Minute Taking

by Clare Forrest

The agenda

The law of triviality... briefly stated, it means that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.

C Northcote Parkinson

An agenda is your meeting map. It tells you the title of each topic and the order in which your minutes should be written. A meeting’s agenda and its minutes are closely related documents.

Since you probably won’t be a contributing member of the meeting (and therefore familiar with the topics), it’s important for you to know what’s coming up when.

Even if there isn’t a formal agenda sent out before the meeting, it is imperative that the chair sets out what will be covered at the beginning of the meeting. This is more than just good practice and helpful for you. An agenda is the ‘to do list’ for the meeting. If there isn’t an agenda, then there isn’t a meeting.

Many people are very confused about agendas and how they should work. The problem is that they haven’t grasped that an agenda is actually a process, not just a document, as you can see here.

Agenda example

What you see here is a basic, standard agenda that all meetings should follow if they’re to achieve results from the meeting. The important thing to recognise is that an agenda describes a process for running a meeting to ensure that nothing is missed and things are tackled in a logical order. This ensures that the meeting is a core part of the organisation’s work, not separate from it.

In the first column, you see the traditional words used. Of course, you don’t have to use these words, provided the meeting follows the process. But, once you understand the process, you’ll realise that the words work, so it’s pretty pointless to change them.

The second column explains why the item exists – what it’s for.

The last column changes the traditional words into (very) plain English so you can see the meeting process clearly.

Standard agenda item

Why it exists

THE Process


Every document needs to tell the reader instantly what it is.


Malton Racing plc
Senior Management Team Meeting

All agendas need to make it clear what organisation/department/section they refer to. This is especially important when the agenda may form part of an audit trail.

Conference Room.

This tells the members where they need to be.

1st July 201-

The date is another piece of factual evidence. Many meetings run regularly for years, so showing the date tells the readers its currency.

It also tells the members when they need to attend.


This is often missed. People put on the start time but not the finish. But a meeting should not be an open-ended affair.

Just like a daily ‘to do’ list, a meeting agenda should be planned to fit the time available.

  1. Apologies for absence

Most meetings don’t need this. Its only purpose is to ensure that a meeting is quorate. This means that it has sufficient people present to go ahead. It is about ensuring that two people don’t take decisions on behalf of 12 missing meeting members – democracy in other words.

If your meeting doesn’t have a formal quorum, then your agenda doesn’t need apologies.

Can we start?

  1. Minutes of the previous meeting

For meetings which have to have minutes for a formal record, this part of the agenda is very important. Some companies have combined this with the next item (Matters arising), but this is bad practice and should never happen.

Minutes of the last meeting is where the meeting agrees the minutes are a ‘true and correct record’ and take responsibility and accountability for them. Up to this point the chair has held this.

Once this has been agreed, the minutes become the formal record.

Are we agreed where we were up to?

  1. Matters arising

This is the point where the members explain what has been done to progress the agreed business since the last meeting.

Anything which has an action for follow-up in the previous minutes should come up here. It should not appear as a separate agenda item unless there is a very good reason. In essence, this is where the bulk of the meeting discussion should be focussed. Project meetings and, in the public sector, safeguarding meetings rarely need new topics on the agenda, as mostly what is needed is updates.

If you’re responsible for preparing the agenda, it’s important to make sure you have accounted for the time needed to cover what’s here before you add any new items.

For you, this item could be a problem unless you’ve reminded yourself of what was in the previous set of minutes so you know what’s coming up.

How have we done and what still needs to be done?

  1. New Topic 1. CF. 10 mins
  2. New topic 2. HG 5 mins

This is the point for new topics – in other words, areas which haven’t been discussed before. If there’s nothing new to discuss, then there shouldn’t be anything here.

It’s good practice to show the initials of the person whose topic it is and the discussion time it needs.

What’s new?

  1. Any other business 

This part of the agenda is understood by very few chairs. In UK local authorities and other institutions, it is no longer used. This is because it can be something of a free for all, which should not be the case.

Any other business should be for sweeping up any items which have not been discussed and which are time-limited. That is, items which must be discussed now because they will be too late by the next meeting.

Beware of ‘any other business’ expanding to include non-emergency items. It should not be used for major items which others have not bothered to get on the agenda in time.

The chair should first ask for all the items and decide what must be discussed now and what can wait for another meeting. This gives you the opportunity to create another agenda ‘map’.

Anything urgent?

  1. Date and time of next meeting.
Just to remind members that there is a follow-up

When are we coming back?