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Presidential Blog

Take off for democracy

17 April 2018 | by Nicola Gale

With Project Officer Liam Gallagher, Acting Director of Member Services Annjanette Wells, and our new Chief Executive Sarb Bajwa now in place, the Structural Review project is taking off again, and a newly constituted review group representative of key constituencies in the Society meets on 30th April.

The first thing members are likely to be aware of is the plan for running an interim Senate for 2018. This will be a natural evolution from the General Assembly meeting of the Representative Council (which included a trial of the “debate” function of the new Senate in 2017) and fulfils a commitment by the Representative Council and executive staff to deliver on the Senate in 2018.

So what is happening, and how will it affect all of us?

The Society has now put out a wealth of information about what the Senate is, how the Interim model will operate in 2018, and how every member can get involved (click here to find out more).

It is a concept that has been a major part of our Structural Review, and one which is based on looking at what other successful member organisations do (for example the BMA, WI, political parties with member engagement structures such as the Labour Party).

The Senate will be a democratic forum which ensures that the voice of the membership is at the heart of determining what the Society does and what sort of organisation members want to belong to. It will underpin equality, diversity and inclusion within the Society. In particular, it will provide an effective and democratic way of selecting organisational priorities which will enable us to focus our resources and collective expertise to achieve the goals of our impact statement, ensuring that:

"People are equipped with the everyday psychological skills and knowledge to navigate a complex world, knowing themselves and others better. Everyone can access evidence-based psychology to enhance their lives, communities and wider society."

It is this last aspect, campaign and policy resolution prioritisation, which will be the focus of an interim Senate this year. It is being run in advance of all the other structural changes being in place, in order to enhance democracy, fulfil our commitment to the membership, and realise early benefits to the Society. The focus of the interim Senate will be on determining the Society’s policies for external influence. The work is therefore being led for 2018 by the Policy Unit under Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, Acting Director.

The final form and remit of the senate will be determined once the Structural Review is complete and implemented, and governing documents have been amended. Three key aspects to be considered and developed further are which groups are on the Senate, who will represent them (and with what tenure), and how voting will work.

  1. In 2018, all networks currently on the Representative Council (Branches, Divisions, Sections, Special Groups) will be invited. Once the Member Network Review is completed, the composition of the Senate will change to encompass all of the agreed groups established at that stage, ensuring that a broader range of interests and expertise across the Society is represented. This is likely to result in greater equity between smaller and larger groups.
  2. For the Interim Senate, it is expected that networks will be represented by their Chair, or nominated delegate, who is currently their representative on the Representative Council. Once the Structural Review proposals are finalised, this may change, to reflect the need for greater continuity with the Senate representative role than chair positions often offer, and to give the opportunity to engage a greater number of members.
  3. For this year, there will be one network one vote, as there is at Representative Council currently. The thinking behind this is equally valuing networks regardless of membership numbers as these are all significant constituent parts of the Society.

The Senate should give all members the opportunity to put a proposal forward through a Member Network, and the process also involves networks engaging with their membership in terms of which of the shortlisted proposals they want to see supported. The timescales have been developed to allow time for this.

The processes that will be adopted (such as compositing, shortlisting) are those used by other organisations with this sort of model. There are others (such as ‘referral back’ for further development where delegates like the idea of something but it is not fully worked up) the Society is not going to use this time, but these sorts of areas can be considered in feedback for future use.

The key to success is likely to be joint working across the Society on matters of core concern (to use examples from current priority areas, prevention especially the wellbeing of our children and young people; wellbeing and productivity and exclusion in relation to work; obesity) to which different areas of our discipline and our practitioners have much to contribute to solving complex problems.

The priorities set by the Senate will not be the only key areas of work. The Society will still focus on central areas of concern in education, research and practice, through the strategy Boards, and the Policy Unit will respond to developments as they happen. The idea of the Senate considering democratically what our external campaign priorities for a given year or more should be is to enable us to harness the depth and breadth of psychological expertise across the Society, in a way that is transparent, and which has been democratically determined by the members.

This is a first for the Society, and a welcome step. It recognised that it is a significantly different way of considering priority areas for the Society, and the Policy Unit will be very receptive to feedback and suggestions on how things might be done differently in future.

A series of Senate FAQs has been developed by the Policy Unit (click here to access these), and the list will be added to as issues are raised. Do contact Lisa Morrison Coulthard at [email protected] with any questions, or for broader comments or suggestions related to the Structural Review please contact Liam Gallagher at [email protected].

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