Efficient board meetings, revised

John Goerzen jgoerzen at complete.org
Fri Oct 15 20:04:16 UTC 2004

On Friday 15 October 2004 07:18 am, Ian Jackson wrote:
> There's been some disagreement recently about the proper conduct of
> board meetings, and the role of IRC discussion.  I think the best way
> to settle this would be for the board to vote to affirm and update
> the `Efficient Board Meetings' resolution from last September, or, if
> the board disagrees with me, to explicitly overturn it or replace it
> with something else.

I would like to first say that I agree that we have problems, and I also 
agree that we need to fix them.  However, I don't think this resolution 
will help, and moreover, will actually hurt as we struggle to figure 
out how to comply with our own procedures in the inevitable case where 
they can't be complied with stringently.

I see three main problems right now:

A. Too little participation during the month

B. Discussions getting off-topic during meetings or board members 
leaving the computer

C. Too much work handled directly by the board.

Let's look at each of them.

A: Too little participation during the month

We have often seen situations where things are posted by e-mail and 
receive zero comment during the month.  Or, they receive no comment for 
several weeks, followed by frantic activity in the hours leading up to 
a meeting.  E-mail voting usually does not work due to a lack of timely 
participation.  Even worse, board members arrive at a meeting 
unprepared because so many resolutions were proposed in the hours or 
minutes leading up to the meeting.

This is not news to us, and I somehow doubt that a resolution would fix 
what the the efforts to plead, chide, and prod people into 
participation during the month could not.

I think we have to show that we can be better at this before we adopt 
any resolution mandating it.

Also, I am concerned about making discussions public.  The discussions 
on -board are not public.  I think there is little reason to keep them 
so private in many cases, and I think more of them should go on 
-private or -general.

Given our current practice, your resolution would effectively close 
public access to virtually all board discussion on matters.  I believe 
that is a grave disservice to SPI's members, who should be able to be 
informed about what positions their elected representatives on the 
board are taking and what questions are being asked on their behalf.  
It is also a disservice to the Board, because it then lacks the insight 
and input from more people.

B. Discussions getting off-topic during meetings or board members 
leaving the computer

Part of this can be traced to the late posting of many resolutions.  
However, it makes it difficult to conduct votes, when people aren't 
paying attention when a vote is called, and it can be difficult to keep 
the discussion from going off-topic sometimes.  As chair of the 
meetings, I try, and admit it's a skill I'm still learning.

Nonetheless, since the current board configuration was established, I 
believe we have had all our meetings complete in one hour or less, or 
very nearly so.

C. Too much work handled directly by the board.

The SPI bylaws envisioned an organization where much of the day-to-day 
activity that the Board presently handles would instead be handled by 
committees with real authority and duty to handle them.  That is, I 
believe, why the bylaws contemplate only quarterly Board meetings.

We have the beginnings of this process underway with the trademark, 
membership, and www committees.  Probably membership is farther along 
than any others, as they have the authority directly to authorize new 

I think we should do more of this -- empower committees to handle more 
business, while still being sure to keep them accountable to the Board 
and the membership.  It would be a way to spread the workload among 
more people -- thus improving our effectiveness and reducing the amount 
of work the Board must conduct at each meeting.  It would also provide 
a meaningful way for more people not on the Board to get involved with 

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