The Basic Meeting List Toolbox

BMLT, Virtual Meetings, and the Pandemic

The lives and routines of people, organizations, and systems have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Narcotics Anonymous and other twelve-step fellowships are no exception. We have seen the closure of most face-to-face meetings in the United States and other affected countries. Thousands of virtual meetings have popped up, seemingly overnight, to provide addicts seeking recovery with a place to connect, share, and carry the message. The sudden influx of virtual meetings in Narcotics Anonymous has created a need for increased support in the BMLT.

Background

Broadly, we have identified two different categories of virtual meetings: those that are location-agnostic, and those that are location-centric. We believe each of these has slightly different BMLT needs.

Location-Agnostic Virtual Meetings

Location-agnostic virtual meetings are not new – such meetings have existed for many years. These meetings expect and welcome attendance from addicts all over the world. When searching for a location-agnostic virtual meeting, one is not concerned with the geographic location of the meeting. The search criteria is usually some combination of the meeting time, preferred language, and meeting format.

As the first face-to-face meetings closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, these long-standing virtual meetings were on the front lines. They saw a dramatic and immediate increase in attendance. We personally witnessed more than 400 addicts join a virtual meeting that typically had 10-20 attendees. To satisfy the increased demand, more location-agnostic virtual meetings popped up overnight.

Over the following weeks, hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of location-centric virtual meetings began to get their legs.

Location-Centric Virtual Meetings

Location-centric virtual meetings are a relatively new occurrence. While there are a few long-standing location-centric virtual meetings, they have become widespread as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the new location-centric virtual meetings were started by face-to-face home groups who wished to continue meeting in the absence of a physical meeting place. Attendees of location-centric meetings often consist of home group members and others local to its physical meeting place.

Many of these groups have a long tradition of serving a specific geographic region, and may wish to continue focusing on carrying the message to that region. That is not to say they are unwelcoming to remote attendees who happen to find the meeting, but that they wish to preserve the culture and familiarity of their meeting. We’ve seen other groups make a conscious decision to invite addicts around the world to their virtual meeting.

It is likely that many of these new virtual meetings will close when physical meeting places become available again. It is also conceivable that some will choose to keep their virtual option, forming hybrid virtual/face-to-face groups. Others may remain virtual indefinitely.

BMLT, Listing Virtual Meetings

While the BMLT has become the standard for storing, finding, and displaying face-to-face meeting data, the community has quickly discovered gaps in functionality to effectively manage both location-agnostic and location-centric virtual meetings. We have observed members filling these gaps by sharing meeting information through Facebook groups, flyers, and spreadsheets. These work well in the short-term, but quickly become a source of out-dated information.

We are beginning to address these problems by adding increased support for virtual meetings in new releases of the Root Server (2.15.1) and Crouton (3.9.0). We believe this is the first of many iterations of the BMLT for supporting virtual meetings.

Storing Virtual Meeting Data (Root Server)

Location-agnostic and location-centric virtual meetings have unique storage requirements, and therefore have unique recommendations.

Location-Agnostic

Location-agnostic and location-centric data should live in separate Root Servers. The reason is purely technical – meeting searches for each are conducted using different criteria. When searching for a virtual meeting, a user may search for all English-speaking meetings, regardless of location, to find one at a convenient time. When searching for meetings near “Atlanta, GA”, it doesn’t make sense to interleave location-agnostic virtual meetings from Europe in the results.

Recommendation

The root server maintained by virtual-na.org is widely recognized as the source of truth for location-agnostic virtual meetings. If you have a location-agnostic virtual meeting, you should get listed by virtual-na.org. Similarly, if you have a location-centric virtual meeting that wishes to invite attendees from all over the world, you should also get listed by virtual-na.org.

Location-Centric

Because virtual-na.org is already serving as the source of truth for location-agnostic virtual meetings, the changes in Root Server 2.15.1 and Crouton 3.9.0 are designed primarily to serve the needs of location-centric virtual meetings, allowing users to search for virtual meetings near them.

New Fields – Virtual Meeting Link, Phone Meeting Dial-in Number

We have added two new fields to the Meeting Editor: “Virtual Meeting Link” and “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number”. The “Virtual Meeting Link” field is designed to hold the join link for video-capable virtual meetings software such as Zoom and BlueJeans. The “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” field is designed to hold a phone number that can be used to join the meeting. These fields have been added to the NAWS Export, ensuring NAWS has the most up-to-date information about these new location-centric virtual meetings.

New Formats – VM (Virtual Meeting), TC (Temporarily Closed)

We have also added two additional formats: VM (Virtual Meeting) and TC (Temporarily Closed). The VM format is used to denote that a meeting offers a virtual option. The TC format is used to denote that this meeting’s physical meeting place is temporarily closed.

Recommendation

For meetings that were previously face-to-face but are now providing a virtual option, it is our recommendation that BMLT administrators fill in the new “Virtual Meeting Link” and “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” fields, and then assign the VM and TC formats. When the face-to-face meeting reopens, the TC format should be removed. If the meeting decides to remove its virtual option upon reopening, the VM format should also be removed.

For meetings that are temporarily closed and do not have a virtual option, it is fine to either unpublish the meeting or assign the TC format. Unpublishing will remove the meeting from meeting lists entirely, while the TC format keeps the meeting in the list, but clearly marks it as being Temporarily Closed.

For meetings that have never had a physical meeting place, but are still location-centric, assign the VM format. Additionally, it is important to provide some geographic information for such meetings in the Root Server. For example, if the virtual meeting primarily provides services to members in Seattle, just enter “Seattle, WA” for the city and state, leaving all of its other location fields empty.

Displaying Virtual Meeting Data (Crouton)

Crouton 3.9.0’s introduces a new default Meeting Data Template and Metadata Template, making use of the new Root Server fields and the VM (Virtual Meeting) and TC (Temporarily Closed) formats.

Location-Agnostic

To use Crouton to display location-agnostic meetings from virtual-na.org on your website, please see this blog post: https://bmlt.app/displaying-virtual-na-org-meetings-on-your-site-using-crouton/

Location-Centric

Crouton’s default Meeting Data Template and Metadata Template now supports displaying location-centric virtual meeting information out of the box.

When a meeting is assigned the TC format, Crouton will clearly mark the meeting with the text “Facility is temporarily closed”. When a meeting is assigned the VM format, Crouton will clearly mark the meeting with the text “Meets Virtually”, and display the Virtual Meeting Link and/or Phone Meeting Dial-in Number. A meeting may have both the TC and VM format assigned, indicating both that the facility is closed but that a virtual option is available.

Meeting with the TC format, but no VM format

Meeting with both the TC and VM format

Existing Crouton installations may need to reset templates

If you have an existing Crouton installation that has customized the Meeting Data template or Metadata Template, you may need to reset to the default templates to take advantage of the new functionality. This can be done by clicking the “RESET TO DEFAULT” buttons in the Crouton plugin settings in the WordPress admin.

Recommendation

We recommend upgrading to Crouton 3.9.0, and resetting to the default templates to display location-centric meeting information on your websites. Note that this functionality depends on your root server administrator having upgraded to Root Server 2.15.1, and on meetings having leveraged the new Root Server fields and formats.