Yedidya Committee Structure
Simon Caplan 07.07.2014
This brief position statement is to help further discussion. My apologies if it fails in some way due to my ignorance of the inner workings of the community.
I have to say at the outset that I am bowled over by the almost breathtaking breadth of activity undertaken by the community, the fact that it is undertaken, almost entirely, by a very large volunteer task force, and also the fact that the system clearly works in the sense that this immense portfolio is covered - providing members with multiple benefits and acting on the community's principles - without too many hitches along the way - and at a relatively low cost.
So there is a case for "if it aint broke, don’t fix it".
Nevertheless, there is a feeling that we could do even better, both in terms of expanding the portfolio in response to changing needs and in running a much 'tighter ship'.
Before we identify the various options for revising or even re-inventing the committee structure the first step should to identify objectives. Form follows content.
So firstly I would like to put up for discussion four "macro" management objectives that should inform any decisions about management and structure. Maybe there are more – so please suggest. The purpose of this paper is to stimulate a structured conversation that can allow us to make decisions.
My top four are:
1) Effectiveness. We want a system that, in business terms, scores highly on a cost/benefit basis. That includes
- reducing unnecessary use of energy of activists,
- concentrating 'people power' and financial resources in achieving the maximum in the time available
- ability to respond to changing needs,
- the need, on occasions for speedy action,
- allowing for cross fertilization of ideas,
- reducing overlap and increasing coordination
- providing an easily identifiable home for new activities
2) Responsiveness. We want a system that maximizes the chances that all high priority community needs identified by leadership or by the 'rank and file' are being addressed somewhere in the committee system. That there is a home for each issue as it arises without having to constantly invent new mechanisms. That nothing 'falls between the cracks'.
3) Transparency and Accountability. We want a system that ensures high standards – especially when it comes to anything to do with money, but also in terms of actions and decisions that are sensitive. Another aspect of this is increasing the likelihood that committees will act in accordance with Yedidya principles/objectives and the needs of community members.
4) Volunteer recruitment and retention. We want a system that maximizes the potential to involve an increasing number of community members to move from being beneficiaries of the services provided to becoming activists
I believe we should spend the time to consider in detail the key objective before engaging in a process of review and change of the current arrangements. These will then become the success indicators by which we measure any reform of the system and how we evaluate it as we go along.
Strengths and weaknesses of the current system
The second component which should inform (but not dominate) our thinking is an analysis of what we currently do well and what we do less well.
I already outlined above some of what I see as the strengths. At the end of the day this is an almost entirely volunteer run enterprise in area of work that is inherently multi-facetted and complex. We should be realistic in expectations, tough on ourselves but not overly critical, and factor in that we have to be reasonable in terms of what can be expected of individuals (and what needs to be done in terms of positive reinforcement and support to get the best out of people).
At the same, it is also important to identify some of the fault lines in the current system that may be unnecessarily limiting our ability to achieve key objectives.
Here are some of the possible problems that I can identify as a member of the community for many years.
1) Sensitivity issues: several areas are highly sensitive and require special handling. These include halakhic and public affairs issues and, perhaps also building use issues since these are a major part of the budget. The need to put in place a leadership and management system that effectively takes into account, in decision making and implementation, the wide diversity of our membership and (perhaps changing) community attitudes on issues related to women's involvement, existential challenges in Israel and so on. How does one balance Yedidya's track record and commitment to innovation and change with being sensitive to all members?
2) People issues: Being in the voluntary sector carries with certain 'baggage' and this can be exacerbated by our being a community of 'Presidents' where almost everyone has a strong opinion about everything! We have to deal with the challenges of having a high turnover of leadership and, conversely, of leadership in the hands of a small number of individuals who, in return for their activism and commitment, may exert a bigger influence in decision making and implementation than others feel comfortable with. We often hear that newcomers do not find it easy to 'break in' to the community, especially at the leadership level. We can have "amateurs" in positions requiring a lot of specialist professional knowledge, as well as good inter-personal skills, and we can have people in leadership roles who are not necessarily able or prepared to do everything that would be expected within a more businesslike environment. There can be tensions on a personal level, as well as disagreements about who should be making decisions which affect areas of the work in which they are not directly involved. All of this needs to inform any attempt to create a better way of managing our affairs. We also need to recognize that, in spite of all our efforts, there are still many members (and even more 'potential' members) who do not see Yedidya as a particularly welcoming environment.
3) Activities: Even though the breadth of activities is considerable, there are always needs that are not being met. How do we expand and change without constantly having to invent new structures? There are areas of work in which there is a constant struggle to find willing volunteers. How do we operate in a way that is conducive to recruiting volunteers and nurturing, developing and retaining them? How do we devolve decision making and the ability to access funds so that people feel empowered at the committee level without the VM and the broader community losing an appropriate degree of influence and oversight?
4) Management / operational issues: This may be good moment to re-examine and tighten-up a range of operating norms and procedures. What the rules regarding articulated, publicized committee mandates? How are committee chairpersons chosen, and what are the rules for committee membership? Can we improve the VM-committee working relationship, especially when there are so many committees involved? What should be the norms for information sharing, both in terms of cross committee coordination and to improve information sharing with the community's membership in general? Can we simplify what has become a complicated situation both to conserve our energies for the most important priorities, and to make the community more of an 'open book' for its membership?
I am sure these are only some of the challenges that need to be overcome.
Once the Vaad has reviewed the current situation, defined key objectives and determined that change is needed, the next step would be to create one or two models that could be a response to the challenges. I have such a model in mind, but it is only one of a number of possibilities or variations.
These models should be subjected to a consultative process within the community – especially listening to the reactions and the ideas of those who are active in the many committees and task forces.
Thereafter a model can be proposed for adoption.