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Committee Structures

Original version by Tom Manley

Purpose of this essay

When council has a decision to make that requires research and the evaluation of options, then it should strike a committee qualified and mandated to make a recommendation.

Because we are a relatively young party with people of widely varying backgrounds, this is somewhat an organic process. It expresses itself in diverse ways. With experience and by deliberate intent, we can and should tighten it up.

Federal Committees

Committees exist under the GPC Constitution as Article 7, part 6. Federal Committee: Any other body selected by the Federal Council or a process in which all party members have voting rights.

Committees of Federal Council can be standing committees? or ad hoc committees?.

The term of a Committee of Federal Council coincides with that Council, and should dissolve with the term of that same Council unless mandated by Council to dissolve beforehand.

Governance or Operational Committees

Under the governance model, council would strike committees to research major strategic issues for the party and recommend broad administrative or strategic policy. Such committees could include councilors, staff and members, and are chaired by a councilor carrying the relevant functional hat as per the constitution of the party. The revenue sharing committee is a good example. The fundraising committee is another, as it was struck to deal with protocols around how fundraising is co-ordinated party-wide.

Operational committees do day-to-day work and deliver products and services to the party. They report to the management team, called the ERCT for the moment. These teams are normally limited to staff and volunteer members. These teams are not expected to deliver reports to council nor to the membership, but feed their reports into the management team. The money, members and message teams are good examples.

Formal Committees

Some committees are clearly mandated and well structured with formal membership, regular meetings, minutes of meetings, reports, etc...
  1. the platform team along with its process committee and its category chairs committee.
  2. the revenue sharing committee.
  3. the ombuds committee.
  4. the upcoming constitutional review committee.
  5. the GPC fundraising committee
  6. and a few others, but these examples suffice.
Some formal committees are the product of long term experience such as the ombuds committee. Others are created by a clear and formal mandate from the AGM such as the constitutional review committee, and others from the Council such as the revenue sharing committee and the fundraising committee.

The successful execution of these committees also depends on the training, experience and skills of committee members in a committee structure, as well as the clarity of the mandate given by council. Some committees created by council have been the object of heated debate about their functional capacity. There has been concern about the incorporation committee for example. Even the revenue sharing committee was hard to get off the drawing board. There is currently controversy over whether or not the fundraising committee is supposed to report to Council, although it was struck to work on fundraising protocols as a policy and governance committee.

Mandates Without Committees

Some group activities do not fit the formal committee structure, yet their work is inevitably the result of the efforts of several people.

Despite the lack of a mandate or a committee, any person or informal group can get organized and submit whatever recommendation or document to council for consideration. That is a virtue of a grassroots organization – activities are often self-motivated and spontaneous. These people come together by common interest, informal leadership, circumstances, etc... The quality of the result is not necessarily bad by virtue of their informal structure. The Party needs to make allowance for this spontaneous activity.

Some informal groups are the result of a direct mandate of council or the management team handed to one person.

For example, in September, council mandated David Scrymgeour to research, consult people in the party, and recommend an organizational structure that could carry our growing party into the next few years. Council did not impose a committee nor a process on him. David was free to structure his mandate as he saw fit. He consulted widely among councilors, staff members, and some leading members of the Party. Does that make a committee? I think yes but not a formal one. He circulated his draft report to a number of people who offered comments, just like a committee would. He even had other people write the appendices just like a committee would. He presented his report to Council in October, just like a committee would, and Council democratically accepted his recommendations.

Another example of the governance council document. In David's research, he identified a missing element, the structure of governance in the party. Since I raised the issue very loudly at the Council retreat in Calgary in August, David invited me to research and report of that subject, which became an appendix in his report. I then reached out to 4 other people and consulted with them on my document. After the 3rd draft, it was circulated to councilors and more feedback was integrated. By the 6th draft, it was announced on this listserve and it went up on the wiki for further consultation. Does that make us a committee? I think yes.

Purpose of Committees

There are three essential motivations to create a committee:
  1. Spread out the workload. When a subject is complex, one volunteer or even full time staff person cannot handle all the work, so we bring in more resources.
  2. Focus the work and develop depth. When too many people are involved then nothing gets done as people are too scattered and occupied with other things. 17 council members do not form a functioning committee that can focus on depth in any one topic, so they appoint committees.
  3. Ensure diversity and creativity of ideas to deliver a balanced and reasonable product. No single person can think of everything and each person carries his/her biases. A group is usually better able to deliver a quality and balanced product. However, the quality of the product does not continue to improve as the committee gets larger. A committee needs a critical mass of diversity in its membership, after which further opinions and contributions become repetitive. A committee needs just enough people to provide diversity and balance, but no more.

Committees in the Green Party

There seems to be two pre-requisites to successful committees that are characteristic of the Green Party, apart from typical requisites of mandate, resources, processes, etc.

For one, the GPC committees need to manage committee composition to ensure balance of bias, gender, region and language. Extreme enforcement of this is impossible and undesirable, but serious consideration is required to apply the principle to fit the situation. There are various ways to select members; each has its pros and cons.

Here are a few examples of committee composition processes:
  1. By appointment. The Leader and Council appoint the shadow cabinet, our political committee. The council appointed the members of the revenue sharing committee. The AGM elected the ombuds committee. In most cases, there is a deliberate but imperfect attempt to ensure balance in membership composition.
  2. By formal invitation. The Fundraising Committee and the International Committee were formed by posting an invitation to all members. This was posted on the Green Party web site and forwarded in the newsletter Green Party Vert, and members were invited to apply over a sixty day period.
  3. By informal invitation. This may be the only way to ensure that the right expertise is included, and that all necessary positions are filled. Informal invitations run a risk that the report will be influenced by the bias of the team leader as he/she invites participants who may share that same bias. We trust the team leader to exercise judgment and seek diversity in the invitations. This method is most expeditious as team members tend to work together quite well and probably start with a strong interest or qualification in the subject.
  4. By voluntary self selection. The platform team and its committees are formed purely by voluntary self selection. The invitation is wide open to all members and any able body is welcome. This creates spontaneous and unpredictable diversity in team composition. It still runs a risk of developing a bias as the birds of a feather flock together. The makeup and bias of the initial membership tend to attract people of like mind or profile. For example, the platform team has a great challenge in attracting francophones since the anglophone core is so predominant. Secondly, self selection allows very strong personalities to dominate a group and bias the outcome.
  5. By random selection with oversight. The upcoming constitutional review committee will be jury of 24 people selected at random from the membership with quotas established by gender, region and language. This is the ultimate non-biased committee composition, but it is very time consuming and to be reserved for only the most important matters.

Secondly, the transparency of the committee is an important means of monitoring the bias or balance in a committee and of allowing for supplementary input from members.
  1. On one extreme, the platform team operates with complete transparency, as long as people have Internet access. The platform on the wiki allows anyone to monitor progress and to provide input. Minutes of meetings and logistics are described on the wiki. The plank teams work by open listserve. The Assembly uses a voting process to seek broad approval.
  2. On the other extreme, in camera meetings of the council are extremely closed. A party member cannot even obtain minutes of meetings.
  3. Most other cases are somewhere in between. The revenue sharing committee opted to not reveal their minutes, as there were several staff members on the team and it was felt that in order to be open, they should have some anonymity on discussion points. Some input was allowed via the members zone on the web site with login and password. It is somewhat more cumbersome but still very open. The RSC members sought input from their constituents.
  4. The governance council document started in a closed circle with input by invitation. But it is now on the wiki and open for input and scrutiny. Although council has already approved the governance model in principle, there remain many important aspects to resolve.

Most other committees in the Green Party are not closed by definition, but the committees make little effort to make their material readily available to others. We can all work towards transparency. The experience of the revenue sharing committee and the recent debate over the incorporation committee have demonstrated a need and a means to improve transparency.

The IT team is in the process of establishing a wiki, along the lines of the Living Platform, but called the Living Agenda. The Living Agenda was pioneered by Kate Holloway for the fundraising to allow the GPC fundraising committee to complete its policy and procedure work in a transparent way without the need for teleconferences. Use of the Living Agenda requires GPC membership and a login/password, but it could ensure that all internal party business and committees have the technology to operate effectively, transparently and openly.

Conclusion

The GPC, in its path of growth and sophistication, needs a documented process to form and mandate committees. Committee composition needs to consider diversity and balance using methods suited to the situation. More formal study and operating procedures are still required in this area.

Transparency and openness are essential to help the party monitor committee progress and allow input from the members. The upcoming Living Agenda wiki should provide the tools for this requirement as long as all committees use it.

Respectfully submitted.

Tom Manley
Deputy Leader, co-chair of Platform
The Green Party of Canada