As the CIPR President and Council elections draw to a close what lessons are there to be learnt?
1). Democracy is alive in the CIPR
I was genuinely delighted that we had three colleagues decide to stand for President and that we would have an election. And they were all great candidates, and whoever is elected, I’m sure will do the Institute proud.
I was fearful, after the events of last year, that it would put members off standing, where we would return to the era of Presidents being elected unopposed.
Let’s hope elections are now the new norm.
Last year’s election did leave a positive legacy of the creation of an independent Returning Officer, which has been a positive move. Also, candidates producing campaign videos, another new emergent idea from last year, provides a good tool for candidates to share what they stand for, and for voters to make an informed decision.
Let’s keep these going.
3). Personality politics
I know there is deep concern among some senior colleagues about elections setting members touting for votes against each other, who all have much to offer, fearing it’s beginning to feel like the US elections.
Fortunately, this year’s elections did not descend into a sub X Factor fan club parade.
Last year, I had to resort to printing both mine and my opponent’s manifestos in a set of Trump cards – see illustration – to encourage people to at least look at what we stood for.
This year, there was a healthy regard among the candidates, recognition of being policies-led rather than personality focussed, with an utmost respect for the election process along with encouragement to read all the manifestos and vote.
I backed one candidate – Sarah Hall, but was judicious for every Tweet of support for Sarah I balanced this with a Tweet calling to check out all three candidates’ manifestos as a mark of respect for their standing.
I still believe there is more need for structure in the campaign, such as a weekly Tweet chat during the campaign and election, and sponsoring a student blog competition.
Let’s make sure we don’t descend into fan clubdom and cultivate a healthy respect for intelligent elections.
4). Overcoming apathy
Despite the intense efforts of all who stood we will still probably get 8 or 9 out of 10 members not voting
I still think there is merit in my proposal of giving each of the candidates a small grant to fund promotional activity. This can be used to get cut-through to help drive up the votes cast.
This surely would be the best seed promotional capital, generating a fabulous ROI for the Institute in both getting the message across about the election, with a messenger of each candidate showing they seriously care and demonstrate a real passion for the product – being a Member and caring for the future of our Institute.
We still need to do more to generate greater engagement.
5). Social Capital
Here’s a paradox: I’m a fanatical democrat yet it seems daft for a resource-poor organisation like the CIPR to be divisive and selective to potential volunteers to work to, and advance its goals.
We have a Social Capital deficit in society, which is reflected in bodies like the CIPR, where less and less of us are getting involved in the common good.
I don’t have an easy answer, other than the Institute needs to find ways to engage with those who aren’t elected, and definitely something for the Institute’s emerging Volunteers Policy to address.
6). Impartiality of the Board
At the July Council meeting I raised the question of the Institute’s Board members being neutral in its elections. I was told it was an informal policy that Board members are neutral in elections.
You wouldn’t expect a job interview to be fair if beforehand one of the interviewers publicly declared a favourite for the post.
After all, it is like a job interview, but with the selection made by the electorate. The Board members would have to work alongside whoever is elected, be part of a team going forward.
What signal does it send out to the individual candidates about not being a preferred choice of your potential future colleague?
What message does it send out to the electorate about the governance of the Institute, with the perception of a ruling clique running things, wanting to have their own preferred choice of an inner circle?
To his credit, our current President Rob Brown stayed neutral through the campaign, displaying appropriate qualities of leadership and respect for candidates and the electorate.
The Institute’s Board needs to be impartial in elections.
7). None of the above option
Lastly, for all elections I think there should be a ‘None of the above’ option, to capture the full range of choices available in an election. This is not a critical issue for the Institute, but just might help get traction for the idea in other elections.
Just an idea.
So in conclusion, as the elections for 2016 draw to a close, a big ‘thank you’ to Emma, Gary and Sarah for standing for President.
Well done to everyone who stood.
Good luck to those who get elected – to anyone who stood and wasn’t successful in the poll.
Remember, we get the democracy and institutions we deserve.