Hi again everyone (you may want to get a cup of tea...)
Firstly, I just wanted to say thank you for the phenomenal show of support both in the posts above and in private messages. I am overwhelmed. I have also received very encouraging messages from the current Acting Secretary and Treasurer too.
I am certainly not seeking to take on this role for any kind of power-grab. Plus, I have quite enough work to keep me busy in the CNCC, as a club chair and as an active caver and digger. In fact, I was rather hoping to scale back my involvement in caving ‘politics’ this summer! This has not gone well so far! I am seeking to take on this role because I am disappointed by the current public opinion of the BCA and the lack of enthusiasm within the organisation to embrace change and move with the times, and I hope I can help be part of changing this culture.
I cannot do this alone though; it needs the support of others within the BCA to move outside of comfort zones and to look forwards, not backwards.
One thing that surprised me at the January Council meeting was the number of barriers to change. Any kind of change seems to get ‘outsourced’ to a Standing Committee or Working Group to discuss. I’m hugely in favour of these sub-committees and groups working behind the scenes to discuss BCA matters off-line and do the legwork of the Council in its key facets outside of the core meetings. Matters that require input from various sources and careful consultation are best handled by them before they come to Council.
However, excessive outsourcing of relatively simple proposals has the effect of devaluing the Council meeting itself (for which numerous people have travelled hundreds of miles at considerable travel expense to the BCA). Council meetings have much greater democratic representation than any Standing Committee ever could, and we should be taking greater advantage of this. Furthermore, seeing simple decisions outsourced may discourage people from presenting new ideas in the first place. Not everyone has the willpower to navigate such a lengthy procedure.
Jane Allen came to the January Council meeting in her P&I role. She presented a proof of a new BCA website homepage and a more-or-less finished and ready-to-go BCA-branded New-to-Caving leaflet to be distributed nationally to promote caving. Jane was essentially instructed to come back when she had convened the P&I Standing Committee (requiring all regional councils and constituent bodies to be given the opportunity to get involved; a lengthy process).
The leaflets could have been adopted there and then by the Council… this did not need to go away for consultation in a currently unconvened Standing Committee!
This is an occasion where a little more positivity and spontaneity could have delivered an excellent result for the BCA immediately. Instead these leaflets now need to be discussed by a Standing Committee that hasn’t convened yet! An excellent initiative has been delayed for several months, sufficiently long to discourage all but the most determined of people from putting such good initiatives forward in the first place.
The new website homepage proof received a very mute reception; this surprised me. At the rate things are going, it may be years before a new website is up and running, despite this being one of the recurring themes in various questionnaires.
Website homepage proof: http://british-caving.org.uk.77-68-41-30.cfxhosting.co.uk/
Therefore, something I would like to consider is Standing Committees and how they are constituted and used. The BCA has five Standing Committees:>
Conservation and Access>
Equipment and Techniques>
Publications and Information
A problem with Standing Committees is that it’s very hard for them to all work as they should. Ideally, they should be well represented, with (according to the BCA constitution) contributors from each Regional Council and constituent body of the BCA (a total of 13 groups).
The CNCC, like many Regional Councils, struggles to get people to fill our key roles (we are going into our AGM in a few weeks with one Officer position still vacant), let alone enough volunteers to be representatives on all the BCA’s five Standing Committees (the CNCC has representation to only two). I suspect this problem is echoed in several organisations. This means some Standing Committees fall short of the level of representation the BCA constitution allows, which undermines their effectiveness.
In short; the way the BCA is constituted is perhaps too ambitious for the number of people willing to get involved in running British Caving. I do feel that some reconsideration of the structure of the BCA in terms of its makeup is needed; In particular, which facets actually need a Standing Committee, and which would be better off delivered by a single Officer consulting nationally as required to bring final proposals to Council.
I will say now that my current thinking is that the P&I may be better served by a single Officer or additional member of the Executive (free to co-opt assistants as they see fit of course) rather than as a Standing Committee.
Most importantly for now is that Standing Committees and Working Groups should not stand in the way of well-presented initiatives and ideas from enthusiastic individuals being voted upon by Council. In other words, Standing Committees and Working Groups should not be used as somewhere to ‘park’ good ideas that are ready to implement.
Overall, I favour streamlining some decision making to get more things done using the limited resource the BCA has available.
To get the ball rolling, there will be several proposals forthcoming to the AGM in June. Exactly who is proposing and seconding these is to be confirmed (I am still in discussion with several individuals about these), however, they all have my full support. The actual wording and specifics of the proposals also need to be finalised, but here is the gist of what they will involve and why they are important.Proposal 1
The first proposal will be for the immediate adoption (subject to any minor tweaks or corrections agreed at the AGM) of Jane Allen’s New to Caving leaflets, under the BCA name (and new logo, subject to the third proposal being accepted). A £1000 budget has already been agreed. Unfortunately, the PDF of these leaflets exceeds the size allowable for attachment to this post, but it will no doubt be part of the BCA AGM agenda documentation. These leaflets are exactly what the BCA should be encouraging to promote caving.
I am also hoping Jane will restand for the P&I position following her resignation in January; there is nobody better for the role (but that’s a separate matter).Proposal 2
The second proposal will be for the appointment of Gary Douthwaite as BCA webmaster and for Gary to redevelop the website, BCA communications systems, and BCA online, and be provided with all necessary access, rights and information needed to achieve this.
In the interests of transparency, Gary is the CNCC webmaster (plus the web designer for Hidden Earth, EuroSpeleo 2016, Northern Caves, Northern Pennine Club and York Caving Club, if anyone wants examples of his work). He is also my husband.
Gary has been one of the greatest assets in overhauling the CNCC over the past five years. Having the Secretary (me) and Webmaster (Gary) working on adjacent computers has massively helped in the CNCC to streamline efforts.
At the January Council meeting, Jane Allen presented a proof of a new BCA website homepage which Gary had designed (see link above). Jane’s idea was for Gary to develop the BCA website commercially (he is a professional web developer) as his free time is very limited. By doing this commercially it would enable him to justify working on it during office hours and thus able to designate more time to the project to achieve a better result.
However, since that meeting, Gary has decided that he would not wish to do this commercially as it creates conflicts of interests and means he would essentially be working for the BCA rather than with the BCA. This would limit what personal input he could have as it would essentially generate a client-customer relationship. Gary is therefore willing to provide his time for free (in his spare time) as BCA webmaster.
Although Gary would be providing his time for free, it will be necessary to pay for specific web services that the BCA do not provide, that will be essential to the good running of the site (e.g. use of Microsoft Office365, relevant security software etc). A reasonable budget should be made available for such things.
The new website will be modern, fresh, appealing, while still containing all the useful information that the current one does, albeit restructured somewhat. Communications systems would be overhauled. Finally, if proposal #4 is accepted, Gary would also redevelop BCA-online to include online voting for all individual members in time for the 2020 AGM.
I would like to end this by expressing my respect for the current webmaster, who has maintained a perfectly functional website for many years, keeping the content as up to date as possible (hampered by a lack of new content being provided to him). The work involved should not be underestimated, and frankly, anyone who has given up so much of their time to benefit caving deserves the upmost respect. However, for the BCA to modernise, I feel the input of a new webmaster is needed, to bring new ideas and vision. This will allow the current webmaster to focus more on his other BCA roles, and thus improve the robustness of the BCA (i.e. not having so many roles so dependent on one person).Proposal 3
The third proposal will be for the adoption of a new logo for the BCA.
While the current logo is recognisable and has served BCA well for many years, it appears a bit dated and amateurish. General feedback on UK Caving is that cavers are not keen on it.
The logo presented by Jane Allen at the January Council meeting seems to have been popular and I would support this being adopted, subject to a few refinements to address any reasonable comments. Jane will be presenting a portfolio for this logo to accompany the proposal (e.g. black on white, white on black, landscape, portrait etc). The discussion on BCA logo was on this UK Caving thread: https://ukcaving.com/board/index.php?topic=24341.0
The logo is of course a caver looking out of Dollytubs over Alum Pot, an iconic viewpoint in British Caving.
Given the initiatives to push ahead with the national leaflets and new website (assuming these proposals are accepted), the decision on whether to adopt a new logo needs to be made now so that the new material can be launched with the logo that our membership wishes to move forward with, be that the current or new one.Proposal 4
The fourth proposal will be the biggie.
There will be a series of proposed constitutional amendments to remove the two-house voting system at General Meetings and to make voting for individuals only (i.e. CIMs/DIMs) and not groups (i.e. clubs, constituent bodies, regional councils). This will be accompanied by some other proposed amendments to make online voting a mandatory option for most or all proposals and motions presented to an Annual General Meeting.
If successful, and assuming Gary is appointed BCA webmaster, BCA online would be redeveloped before the 2020 AGM to allow this online voting to happen using our own bespoke system, without having to employ the services of an external company.
These changes would reduce bureaucracy and simplify the voting system by removing the two houses. The current system essentially gives the same weight to a vote from a club with five members as it does to a club with 200 members, all of who already have a vote anyway as an individual BCA member (thus it creates duplication of representation). The BCA Chairman raised this very issue at the January Council meeting.
Clubs of course would still have an important role in promoting voting to their members. If there are any motions a club (or regional council or constituent body) feels strongly about, they can encourage their own members to vote accordingly, and thus the number of votes originating through that club/body will be proportional to the number of members it has. These measures will encourage clubs/groups to engage with their members about BCA democratic decisions, something that may be rather lacking at the moment.
This creates a much better, fairer, simpler and more modern-minded democratic system.
These changes are in no way intended to devalue the importance of clubs in British Caving. I am a club caver (through three different clubs, one of which I was involved in founding) and I probably always will be a club-orientated caver. However, to make participation available to more people via online voting, without increasing the bureaucratic burden of the two-house system, these changes are needed.
As this proposal relates to the constitution, it needs to be accepted in both houses (i.e. groups and individuals) with 70% majority and then accepted in a ballot of all members. This will require 70% of groups at the AGM (e.g. Regional Councils, Clubs, Constituent bodies) to essentially vote to abolish their own vote. I hope that groups (and individuals) can support this and see that it is part of the bigger picture for positive change in the way the BCA operates; and that it would go hand in hand with introduction of online voting, which will allow all CIM and DIM members to democratically participate in BCA business. A huge improvement in democracy overall, rather than a reduction.Conclusions
I hope that these proposals set the BCA in the right direction for the future.
None of these proposals are set in stone yet and they do not need to be submitted until the 13th April deadline. I will be liaising with various people over the coming month or so to get these finalised. However, I wanted to get these ideas out into the public domain now for everyone to start mulling over, and to provide the opportunity for comments/feedback which could help to refine the proposals prior to submission.
I know that this all sounds very fast; these kinds of changes would usually happen much more gradually and after much more consultation within the BCA arena. I apologise if I appear arrogant for presenting such proposals without wider consultation.
I am aware that there are many who will see these proposals as unnecessary. I know some in Council believe that the BCA needs a period of stability rather than change. I do not think I am the right person to provide this. I have heard some suggest that we shouldn’t waste time fussing over the website. I disagree, and the results of the Vision Group questionnaire would support me on this.
Some people may be of the belief that unilateral proposals by individuals direct to Council or AGM has little place in a National Body. Unfortunately, participants for such Committees aren’t queuing up and we must be realistic about the fact that the BCA is a volunteer-led organisation… and people are very busy these days! Embracing the enthusiasm of proactive individuals with a well-considered idea/proposal is essential.
There will also be many BCA members who believe the current two-house voting system is a critical part of the BCA and fear that removing this would undermine the role of clubs in British Caving. I believe that the changes I propose and the importance of clubs in British Caving do not need to be mutually exclusive.
At present, I think I am the only applicant for the Secretary role, meaning I will be appointed by default without a vote. This could end up with me being appointed, but my objectives for change being rejected, which would be a problematic situation that would benefit nobody. I would therefore welcome other applicants from individuals providing an alternative vision or agenda. It would be democracy at its finest to have a proper election! If someone else was elected Secretary, I would do my best to support and assist them (if they wanted me to of course). My standing for the role is borne out of perceived necessity rather than a burning desire to take the position on.
Whatever your opinion, please come to the AGM and have your say. Even if my application and proposals are rejected, but serve to get loads of people along to the AGM and to engage with the BCA then this will be a pleasing achievement. The BCA does amazing things thanks to many dedicated volunteers (many of who are largely unsung) and it deserves more attention and thanks from British cavers than it currently receives.
Thanks everyone (especially if you've had the patience to read this to the end).