Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Connecting With the Public and Stem Cell Stakeholders: A New and Inexpensive Tool

For years the California stem cell agency has given the public access to the meetings of its governing board via a one-way audiocast over the Internet and by phone.

But patients, advocates, scientists and business folks have not had the opportunity to comment and make suggestions re the doings of the 29-member board of directors through the same method. The public could only listen unless they were on the scene.

However, that could change if the $3 billion stem cell enterprise follows the lead of the state Treasurer John Chiang. This summer he began opening up meetings of the many important boards in his office to live, two-way, teleconference connections with the public.

Chiang also uses the same sort of service and company as used by the stem cell agency. But he has added an inexpensive touch that genuinely opens up the meetings to the public.

We recently stumbled across Chiang's press release on the move, which may well be unique in California state government. We queried Drew Mendelson, a spokesman in the treasurer’s office, for more details. 

Mendelson said,
“Participants on the phone are in listen only mode, but when the meeting chair calls for public comments, callers can press a set of numbers to indicate they want to speak.  The conference call is monitored online by (treasurer’s) staff and the call monitor must click on the caller in the queue to allow the person to speak.”
 Mendelson continued,
“Under our state contract with AT&T, we determined that an hour long meeting with 10 callers would cost less than $15.  The cost increases significantly if you have AT&T provide conference monitoring services.  We chose to monitor the calls ourselves.  What we are using is a basic conference call service with an online component where the monitor sees the list of callers to know how many people are on the line and when someone indicates they want to speak.”
Mendelson said that the move was generated by Chiang's desire to enhance public access and his “desire to increase public participation in and increase awareness of the many boards, commissions and authorities" that he chairs.

On-the-scene public participation in CIRM meetings is slim. One of the reasons is that the sessions often require travel and overnight stays that pose barriers for many persons, particularly patients and their advocates. The agency would make it easier for its stakeholders and enhance its reputation for openness and transparency by instituting this inexpensive practice. It also fits with the goal of Randy Mills, the president of the agency, to provide more clarity in what the agency does. 

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