What is a "process observer"?

A “process observer” is a position that some boards and committees choose to appoint. This individual’s responsibility is exactly what the title suggests – to observe the process. Throughout the meeting, the process observer takes note of things that are handled well and those when the process did not work as well. In normal circumstances, the process observer has a few minutes at the end of the meeting to summarize the behavior of the group so that the group can learn and, if needed, improve its functioning. This is not a summary of the meeting itself, only the process. Some examples of what might be shared are:

  • How well discussion flowed and the extent to which all participants were engaged and contributing.
  • Any conflicts that were left unaddressed.
  • Any side conversations or other distractions.
  • The emotional tone of the meeting: Was it tense, supportive, etc.?
  • Was the agenda followed?
  • Were participants well prepared?
  • Were comments appropriate and thoughtful?

When summarizing the meeting process to the group, it can be useful for the comments to be appropriate for the general dynamics of the meeting, meeting design and management, and/or the group’s developmental stage rather than targeting any one individual or group of individuals. 

The process observer should be selected at the beginning of the meeting, although it should not fall to the facilitator or the recorder (minute taker). It is a position that should be rotated among group members with a different observer at each meeting. The goal of having a process observer is to help keep the group’s meetings functioning well and encourage group members to share responsibility for the tone and productivity of the meeting.  

It may be helpful for the group to have a handout or checklist for the process observer to use, particularly if this role is new to some group members. A sample template is available at New Directions Consulting.