2003 National Conference – The Steering Committee and the Green Party
Part 2 THE SC and Green Party
In researching the structures and process for committees the BRPP Subcommittee on Committees (SCOC) originally sought to question the various committees and ascertain their structure and function.
Halfway through our work, after we received input from the committees in the form of various descriptions of their policies and procedures, we came to the conclusion that we must ask the Steering Committee (SC) for information regarding how they oversee the various committees. We wanted to know what works, what doesn¹t and why. It had become apparent that how the committee work was integrated into the whole was tied to SC oversight, that committee structure and function could not be examined alone because they do not exist in a vacuum. This was reinforced by other information relating to how the SC perceived its workload and the troubles it was dealing with.
Since the SC is, in essence, a committee, we felt that the structure and function of the SC should be a part of this report on committees, and that placing it here would move us towards reforms that correspond to our growth.
Following our initial inquiry we received a list of SC functions from the SC and conducted follow up. The original post from the SC is show in the appendix. Essentially it is a pretty standard list of what needs to be done, though it appears to be an overwhelming amount of work for five volunteers (see appendix).
We made further requests as to how these duties (other than those of Secretary and Treasurer, which are self contained and apparent) are delegated among the co-chairs and SC. We then found that the SC, again leaving out temporarily the Treasurer and Secretary, have no set policy for delegation of any duties and the division of labor is determined on a case by case basis with no overriding scheme, written or unwritten, as to how to divide the work other than an interest by a specific Co-Chair and their current perceived work load.
Late in our process the SC submitted a proposal/plan for oversight with a flow chart and explanations. These are shown in the appendix and are discussed in the analysis the below.
The proposal and accompanying chart describe what would be a major change in the structure of the Green Party. The current structure has the state parties electing CC delegates. From the CC delegates 5 co-chairs are elected. The co-chairs collectively watch over the committees and see to it that everything that the party needs to do gets done. The newly proposed scheme includes expanding and transforming the Steering Committee into a structure with two co speakers and 5 coordinators, with the speakers taking on general leadership roles and the 5 coordinators overseeing various specific aspects of the party and its operations. We will come back to this again.
The SCOC/BRPP ruminated on the information we were gathering and upon possible structural changes that might serve the party better. Discussion was slowly drifting towards a “portfolio” based Steering Committee structure as opposed to the current less differentiated management structure that is currently used. The BRPP was therefore energized by the portfolio type arrangement that the SC sent to us following our inquiries. It appears that the BRPP process gave them the opening they needed to sit down and think this through systematically, and they not only started thinking along the lines of a portfolio based system, but further elaborated upon it. (see appendix 2-5, 2-6, 2-7)
A) OBSERVATIONS AND ANALYSIS
The current management methodology of the SC might be best described as moving from crisis to crisis. The SC seems to be constantly scrambling to keep up and fulfill their obligations, and have noted the stress associated with the job. Even the SCOC¹s request for clarification of the role of the SC was difficult for the SC to accommodate
Based upon the communications the committee received from a variety of sources, including SC members, we have created a list factors leading to crisis to crisis management as opposed to a smooth management flow. A key tool in this research was a letter from the SCOC to the SC (see appendix 2-3).
1) The oversight of committees is very informal.
According to SC member Ben Manski in response to examples laid out below, there is no “regularization” of the oversight process and “who oversees which committee” is “murky” (For Ben Manski¹s full comments see appendix 2-4)
We asked which of these oversight methods the SC follows:
“SC members … very actively involved in a committee, serving as committee co-chair, take(ing) on a major share of the load of a particular committee and obsessively keep(ing) the workings of the committee on the SC radar screen.”
“The SC member monitor(ing) the email list of the committee, but rarely read(ing) it, rarely communicat(ing) with the co chairs of the committee, and rarely bring(ing) the workings of the committee to the SC.”
“any combination, permutation, or gradation among these extremes.²
According to Manski, many “styles” are used and there is no particular rhyme or reason for the specific type oversight practiced. This has led to situations, as related by some committee volunteers, where someone may be familiar with the oversight practice for one committee and then finds disconcerting that the oversight for another committee is very different, and the variable nature of oversight makes it harder to be productive. An example might be that when an SC member makes on comment on the committee list, it can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Is the SC member expressing a consensus of SC opinion or just their own views. Should the committee give extra weight to the SC view, or is it just another part of the discussion. Without clear guidelines, and a working knowledge of how embedded the SC member is in the committee, it is hard for the committees to know.
A significant number of members of various committees- many CC members and many who are not- had a weak understanding of the role of their SC oversight person, and some were unaware as to who served as their link to the SC. SC oversight as it relates to communication with committee chairs varies as much as any other aspect of oversight.
Currently, when things work okay, the nature of oversight is dependent on the charge of the committee and what issues it has before it. Committees such as Media with near daily responsibilities, and a process that requires SC sign offs for Press Releases are very aware of their communication with the SC. Long term project committees often go about their work without any significant communication with the SC for extended periods of time, even if an SC member is part of the committee.
As Manski notes, ³division of committee oversight and the issues discussed here are discussed among the SC but it do not, however, get systematically discussed…. If there could be more uniform guidelines, it would help.”
2) Another area that appears to drive the SC into crisis mode is that they have two very different functions. First, the SC – our executive committee, by definition- are administrators. They are managers of a political party with all that implies: oversight over personnel, finances, committees, votes on resolutions, etc. It is their job to oversee party building, candidate recruitment, get out the vote and electorally related functions, as well as oversight of all the various committees that enable these tasks to be done (i.e. both policy development and management).
This is an administrator¹s job. Then there is the “activist” function. Co-chairs are constantly working on political action, whether organizing rallies, protests, alliances with any number of issue advocacy groups, and other forms of issue advocacy. All Greens who are in leadership positions do this and it is part and parcel of what makes us unique as far as political parties. But, in looking at the list of past and current SC members we have leaned heavily towards the activist, while few if any come from an administrative background. In the past this was less of an issue, as there was little to administer, but our growth means that administration is much more important. As noted elsewhere, elections have something of a popularity contest element, and the lack of frequent face to face contact within the CC and its high turnover, mean we do not vet candidates very well for their administrative skills. Activism is in our soul, but it does mean that administration can get short shrift.
A big problem in blending these is the unpredictable nature of the activism as opposed to the desired predictability in management and planning. We do not so much select our areas of activism, as much as events in the world dictate them to us. So the SC can never have a clear vision of where they will be next year, much less next month or next week in terms of how much time it will have for administration and planning because something might happen- like a crazy war monger might take over the White House in a coup led by the Supreme Court. The result is usually the management functions, such as shepherding votes through the CC, that are neglected.
The events in early February are indicative. Leading up to the Feb. 15 war protests and our Feb. 14 press conference, all five co-chairs were engaged fully in the activities and, necessarily, the management of GP participation in the events. Much of internal management functions fell by the way side for at least those two weeks… and before that it was the state of the union address and our “sorry state of the union” (in late January) response- not to mention some fallout from decisions made, which took up the time between the two events. And before that it was something else.
The problem is not our participation in activism but that all co-chairs are involved in it- so that there is no one minding the store at times, except paid staff, and paid staff is also involved intimately in activism.
3) Delegation is seemingly difficult for the SC. There are enough gaps in the functioning of the Green Party that the SC, often with good cause, believes that it must handle all responsibilities itself. This can lead to overwork, burnout, and poor morale.
Here are two management “styles” on the extremes of a theoretical continuum. The first is a micro management committee. Here the members are involved in day to day decision making and it is work intensive but the benefits are that everything is person to person, issue to issue and the various leadership people are all intimately involved in the detail and can discuss them without having to relate circumstances and file reports, which may be open to interpretation. Everyone always knows what¹s going on with everything, The down side is that there are only 24 hours in a day and the duplication of efforts is enormous. In addition there is not always communication as to who is taking care of a situation so two or more people may be working on the same problem, even at cross purposes, confusing those who serve on the committee and staff.
In this style of management, day to day decisions are made by the all the persons who are ultimately responsible for determining policy . This eliminates the need for convoluted accountability and eliminates chain of command problems because there isn¹t any chain of command. However the downside is that time and efforts of those who are making the policy goes into carrying out by those policies, leaving insufficient time for either planning or action. It also leads to the traditional problems associated with micro management- as Ben Manski said to us “if you want something done the way you want it done, you have to do it yourself”, which of course leads to an even greater workload. The fact that there are gaps in the functioning of the Green Party further exacerbates this problem. This approach, the one we currently use, creates the highest workload of any management scheme for a group and practically begs for people to work 16 hours a day. It sets them up to fail.
If this management style is to be made workable it usually requires a large number of staff people, people specifically assigned to carry out tasks for the co-chairs while direct oversight is maintained.
The other end of the management style continuum is that of a “portfolio” committee- each person carries a “portfolio” and is fully responsible for a certain well defined function . Here, duties are split among the members and defined by categories, as dictated by the mission of the organization. This means that the group, when they get together, hear reports from each member, and sometimes, if asked by the one of the members, help make difficult decisions. They also deal with subjects that may not be in any of the portfolios, or coordinate work that intersects more than one portfolio. As a group the portfolio based committee would look at overall policy, set it, delegate responsibility and set it in motion.
Either way is workable if there are enough people to go around. Assuming you have- let¹s say for argument sake- 15 people to do this job, the first type of operational structure will put all 15 people together on a committee and all of them make the day to day decisions together. A portfolio based operation might have a small Executive Committee, Portfolio Managers for the 7 designated portfolios, and staff, or any one of hundreds of other possibilities.
Some potential permutations will be discussed in the solutions, recommendations and conclusion sections below. The BRPP and the SC seem to agree that some form of portfolio based system of oversight is preferable.
4) The SC is not autonomous or autocratic, unlike most other “executive committees”. They are not supreme in the GP structure. They are fully accountable to the CC. But the accountability mechanisms are weak. This has led to more “crisis management” since when the SC decides to act not only are decisions liable to be questioned, but the very act of making a decision may also be questioned by the CC.
Normally, in any democratic structure, an elected body acts as they see best and, if the electorate likes the job they are doing, they reelect them. If not they throw them out. But those who are elected know what their responsibilities are and they are well defined.
We have no such system. The advantage is that we have accountability on every single measure automatically. The disadvantage is that the system is paralyzed with everyone afraid to act and too much work ending up on too few plates. Nearly every slippage from the smooth path is potentially a crisis, and often that is exactly what we get. It appears it is time to define who does what more fully and set up a system that makes it easier to get things done, uses people¹s energy more efficiently and wisely, and finds ways to spread out the work.
The BRPP sees a need for a definitive list of functions that are delegated to the SC by the CC and an accountability mechanism, perhaps an oversight committee comprised of CC members who track all SC functions and decisions and communicate them to the CC.
5) Green Party finances play a role in our growing pains as well. Simply put, our financial growth has been exponential lately- all organizations should have such “problems”. Even though there is a current financial slowdown, that may be a result of an unrealistic projection of the rate of growth, rather than a real slippage in resources being generated.
But our finances have outstripped our ability to navigate. Our current road map- our by-laws, policies and procedures- are not up to the task. How best to structure the work changes as the organization grows. Small organizations, with little money, run on volunteers who do everything. Larger organizations require a degree of specialization, and often trained professional staff to handle specific functions or support the volunteer leadership. Staffing issues always come back to money, but also always come back to structure and management.
6) Does the pool of candidates for the Coordinating Committee and the Steering Committee give us a sufficiently large pool that we are able to choose good leadership, and does our structure help or hinder the process. The pool of CC delegates in most states is limited, especially in the small population states and newer parties. There are no people to spare, people are needed locally. This leads to an unevenness of CC participation.
In the same vein, in a pool of approximately 100 CC delegates, only a few can muster the time and energy needed for SC duty. We have been unable to vet SC members properly before election, and while the overwhelming majority of SC members have served well, occasionally problems have arisen, and often skills that would be useful are not available. In any event the unevenness of CC participation in the governing of the party also contributes to the SC overload and organizational breakdowns. Understanding this helps us design systems to work around these weaknesses until we grow to the point where our pool of candidates is large enough to ensure lots of good choices and all committee slots are filled with people who never drop the ball.
B) PARAMETERS FOR RESOLUTION
The committee has a basic assumption. The by-laws, rules, policies and procedures (BRPPs) of the Green Party must clearly define what is expected from our leadership, allocate the work load more effectively, and strengthen our ability to make good decisions and carry them out. Relying on the strength and good will of Greens is great, but as we grow it is no longer enough.
There are several ways to do this. One is to assume the structure is fine and that what you need is magic bullet. A few simple changes and all will be well. This rarely works. The opposite tack is to completely restructure the organization to achieve the needed changes. This approach tends to throw the baby out with the bath water. A third way is to carefully evaluate the problems and craft a package of reforms that alleviate the pressure, but retain what works well. This is what we sought.
A PORTFOLIO APPROACH
Right now the SC must fully reorganize every year after elections including a shuffling of areas of concern. There is no systematic way for new SC members to get a handle on their responsibilities. In a portfolio approach, there could be less shuffling of responsibilities, new members would have a clear understanding of their duties, and people would for the most part work in their areas of expertise.
Within a portfolio approach the work of the organization could be divided randomly, as long as it was clearly and evenly divided. The oversight of committees and the other work of the SC could be divided up between the various SC members alphabetically or with any other system. But it appears to be more reasonable to use a systematic approach. Dividing the work up by functional sectors seems to be the best approach. Of course there are any number of ways you can divide up the work, even systematically, and there is no one right way to do it. Even so, we present the following just to get you thinking about it.
One possible schemes of division of activities might be:
1) Political activity- candidate reelections, party building, and strategy .
2) Relationships and Communication with the outside world. media and public. Promotion, publicity, writing, polling etc.
3) Policy and future focus- platform, visioning, goal and objective setting, priorities, oversight.
4) Issue based advocacy- organizing demonstration, creating alliances,
6) Internal communications, record keeping, SC- CC and CC- Committee relations, correspondence communications with other Green parties etc.
By inserting the proper committees and other responsibilities under the appropriate category we can provide a “portfolio” for our co-chairs.
Once you define a portfolio based system and decide how to divide up the work a new dilemma arises. Do we keep electing our SC “at-large” or elect people to a specific portfolio. An election is always something of a popularity contest and while many times we will choose someone who has many or even all skills required for all jobs on the SC that is not the norm. So yes, the current at large system could work if we elected super people to the job. On the other hand, clearly defining portfolios and electing people to fill specific functions allows for getting people with specific skills and a smoother rotation in the Steering Committee as the work of one member has less overlap with those of the others. However, finding the right person for a specific function might be hard given our pool of candidates and might limit our choices.
Most bodies with legislative functions strive for some continuity and specialization. A legislature for instance, does not reorganize all the various committees to reflect the talents of those elected but rather those elected are slotted on the basis of who can best do the work that is presented.
Another potential approach is to simply create two basic portfolios, One for management and one for issue based advocacy/ activism/ organizing. Both units would be involved in political activity. Another approach could be to have 3 basic divisions, administration, politics, and activism. The basic issue in the current structure is that the SC gets torn away from administrative duties to do the important job of actually carrying out our values and pillars on the real world stage. Portfolios, however divided up, can insure administrative continuity.
In a portfolio structured committee the reason for the group meetings and interaction is to integrate these things- activism, publicity, political/ candidate participation can be more easily integrated if everyone knows where to turn for the leadership and support and we don¹t have to wait for a “volunteer”.
HOW BIG SHOULD THE SC BE?
If a much more regularized system of organizing our work, creating portfolios, was adopted, the Green Party might still be able to function with 5 co-chairs, but there seems to be more than enough work that enlarging the committee as well as creating specific portfolios might be the best approach.
The Secretary has a clearly defined job, record keeping etc. and the job of the Treasurer to keep the financial house in order is also relatively well defined. The organizational chart submitted by the SC (see appendix ) provides additional suggestions for portfolio alignment, and a very radical change for the organization.
The SC proposal depicts state parties and caucuses overseeing and giving rise to the national committee (the CC). Below the CC is the rest of the organization- two overseeing “general” Co- Chairs (we might prefer a title change to speakers or some other term) in an executive committee with the Secretary and Treasurer and then five coordinators for a total of 9 on the SC. Each of the 5 coordinators oversees a division which contains committees and is responsible for specific tasks. The proposed divisions are Internal, Outreach, Electoral, Organizing, and Financial, and tentative suggestions for what committees and work should be in which portfolio have been laid out.
1. The BRPP has determined there is great benefit to adopting a modified version of the proposal that the SC laid out in the attached chart and explanation. This will take a major rewrite of the bylaws. The BRPP feels that this work is well begun, but that the CC must thoroughly discuss the implications of a major organizational change before determining a specific set of recommended bylaw amendments.
A three week discussion period based on this report should be sufficient for the CC to generate the suggestions and consensus that will allow us to do the research and craft bylaws proposals.
2. The BRPP recommends a nine (9) person Steering Committee. Leaving out, just for discussion purposes, the Secretary and Treasurer, that would mean two co-chairs, tasked with the political direction of the party and the spokesperson role, and 5 coordinators responsible for specific aspects of internal coordination. The need for either the oversight/ spokesperson twin organizational heads- or another layer of bureaucracy, depending on how you see it- must be determined by the CC. The alternative, 7 equal co-chairs with specific portfolios is also workable.
If the two overseer model is accepted, it might lend itself to two “at large” or coordinating co-chairs and five “specific area” co-chairs /coordinators being elected, with the qualifications for the latter slots being linked to the specific areas of oversight.
If the seven separate portfolio members model is accepted, it can be done one of two ways, as previously discussed- election by portfolio or at large election with the group “organizing” after election.
3. The division of Green Party work into various portfolios by the SC makes a great deal of sense, but the committee wishes to place on record a suggestion for another way to divide up the 5 portfolios. This is just a suggestion and we expect there to be some discussion of this after the discussion of whether or not the basic portfolio model, and how to structure the SC, are cleared up.
Internal Division: Internal Communications, Personnel, Accreditation, BRPP
Outreach Division : Diversity, Outreach, Field Organizing, Events Planning, Green Pages, Media
Electoral Division: CCC, PEC, Office Holders
Financial Division: Finance, Fundraising, Merchandise
Public Policy Division: International Committee, Public Policy, Platform
4. Staff time should be divided up more specifically, with specific areas of coordination for each staff person, using an full time equivalent type system (see part I) to allocate their time to assisting each coordinator in their areas of oversight.
5. If this system is well defined, it is likely that SC members will play much less of a role in committee deliberations. Communication will primarily be between committee co-chairs and the overseeing coordinator and their staff. As listed in part I, there must be regular reporting to the CC by each committee. The current situation, in which the nature of oversight varies from committee to committee is one of our most pressing problems and would be dealt with in using one of the new systems that are based on portfolio and delegation with accountability, as described in this report. It should be noted that this system will elevate the importance of the committee co-chairs and the level of scrutiny they face will also be elevated.
6. A CC oversight committee- to oversee the restructured SC-is highly recommended. 100 people is too large for a detailed oversight committee. 5 to 7 members- no more than 10- seems the right size. The size of the oversight committee could be directly linked to the size of the SC, although, as with all committees, it should be allowed to organize as the members see fit, not necessarily with a one to one relationship between the overseer and the SC person.
There are a variety of ways an oversight committee could work. One is that the oversight committee take on something similar to the advisory board role in a non profit. The SC is the real board, but often non profits set up an advisory board to keep the board on its toes or to provide information and expertise that is not available on the board. In the case of the Green Party, the advisory board type committee would also be empowered to ask the SC questions and demand answers. Whatever the structure, it should boost communication and especially transparency between the SC and the CC and the charge of the committee should be structured that way.
7. Activism is integrated completely into Green culture. We are a new type of political party, one that stands on the issues and gets into the street rather than staying in the board rooms of America or depending upon control of the legislative or executive branches to make our case. The Green Party may become the majority in the future, but for now the ups and down of activism, the need to respond to a variety of causes and emergencies and to network and coordinate in many areas is one of the things that has led to the overwhelming work load of the SC. Management of our internal process has suffered during times of intense activism. The Green Party is going to have to place proper importance on this process and build in structures that are less likely to be diverted if our growth is to continue.
8. For the Green Party it is important that the people representing us to other committees and groups (with the assistance of staff) be elected so that everyone working in coalition understands that this person really represents the Greens. Event planning and communications skills, as well as wisdom, will be of paramount importance in the selection of the person for this positions. This will actually be a shared burden, but it is likely that if the two speakers, 5 coordinators model is adopted, that coordination of this work this should be in the portfolio of one of the two speakers.
9. The role of the CC needs to be carefully examined. Is it the equivalent of a Senate, a deliberative body making policy, passing resolutions. Does it have executive functions? What is its role in activism? Should the activism part of the CC role depend more directly on the state parties?
The BRPP has not yet conducted research into this matter, although some information has been gathered as part of the research into SC oversight of committees and SC restructuring. Further exploration is needed.
10. What it means to be a CC delegate also needs to be examined. This was explored somewhat in part 1 with the discussion of CC members sitting on committees. With more and more of the work of the organization being done by committees can the CC handle the workload or does the type of workload need to change? Can there be a closer association between the CC and the state parties? Can they learn how to allocate the workload of building the organization better? The BRPP will need more research on this, but it is clear that mandates and sanctions for State Parties not yet ready to fulfill all of their obligations are inappropriate in a federation of state parties. There most likely will be gaps in work getting done, and some hard feelings because some state parties are better equipped to handle the current CC workload, but we can evolve past that problem. Here again, the question has to be asked, if the workload is too great is the organization trying to do too much, and therefore creating unsustainable and unstable situations for itself and the participants.
The BRPP will be questioning and gathering input from the CC on this matter in the future.
Do not expect miracles. We can change the rules and the structure, but it is always harder to change human nature and the behavior that has been learned over the years. It will take us some time to learn a new system and to learn how to implement it and staff it as well.
The dysfunctional behaviors, the attempts to take on too much, the desire to be a part of everything, the desire for leadership and the unwillingness to be led are harder to change than the structures and rules. It is hoped that the changes in the rules and structures that this report presents result in a full discussion that will make a difference, and make it easier to do the right thing. We are human, this is politics, and the very human behaviors we all experience will make it harder and slower to change our culture.
The BRPP was handed a variety of questions to tackle surrounding the nature and practices of the Green Party and what could be done to help it function more smoothly and efficiently. As we delved into the work our understanding of the issues grew. In part 1 of this report the BRPP dissected the committee process and made some recommendations. In Part 2 BRPP looked at the practices of the SC and its relationships with other aspects of the organization in an attempt to help us understand the stresses the Green Party is going through and possible approaches to resolving some of these in both the long and short term.
A radical restructuring of the SC, and a clarification of how it is to operate, with clear divisions of labor and responsibility was developed by the SC in response to prodding by the BRPP. The BRPP recommends that the CC look carefully at the plan, noting its strengths and weaknesses. Following the discussion by the CC the BRPP will take that discussion, and attempt to craft actual rule changes.