It’s a problem that no longer needs solving
As lockdown and the realities of the pandemic began to dawn on us one thing was clear – governors were going to have to hold remote meetings.
We’d had quite a bit of experience with various video conferencing platforms, and none of them were looking particularly great for doing this – they were tricky to get onto, often needed software downloading and generally were confusing to use, especially for the less tech confident among us.
So we set about seeing whether we could do something about it by building something incorporating the famed GovernorHub ease-of-use.
Fast forward less than two months to today and how things have changed! The main video conferencing platforms (Zoom and co.) have become household names. They’ve invested millions of dollars in usability, accessibility, functionality and reliability. Almost everyone has used one of them at some point, and as such, every governing board has a host of video conferencing experts to call upon – be it family, other board members or school members of staff. Boards need to be aware of privacy policies etc, but in general it’s a really positive picture!
The tech-y bit
Real-time video meetings are hard. Before founding GovernorHub, both Neil and I worked at a company making software at the heart of telephone networks. We’re keenly aware that reliability is crucial to real-time communications and video conferencing is no exception, and we know first hand how tricky it is to get it right.
As a tiny software team we were never going to be able to realistically build our own video conferencing infrastructure and so we opted to use a third-party company called Twilio to do this for us. They’re a pretty great company and do all sorts of clever things with telephone calls. They also allow us to make a custom video conferencing application without having to really worry about the difficult parts such as how your video gets from you to your fellow governors.
GovernorHub video meetings worked really well in testing, but we’re all using relatively new equipment and it’s relatively high powered. As we’ve exposed our video meetings platform to the real world and the huge variety of different equipment and software in use across governing boards, some issues have come up. For some boards it’s worked perfectly. For others it’s been unusable.
More boards than we would like seem to have been experiencing one problem or another. One of the more frequent issues is that once there are more than around 7 users in a meeting then video and sound quality drops. Some of this is to do with the computers and broadband etc in use by Governors, some of it is to do with issues in internet browsers themselves, and other bits, we suspect, are down to issues in the Twilio infrastructure.
Regardless, people’s expectations are rightly set by the experience they get in other platforms, and, whilst we’ve been able to create a great experience for some boards, it’s looking like it will be very hard for us to meet these expectations for everyone.
From the outset we never wanted to make a profit out of GovernorHub video meetings. We did, however, need to cover our costs as they would far outweigh any income made from selling normal GovernorHub.
Our costs come to around £20 for a two-hour meeting, but, given the points above, we no longer feel comfortable taking that money (however small) from schools, when we can’t guarantee the experience we’d like, and there are better and cheaper options available.
It’s distracting us from developing really useful, governor specific, functionality
If we continued our development of the Video Meetings platform it would hold up a bunch of other exciting developments that we have planned.
Given the current (great!) state of other video conferencing platforms we think we can serve the school governing community much better by focusing on tools and functionality to deal with those issues that directly and uniquely affect school governance.
So what next?
The team here have worked incredibly hard over the last month, putting in gruelling days and working evenings and weekends to try and get GovernorHub video meetings ready.
I’m incredibly proud of them, and whilst it’s a shame that this project has not really managed to make it out of the starting blocks, we’ve learned a huge amount in the process, and fully expect elements of it to make their way into the product over the next 12 months.
In the short term we’re going to see what can be done to integrate GovernorHub with the major video conferencing platforms and ease a few of those difficulties of access that still exist.
A big thank you to those of you who tested the software for us and to those of you who so keenly signed up to use it.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
James Sharp, GovernorHub Founder.