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

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Discussion on Computer Weekly