The structure of meeting minutes varies with each organization and each group within an organization, but there are some general practices that help a reader understand meeting minutes. For example, minutes should contain a description of the group holding the meeting, the purpose of the meeting, attendees, records of votes and summaries of discussions. Sometimes the list of attendees will include people listed as observers.
What is an Observer?
Although the exact definition of an observer will depend on the group holding the meeting, a useful definition is a meeting observer is someone who is not officially part of the group holding the meeting. For example, if Accounts Receivable were to be holding a meeting and a representative from Information Technology (IT) attended, she would an observer.
What is the Purpose of a Meeting Observer?
The reason to call an observer into a meeting will depend on the group's goals. Some groups might need input from another department or group and the observer serves as a voice for this outside group. The observer might also be a trainee and attending the meeting to learn how to conduct a meeting and/or record meeting minutes. Additionally, the observer could be attending the meeting to report information back to his department on what took place in the meeting.
Do Observers Participate?
Some observers might just listen and take notes about the meeting, while others might play an active role in the meeting. In the later case, the observer is likely attending to provide a different perspective to the group or providing key information from another group or department. Even if the observer is watching the meeting to report back to another group she might ask clarifying questions to the group during the meeting.
How is an Observer's Participation Recorded?
If the observer does participate in the meeting, then his comments should be included in the meeting minutes. Meeting minutes record a summary of the conversation thus, the observer's comments should be included in the summary. However, keep in mind that the minutes are not a recording of the conversation, but a record of what was accomplished at the meeting. As such, every comment of an observer does not need to be recorded.