BCS: The last EGM ?

Over the past few week, the blogosphere has erupted with talk about the BCS as it gears up for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on 1st of July.

The meeting will debate its £5 million transformation programme – a rebranding exercise that aims to reposition the BCS as a professional qualification awarding body, the Chartered Institute of IT.

The EGM has been brought by a group of 50 BCS activists who feel that the BCS has lost touch with the needs of its grass roots membership. They feel the BCS has made sweeping changes to its structure to the detriment of its members – with little consultation, transparency or explanation. Members claim that even simple activities, like organising speaking and networking events, have become mired in bureaucracy.

The BCS has dismissed the group in luddite terms, arguing that they represent a small number of disgruntled activists who want to turn back the organisation 30 years.

Many of the motion’s signatories have however been at the heart of the BCS operations in the past. They include former members of the BCS board of trustees and council, and include a former BCS president.

Whether the group’s objections are right or wrong- and there are two sides to every  argument – matters less than the fact a group of active members feel they have no choice other than to call for a vote of no confidence in the BCS’ leadership. 

The EGM has not come out of the blue. It is a symptom of  frustration that has built-up over months and years among active volunteers in the BCS.  There have been warning signs and several attempts by dedicated BCS volunteers to resolve differences internally.

In 2008, for example, the then BCS head of member groups resigned after penning a heart-felt letter warning that BCS volunteers who helped to run the organisation felt they were neither heard nor appreciated.

And Elisabeth Somogyi, then a BCS trustee, and longstanding BCS contributor, felt sufficiently concerned to write and circulate an unofficial report into BCS’ member groups in spring last year. Her report claimed that the volunteers who ran the BCS’ member groups felt disregarded, harassed, and in general treated as second-class citizens.

Rajan Ankatel, recently elected to the BCS board of trustees, was responsible for heading a working group on the future of BCS membership groups. His report, dated May last year, found that the BCS member groups contributed much that was positive to the BCS. But it also picked up rumblings of discontent that should have raised a red flag.

“There appears to be a lack of clarity, transparency and consistency in the regulations and treatment of membership groups and their finances. This high level of complexity, which has created unnecessary additional work, has led to some confusion and resentment, and so has reduced the effectiveness of both BCS staff and volunteer resources,” it warned.

Len Keighley, a former BCS trustee, says he has only brought the EGM as a last resort, after attempts by himself and other BCS members to resolve issues internally were unsuccessful.

With so many warning signs, how did the BCS allow things to develop this far ?

It has spent £100,000 organising the EGM, and defending its position. Its executives have embarked on a road-show to put the case for the BCS transformation programme to BCS members. It has created a lavish website, including extensive videos, to encourage BCS members to vote against the EGM’s motions. And last week, it sent out a glossy brochure to the BCS’s 70,000 members, urging them to ‘vote for the future’ and against the EGM motions.

What is clear, is that BCS members won’t be allowed to bring an EGM quite so easily in the future. The trustees have put forward a special resolution that will mean in future, members will need to gather signatures from 2% of the professional membership rather than 50 individuals to bring any future EGM. In the BCS, with some 50,000 professional members, this amounts to 1,000 signatures.

Which, if the motion is passed on 1st July, means that this will almost certainly be the last EGM at the BCS.

Links to blogosphere discussion on BCS EGM:

Len Keighley EGM blog

BCS Membership Group

BCS Chartered IT Professional

Discussion on Webmink

Discussion on Computer Weekly





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The people who led the call for the Extraordinary General Meeting now have a low cost online ‘voice’, and this can be found at http://bcsreform.wikispaces.com
I have looked at the wikispaces site and have a two very serious concerns that BCS members will be misled by the content. Firstly the misrepresentation of Council, regarding the discussion of the Transformation Programme reporting during 2009. I followed the situation very carefully and I cannot remember any instance of information being ‘repeatedly requested’ (or at all) after July. My recollection is that members of Council did not pursue the matter; indeed, due to busy agendas (and highly positive meetings), I believe that there were no questions at all about the CE report. Likewise I don’t think that the appointment of the BCS auditors was raised in Council until May this year (after the EGM call). Secondly, the signatories claim that all internal avenues were exhausted. I respectfully suggest that further opportunities were available: the EGM signatories could have presented their case/ concerns formally to Council, or tabled a Special Resolution for the AGM, either in November 2009 or March 2010, instead of going directly for an EGM.
As someone who has barely been on Council for 2 minutes, or more like a year, I would respectfully suggest that you are not only NOT in possession of the full facts but also barely in a position to comment with any authority on activities which took place well before you assumed your very recent appointment on Council. In that respect it is your comments in the press that are very misleading to the BCS membership.
@MikeB my public comments are accurate, I was elected to Council in Autumn 2008, took my seat in January 2009, and from the Autumn of 2008 I have been (directly but informally)aware of the concerns of some of my colleagues on Council, regarding the organisational changes in BCS. I have attended all five of the Council meetings held since my election, I have also attended all three Member Groups Conventions. I do therefore have direct, first-hand knowledge of what has been said and done over the past 18 months in Council. You may have similar first-hand knowledge but there is no way of telling from your choice of name in this forum. Please note that my comments, about the EGM being called without exploring and exhausting the options available, have been expressed not only in the public discussion forums (such as this thread) but also in the private discussion forum for BCS Council, without contradiction from anyone. I stand by my report that concerns about the management of the Transformation programme were not raised in Council after the July 09 meeting. However, I will add that only one of the eight EGM Council signatories (Rajan Anketell) was present at the July 09 meeting, five others sent apologies and the remaining two did not join Council until this year (2010).
I'm a bit late to this, but what struck me was not so much the original complaint but the BCS board's response to it. A glossy leaflet basically demanding we support them for ... no particular reason, no clue as to the issues raised by the upset members and what specifically the board felt was wrong, and some unpleasantly snide comments about the complainents. Blocking update programmes just because we can't see what's going on can be very harmful, but this kind of behaviour - including such a high bar for EGMs without other *formal* channels in place - immediately raises hackles.
I am sure that despite all that has been said by both sides in this there is still much we do not know. I would suggest however that one of the things we do know is that a mechanism whereby the leaders of a membership organisation are accountable to their members is a good thing. That this EGM has been called is evidence that such a mechanism exists in the BCS. While I expect the current leadership are annoyed to be have been inconvenienced by it, it is an error of judgment to attempt to suppress further EGMs by raising the bar. The number of members required to sign the petition is not about how much of the membership is behind the point of view expressed - there is a chance to vote on the resolutions when the EGM takes place. Rather it is to make sure the expense and trouble of an EGM is not incurred because a small group of friends are discontent. Requiring 50 signatories means those who want an EGM must being able to make out a case as to why the EGM is necessary and convince people outside their immediate colleagues. Whatever you feel about the transformation programme and however you intend to vote on the votes of confidence/no confidence I would urge you to vote against the special resolution to raise the bar for an EGM.