Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Council Advisory Structure Planned

The following is an expanded reprint of the Spring 2012 EQ and Council Link columns on this topic. Those who have already read both will find the additional material in the Q&A section toward the end.

Historically, Council has been assisted by a slate of elected regional advisories, currently named Council Policy Advisory Groups, or CPAGs. Over the years, the role of the advisories has changed considerably, and the CPAGs themselves have been asking Council to reconsider their structure and goals for a while now. Something else has evolved over time as well, and that is Council’s increased ability to consult directly with the membership on a national basis. The traditional idea that the only way to hear from members is to get them together in a room is long overdue for re-evaluation.

Members seem to come together far better around issues of interest, and those advisories that were the most successful in engaging with the membership during the past two terms had chosen a topic around which to focus their work. Another impetus for change arose during the recent dues referendum, when members clearly indicated to Council that they need us to reappraise our traditional choices.

At its most recent in-person meeting, Council decided to take a bold step away from “but, we’ve always done it that way” thinking, and to implement a new member input approach. Beginning in November, Equity will move to a more flexible system of issue-based advisories.

These advisories will no longer be elected as a matter of course, but will instead be formed when and where the members tell us one is needed. Council can either create one itself (such as the Independent Theatre Review Committee), or representative groups can apply to create one on a topic of their choosing (such as for repertory theatre, diversity, small-scale opera, or even for a geographical region). Either way, Council will facilitate and provide resources for advisory work, and the advisories will report directly to Council. We expect that the slate of committees will change over time as needs dictate, but the list of advisories will now be determined by what you tell us is necessary, and not by rote adherence to a static structure.

Council anticipates that this new approach will be far more effective than the traditional one, and will allow members to come together around important topics of common interest. As part of our election process, we will be asking for proposals for advisories to be created right off the top of the term, but they can also be created at any point during a term upon application by a representative and reasonable number of members at large.

Council expects that members may have some questions regarding the new format, so I’ve tried to anticipate a few of them here.

Q: Why is Council making this change? 

A: Council is moving to a different advisory structure because the CPAG members from the past two terms have consistently told us that our traditional approach is no longer effective, and needs to change.
While the regional advisories have long had a general assignment to connect with the members about, well, whatever they wanted to talk about, the CPAGs find that mandate to be far too vague to be useful. The most productive committees over the past two terms have always chosen a core topic around which to focus their discussion and efforts. When you think about it, even at the traditional members’ meetings, what is most likely to encourage good attendance is a hot topic, not hot hors d’oeuvres. By changing to a series of issue-based advisories, we’re taking our cue from what years of experience have taught us is most effective.

Q: What is the difference between the old system and the new?

A: Put in blunt terms, the current situation is that, every three years, we go out and beat the bushes to try and gather 73 members willing to fill the seats on the 13 regional advisories that bylaws tell us we need to have. With some additional recruiting after the elections, we generally manage to get about 80-85% of the people required, however some seats remain vacant for the full term. Of those we do get, most are acclaimed to the position, so there are relatively few people actually elected in the first place. Then, when the CPAGs first get together to meet, they are presented with a rather vague agenda, the key element of which is that the CPAG has to exist because…um…well, that’s what bylaws say needs to happen. The rest is largely up to the CPAG to figure out.

In short, we populate 13 regional committees with several dozen people, who all arrive with their own individual interests, many of whom were cajoled into participating in the first place, and who are then expected to fulfil an ill-defined mandate. On top of that, because of the long commitment required, there is a fair amount of churn over the course of a term. This is not exactly a recipe for organisational success, and their effectiveness has been pretty much what one would expect under those circumstances.

As noted earlier, the CPAGs that achieved the greatest member engagement were the ones who succeeded in identifying an issue of common interest and focussing on it. Moving to a flexible set of issue-based advisories builds on that approach and has the following benefits:

  • Advisories get created because the current members tell us one is needed, not because a decades-old bylaw says one has to exist in case it is needed. 
  • There are never any empty seats, because the advisory doesn’t exist unless the members tell us it needs to. 
  • Members don’t have to be strong-armed into filling the seats, because each committee will be born of an issue we already know to be a hot topic for the members. 
  • Members don’t need to agree to serve for 3-year terms. If the work of the committee can be completed in less time, then the committee dissolves when its work is done. 
  • No committee has a vague mandate – the existence of a clear issue and expected committee product on that issue is the precursor to the committee’s very existence. 
  • Support resources do not need to be split 13 ways. We anticipate having around 4-6 active committees on the go at any point, so as each topic comes to a head, it can expect to have the resources necessary to complete its work.
Q: What will the new advisories look like? 

A: The new advisories will be created and composed in a very similar way to the current Directors, Choreographers and Fight Directors CPAG, and the recent Independent Theatre Review Committee.
Either Council or the membership at large may call for the creation of an advisory to deal with matters related to a particular topic. Those issues may be discipline-related (such as the current DCFD advisory), national (such as the ITRC), or issue-oriented (such as a Diversity advisory). They can even be regional or local, where the will and need to create such an advisory exists. A Councillor will be appointed as a liaison, and then the committee will be created from the membership at large, with the representation appropriate to the topic.

Q: If the traditional CPAGs no longer exist, won’t that make it more difficult for members to connect with Council? 

A: This change will actually create a much more direct and focussed input mechanism than we have had in the past.
As always, members can connect with their Councillor(s) any time. Contact information is available via the Governance link on the main page of EQUITYONLINE, or by calling either office.

Members can also directly propose a topic for the Council agenda, using the Request for Council Consideration (RfCC) form found at EQUITYONLINE, or by mailing it into the national office. This option is available year round. Members will receive a follow-up contact within 2 business days of receipt, and immediate email confirmation if the request is submitted online.

If there is a specific issue that may need to be addressed in detail, members will now have the ability to propose and form a Council advisory for that express purpose. Previously, there was no formal mechanism for doing such a thing. Applications will be handled online, or by calling either office. It’s easy, and can usually be arranged by the next Council meeting.

Sometimes the most effective way to connect with members is still to collect a bunch of them together in the same room, and we’ll facilitate that, too. Regional Councillors will continue to have the ability to organise membership meetings as the need arises.

Q: Sounds good – why on earth didn’t Council think of this earlier?

A: Actually, we did. Council first considered a change similar to this back in 2005, but we figured it would be a tough sell for the membership. Our members are no different than most people – we have a strong attachment to existing approaches, and tend to view change with suspicion. However, after two terms’ worth of CPAG members asking us to fix the system, we figure if they know it’s not working, maybe it’s time to take the plunge.

It is.

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that this new approach makes much more sense. Thank you to council for the time and effort spent in formulating this proposal.


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