm trying to minimize my usage of that authority and underline that I'm usually speaking as a member of the community, not leader.

Back to the problem: because of the pandemic, we needed to come up with a way to keep the community alive and we decided to schedule weekly audioconferences. We chose Mumble as our platform because we value free software, as opposed to black-box platforms sitting on somebody's server. Unfortunately Mumble is very simplistic: there's no concept of "raising a hand" and it's common for us to accidentally start speaking in the middle of somebody's short pause. Other people reported to me that they find it difficult to find a gap to speak in and as a partial solution, I encourage people who have this difficulty to signal the need on a chat and watch out for other people's signalling. I see the problem as rather pressing and if it persists, one desperate solution that comes to my head would involve writing a bot that would mute/unmute people so that the order is enforced.

Thing is, I really feel that we could use some rules on how not to step on each other's toes during the voice conferences where the tooling is somewhat lacking. Ideally, I'd love to hear some solutions that don't require a designated leader and have some reasoning behind them that I could relay to the group. What are our options?

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  • “... difficult to find a gap to speak...” What about an agenda?
    – xtian
    Mar 9 at 18:07
  • @xtian we have an agenda, but it's more about speaking order. When things get heated, everybody wants to speak fast.
    – d33tah
    Mar 9 at 22:03
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If you are limited to voice only, you don't have any external signals that someone wants to speak - no chat, not ability to spot a hand raised.

The only solution is for the moderator to periodically, actively pause things by asking, "has anyone not spoken," or "we haven't heard from everyone - anyone want to add", or even, if you aren't getting people to speak up, periodic rounds, "let's hear from Alice, then Bob." (Then "let's here from Bob, then Clara" - always naming the next speaker, plus the one following, so that people have time to prepare.)

I use periodic rounds even on Zoom or other video-conferencing tools, just to ensure that everyone who has something to add is encouraged to do so. (This works with up to maybe 20 people, but starts to get hard once you have double digits of participants.)

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