My evidence to the Governance Commission
Prompted by Paul's email circulating the Civil Matter's consolidated response to the interim report, I am adding below a copy of my own submission made on 13th August. I received a very pleasant reply from David Orr, who clarified the final point about meeting frequency.
I am posting this here so you can see what I said - rightly or wrongly! Mostly, though, I am concerned that some of the ideas on widening access to a future SGM and increasing voting are quite open ended and aspirational, yet the issues are ones of practical details. I also worry that in our increasingly divided society, we should look to encourage not just the recording of a pre-set opinion but participation in a process of discussion and hearing of evidence. Even if you find my views on the other matters I set out below to be unpalatable (or even plain stupid!), please look at my comments regarding interim finding 19.
Now I will get my hard hat on and await your verdict!
Firstly, I must offer many thanks to you all on the continuing and substantial efforts you are making to deliver this review. I have found many of your interim findings, and the reasoning behind them, to be persuasive even where this has meant modifying my previous opinion.
I would like to contribute the following thoughts. I have read both the summary and full reports, but am using section references from Volume 0 – Summary Report:
Section 7.5 (Interim finding 5):
I stood for Council in 2018 and 2019, and there were significant differences in the way the two elections were run. This year, I noted particularly that the presentation of the candidates’ details online made it more difficult to get to candidates whose surnames are lower down the alphabetical list. Even my own surname beginning with a K meant my candidate statement was not obvious unless you went searching for it. I suspect that most members read only sufficient statements to find enough candidates that they were willing to support. Probably it is as a result of this that the six candidates elected were all from the first 8 listed.
This will prove a problem for options A, B and D, particularly if we have a large field of candidates. However, it is fixable if we simply display the candidate statements in random order.
Section 8.9 (Interim finding 7):
I would like to think that NomCo could be given specific direction to include in its annual report an explanation of what efforts were made to broaden the pool of candidates considered. While it would be correct for some VPs to be from larger firms, it would be wrong for all of them to have that background. I find strict quotas problematic, but ICE is a broad church, and small business people, academics and so on should be represented at all levels.
Section 9.7 (Interim finding 9):
Option A (particularly with the comments made in evidence about fewer open meetings) does not look suitable transparent and appropriate as a governance structure for the future.
I see some merit in the arguments for Option C, but in the end if the President is to be the clear leader of the Institution he or she has to chair the Trustees, so I would support Option B.
Section 11.5 (Interim Finding 12):
In my view it is no good saying that “the Trustee Board must” do something, if you don’t then specify what happens if it does not do it. The Council needs the power to hit a pause button and require a proper explanation (or even a way to indicate ‘no confidence’ if the explanation is insufficient). We have this system in the Baptist Church where I serve as a Deacon (Trustee). The meeting of all church members can over-rule us or vote us out if need be.
Section 12.3 (Interim Finding 14):
Just wished to record my strong support of this finding.
Section 12.5 (Interim Finding 15):
I have no problem with this finding, but GSNet should find a way to make sure that this privileged position is not given to anyone on the grounds of them being well connected. It needs to be someone selected on the basis of their own merit. Of course this is also true of all the other reserved roles that GSNet have within the ICE.
Section 12.7 (Interim Finding 16):
I would recommend ensuring that the actual mechanics of using the web site to obtain information about the candidates and to vote are examined. If it is laborious to vote, then few will do so.
I made a comment earlier about the challenge of finding out about candidates who are alphabetically disadvantaged and suggested one solution.
It would be easier to differentiate the candidates by using a 60 or 90 second video statement (though I appreciate there are potential down sides to that)
Perhaps a hustings video could be offered? UK candidates might be required to make themselves available for (say) 3 out of 6 regional meetings to answer questions, and a video be compiled from the answers. Some will say this is too great a commitment, but then being a Member of Council is and should be a commitment.
Section 13.7 (Interim Finding 19):
This finding concerns me deeply. The essence of a good SGM (and I firmly believe that the 2018 SGM was a good one) is that we hear and can take part in debate on the difficult issues and unintended consequences of a proposal so that we make a wise decision.
I suggested in an earlier submission that two possibilities seemed viable in respect of widening access to the SGM.
- Firstly to have regional centres and video links. This still means attendance in person, but access is widened and it means that (to some extent at least) there can be interactive debate between members across the world.
- To have a ‘live stream’ on the internet, with a token to allow voting generated only after the live stream is watched.
I feel strongly that to reduce the SGM to just another election, without requiring the debate to at least be observed first, will lose one of the great advantages of a SGM. Those that were present last year voted after hearing informed debate. Some of us changed our minds as we heard the arguments and weighed the pros and cons. You don’t get that by ticking a box on a web site.
Engagement and Council meetings:
Some discussion occurred during the evidence sessions about the frequency of council meetings but (unless I have overlooked it) no reference is made in the interim report. Holding Council meetings only twice a year as some suggested seems inadequate. Meeting that infrequently feels like a first step to asking why have Council at all. I would urge 4-6 meetings per year.
I would also love to see Council meetings live streamed on the internet. There could be an initial confidential section of the meeting if needed, and if we can get some interaction with members viewing the live stream, we might be able to develop this into each meeting also having a follow up ‘Any Answers’ video where members can feed back on any topic discussed.
There is no silver bullet for increasing participation, but I think that these are measured, economic steps using well understood technology that should help."