Monday, April 23, 2012

Changes to professional development funding

At it's March meeting, Council approved a 75% reduction in the funding available to subsidise professional development and training opportunities. This change was made necessary by the outcome of the recent dues referendum, and the need to ensure ongoing financial stability.

Although loathe to make the cut, Council recognised that PD funding is not a core activity for the Association, and cost reductions need to address peripheral areas first. For the coming year, our Executive Director is expected to make available financial assistance worth up to $15,000 per year, down from the previous minimum of $60,000 per year.

At this point, $12,500 has been committed to cyclical projects already scheduled for 2012-2013, and $2,500 will be available for member-initiated professional development activities in the current fiscal year. PD funding will be disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis. Funding applications and guidelines will soon be posted at EQUITYONLINE, and available through the national office.

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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Small-scale theatre policy changes

As announced at the time the ITRC final report was published, Council dug right into policy work and was able to complete it by its self-imposed deadline of February Council.

Reporting on policy language is a pretty dry business, so please forgive me if I don't bore you to sleep with the specifics. The full policy document is here , so you can look up the exact wording, but I'll stick to generalities in this post. I’ve included policy numbers in each case, to point you toward the correct policy.

To begin with, Council decided to standardise on the term “small-scale” theatre, which is generally defined as engagement opportunities that encourage income, career advancement, or artistic fulfilment, through self-production and collaborative production.

In general, the direction from the membership as regards small-scale theatre was three-fold in nature.

  • First, that these engagements are seen as much less geared toward immediate income generation. While members consider income to be important, and the survey clearly indicated a disinclination to wholly forego pay in favour of more intangible benefits, they recognise these projects as being about more than a paycheque. Factors such as artistic exploration, artistic fulfilment and showcasing talent also enter into their “compensation” calculation.
  • Second, that there be as few “administrative” impediments as possible between the idea and the performance. What members really want to do is get a production up in front of an audience, with the least possible time dedicated to filling out paperwork about it.
  • Finally, members asked for greater flexibility in terms when being engaged for this type of work, and wanted regular input opportunities into those terms going forward.
In February, Council enacted several policy changes in response the ITRC recommendations…

Council has expanded on the language in End-3. Previously, it was couched almost entirely in terms pursuit of auditions/interviews in hopes of securing an offer of work. End-3.4 now recognises that development of collaborative production and self-production, where members play a much larger overall role in the realisation of a project, is an equally valid form of pursuing work opportunity for oneself within Equity's jurisdiction. It also calls upon the Executive Director and her staff to facilitate this type of work. Finally, career advancement and artistic fulfilment are now explicitly recognised alongside income opportunity for small-scale productions.

Several changes were made in EL-11, which deals with the negotiation, development, administration and enforcement of our various engagement documents. The first (EL-11.1) is that “engagement policies”, the internal engagement documents under which most small-scale theatre is done, are now specified for regular review and member input, much the same as negotiated agreements.

While the ITRC recommended that engagement policies be subject to a ratification procedure, Council was not able to incorporate that. Two key factors came into this decision. First off, ratification is intended for negotiated documents, where there is a trade-off between what two parties may be seeking. In a situation where the input comes almost entirely from within the membership and Equity has the ability to promulgate whatever terms arise from that input, a unilateral ratification process would only replicate the member input that shaped the document in the first place. As well, properly transparent and verifiable ratification votes are not inexpensive. The working dues revenue from the majority of small-scale engagements is zero, and very low in almost all other cases. As things stand, these engagements are not able to cover the cost of their own administration; in our current financial circumstances, Equity cannot bear an additional, large unfunded expense such as ratification.

Also in EL-11.2 (E), staff are now required to take into account a much wider range of special circumstances when evaluating proposed deviations from standard agreements, including inherent economic challenges relative to a specific project, regional variation, diversity of practice and cultural variation. Finally, in EL-11.3, the organisation is prohibited from implementing administrative requirements in respect to engagement of members, beyond those reasonably necessary to ensure compliance with applicable bylaws and governance policies.

Taken together, these policy changes address all of the recommendations put forward by the ITRC, save one for financial reasons, and closely adhere to what members told us is important to them when being engaged for small-scale projects. Staff is currently at work preparing for a summer consultation “tour” to put the final details on revised engagement documents, and on track for a late fall/early winter launch date.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Environmental Update 2012

While running a national organisation unavoidably has a significant environmental footprint, Council and staff continue to actively explore options to reduce that footprint wherever possible.

Recent initiatives include Council's decision to move to a largely electronic voting format for the recent dues referendum. Although a goodly number of respondents still used their mail-in ballot out of habit, we anticipate no barriers to completing the switch to a fully electronic (phone and internet) balloting system in time for the upcoming CTA ratification vote and Council elections.

We also made the decision to avoid the significant environment impact of the travel required to hold a series of in-person referendum meetings across the country. Instead, we focussed on answering questions online and by phone, and through a series of web conferences scheduled to suit each timezone.

For travel that is unavoidable, we have begun purchasing carbon offsets on an annual basis. At the end of last year, a calculated equivalent in carbon offsets for our Council travel footprint were purchased from
Less Emissions Inc. Less is currently the highest rated carbon offset vendor as reviewed by the David Suzuki Foundation and The Pembina Institute. Here is a link to their guide and grading report, if you want more information.