CalConnect: 7 Things You Should Know About Consensus Scheduling

  1. What is it?

    Consensus scheduling is the process whereby a group comes to agreement on when (and maybe where) to hold a meeting or carry out a task, or identifies the "best" time – maximizing participation, minimizing inconvenience, to schedule an event or perform a task. Consensus scheduling minimizes the overhead of achieving consensus or identifying the most favorable time(s) by allowing the potential participants to observe the responses of the other voters, and to use any scheduling they may have to adjust their response for the benefit of the entire group.

  2. What scenarios and/or problems does it address, or what new advantage(s) does it confer?

    Today's calendaring standards imply or assume something of a hierarchical, corporate model of calendar scheduling, where an organizer offers a single choice and it's up to potential attendees to accept, decline or counter the proposal. The replies are only seen by the organizer. If the time (or some other attribute) is unacceptable, it's up to the organizer to select a new time and send out a new request. Of course this new request may be unacceptable to a different subset of attendees.

    As calendaring has become more pervasive, and the work/life balance has become the work/life continuum, this model of scheduling is not rich enough to accommodate the wide variety of scheduling scenarios and use cases which depend on achieving group consensus when potential participants are free to choose whether to participate at all, and there may not be an identifiable leader or organizer who has the authority to direct the participation of others.

    Examples of such scenarios include scheduling social events, cross organizational events or tasks, scheduling meetings of volunteers or members of non-profit organizations, finding the least inconvenient time for an event or task where participants are in many different time zones, and where no time will be good.

    Consensus scheduling can drastically reduce the time needed to achieve consensus or otherwise come to an acceptable solution using a combination of social/group dynamics and calendaring products or services.

  3. How does it work?

    Many of the services offering consensus scheduling allow participants to express their availability, or preferred availability, by "voting" on a poll at the service's web site, or through an integration plug-in for some widely used calendaring products. Polls can often be configured to display the current state of the poll, including the votes of the other participants, and provide means by which participants can update their previously cast votes, and in some cases, add a comment, or an annotation. As each participant can see how others have voted, or perhaps just the state of the poll, this provides a degree of social feedback, or perhaps peer pressure, to accelerate identifying the "best" meeting times.

  4. Who's doing it?

    There are many services currently offering consensus scheduling, albeit with different functionality, features, and integrations points.

    Products/services include Acuity Scheduling, Bookd, Booknow, Diarised, Doodle, GatherGrid, Genbook, Huddlebot, Jasig Scheduling Assistant, Jiffle, Meetingwave, MeetingWizard, MeetoMatic,, NeedtoMeet, Satori, Scheduleonce, ScheduleThing, Setster, TimeBridge , TimeDriver, TimetoMeet, TimeTrade, Touchbase, When Is Good, Which Date Works.

  5. Why is it significant?

    The traditional method of enterprise scheduling, iTIP, described in calendaring standard RFC 5546, and implemented in most full-featured calendaring products and services, has been shown to be inefficient with respect to elapsed time to schedule an event, and the overhead for event organizers. This is a significant drain on enterprise resources – one recognized by a number of large companies. And increasingly, timeliness is a key driver of success.

    Consensus scheduling uses the social paradigms and mechanisms which people are already familiar with by using social media sites, crowd sourcing, etc, to reduce the overhead of scheduling, and to maximize participation.

  6. What needs to be done, and what is CalConnect doing?

    Consensus scheduling is available through many web-based services/sites, but not in most full featured calendaring products, especially enterprise products. Each site and service provides different features and functionality, provides custom integrations with a subset of other calendaring and scheduling services and products, and has differing requirements for user access – authentication and authorization. As some people prefer one consensus service over the others, participants in many formal and/or informational groups may have to register and/or use many different services or sites in the course of their professional and personal activities.

    In short, consensus scheduling lacks broad interoperability across products and services.

    CalConnect's Freebusy Technical Committee has produced a draft specification, "VPOLL: Consensus Scheduling Component for iCalendar", which "introduces a new iCalendar component (VPOLL) which allows for consensus scheduling, that is voting on a number of alternative meeting or task alternatives", which has been submitted to the IETF as an Internet draft: draft-york-vpoll. This draft standard is intended to provide the broad interoperability needed to allow users to participate in consensus scheduling using the calendaring products and service they prefer rather than the product or service used first to enumerate the event and the scheduling choices.

    As is almost always the case when CalConnect Technical Committees collaborate on a draft standards submission, some of the CalConnect vendor members are contemporaneously implementing the consensus scheduling draft standard, as a proof of concept, to test interoperability, and to provide unofficial reference implementations.

  7. What are the implications for calendaring and scheduling?

    The boundaries of calendaring and scheduling are defined and expanded by the new requirements and expectations of consumers, social groups, and enterprises. The success of consensus scheduling to date shows us clearly that if the boundaries of calendaring standards are not redefined and expanded in a timely fashion to accommodate these new expectations and requirements, interoperability and end user convenience will suffer.

    Consensus scheduling – while it resolves some significant issues for the enterprise – helps to bring calendaring and scheduling into the everyday world of social groups and contacts. If supported on mobile devices it should encourage the use of standard calendaring by the general population.

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