Rumblings at the BCS. itSMF take note.

Rumblings of discontent rise again at the BCS (the society-formerly-known-as-British). A year ago 50 BCS members were sufficiently pissed off that they signed a statement calling for an Extraordinary General Meeting through lack of support for the trustees or executive. Now a senior member has written a scathing article in ComputerWeekly. I think itSMF should take note.

How much of this sounds familiar or prescient in an itSMF context?

Most large and successful organisations of today, including most charities [and not-for-profits], have had humble beginnings, when a small group of individuals envisioned, planned and did everything. Everyone could talk to everyone else, see everyone else's work, and a separate governance function was neither affordable nor considered essential. Yet, as these organisations grew, most recognised the value of independent oversight. The concept is especially relevant to organisations with a clear social goal and particularly those where there is no shareholder accountability. Among charities therefore, it is considered good practice to start establishing independent governance as the enterprise begins to progress towards "medium" size. Most well-run charities achieve a clear separation between those who provide functional leadership and those who govern the organisation by the time the organisation has reached a strength of around 50 staff or volunteers and £2m turnover... [I think itSMFI is about half that]

...a significant proportion of its trustees, the group responsible for governing the BCS, also hold quasi-executive "presidential" positions. Many of these individuals, especially those designated vice-presidents of individual portfolios, end up making decisions pertaining to structure and day-to-day operations of the BCS. These decisions, so long as they are within individual portfolios, are not scrutinised by other trustees. Combining the presidential and trustee roles in this way rules those trustees out as independent overseers. The best practices of trusteeship of large charities - a separation between trustees, functional leadership and pomp - are compromised by the presence of the presidential roles on BCS's trustee board. Although the BCS has an advisory council - a structure specific to BCS - the council has neither governing powers, nor complete independence. As a result, the BCS lacks an independent body of governors to oversee the conduct of BCS officers and to hold them to account. This lack of independent scrutiny and governance over actions of individual presidential trustees, who report to themselves in their capacity as the trustee board, is inherently unsafe. It has also been a continued cause of frustration in the advisory council and beyond...

Some of the comments from the original challenge that led to an EGM make interesting reading too:

...numerous changes and restructuring activities have been undertaken to such an extent that the membership of the Society now seems to be secondary to the role of the 'business' of the Society...

The direction the BCS seems to be taking is towards that of a business that sells services, of which membership is purely an income stream, rather than its original purpose of a professional membership charitable body...

The general membership has been given next to no opportunity to be engaged in the decisions regarding the future of the society's direction...

The published BCS strategic direction excludes any membership strategy...

So what is the relationship between the itSMF International Board (which is made up of representatives of the member chapters) and the itSMF International Executive Board, the elected members who run the show? Who scrutinises the Executive Board? What power does the general Board have to review or audit their activities? Does it happen? Can the general Board fire the Executive? I don't know. I still can't find a charter or constitution spelling this out.

Back in February 2010 the new Chair, David Cannon said

Governance has been a focal point for the past 2 or 3 years, and some significant progress has been made by previous boards. But we still have a very long way to go. The role and authority of the IEB are still not clear, and some of our documentation is confusing or contradictory, and in some cases simply inadequate.
We are very mindful of the fact that we are a membership-based organization and that we are ultimately accountable for our decisions and actions to the National Chapters and the itSMF members in those chapters. A Statutes and Governance working group was recently established by several chapters to investigate and clarify this, and the IEB welcomes and supports this initiative and will be working closely with them.

I look forward to seeing the results from that initiative soon. I hope it will address my governance questions. The "Dallas Spring" of new transparency didn't last long. The last published Annual Report to Chapters was in January 2010 (it is labelled "2009/2010" on the website but is in fact the 2009 report) and the last Board Talk I can find was June 2010.


Nice Ad

How ironic the BCS Bookstore ad appearing on this post!

Bad publicity

Well perhaps we'll find out if the adage about Bad Publicity is true.

Matthew Flynn
Book Publisher
BCS, The Chartered Instiute for IT.

no immunity

My advertising sales team are not allowed to speak to my editorial team

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