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Things Adults Should Know: Committee-Structured Organisations and How To Manage Them Properly Jul. 8th, 2014 @ 12:03 pm
Among the useful things I learned at university that, apparently, many people did not is how to operate a committee-run organisation.

Like, for example, a convention with a convention committee and suchlike things.

Since certain convention groups that are old enough that they should know far better apparently don't, I'm going to lay out some of the requisite principles, and maybe some of this information will make its way to people who need it.

1) Committee Procedures Matter.

Everyone hates the guy who keeps nitpicking about Proper Committee Procedure, and you can definitely take it way, way too far.

However, committee rules have developed because without rules and procedures, a committee is better known as "an argument" or as "sheer bloody chaos".

As such, your organisation should have a constitution which lays out all of the ground rules on which the organisation operates, laying out procedures for the election and/or selection of officers and committee members, terms of office, and means whereby officers derelict in their duties can be removed, etc, as well as a general framework for committee meetings, including defining what constitutes quorum for committee and general meetings and the required frequency with which committee and general meetings must occur.

Someone should take minutes at every meeting, noting the general thrust of everyone's arguments during any discussion, recording in precise detail *every* decision taken, and also recording whose responsibility it is to undertake any actions decided upon.

(And that should always be there. If the committee decides that something should be done, it must also decide who is going to do it, or else it probably won't happen. e.g. "Committee authorised purchase of stamps. Action: James T." Whereupon the trip to the post office is James T.'s responsibility to undertake.)

2) Just because you're not getting paid for this doesn't mean you can be unprofessional.

If you have signed on to a committee, you have accepted responsibility. Take it seriously and do it properly.

3) Responsibility Has A Paper Trail

This is, in many ways, the biggest one. It's a major part of why meetings should always be minuted, but it goes a long, long way beyond that.

You are not going to be there forever, so it doesn't matter if you have an absolutely flawless memory, everything has to be written down so that future committees can get the information if they need it. Collate it neatly, file it sensibly, and keep records of what you did and how you did it and who you did it with and where your money came from and where your money went.

If it should happen, somehow, that one year there's a committee turnover so thorough that nobody on the committee has ever been on it before, they should be able to work out how to run your organisation and how to run its events by looking carefully through the records.

And then we get to the big one...

4) Safety and Event Management: It's Okay To Make Mistakes ONCE

So, you have an event to run. You've set everything up and tried to cover all the bases, but you know there's still a risk of health and safety problems.

Which means, obviously, you have a Safety Officer or several - enough that there is at least one, on-site and easily located, at all times.

So far so good.

But any safety or health issue that crops up is one that, ideally, you never want to have crop up again, so here's how it goes:

- Every issue that has required the intervention of the Safety Officer should be noted in the Safety Log. This doesn't have to be a super-formal document. The Safety Log functions very well if, for example, it consists of a notebook and a pen. But everything should be in it.

11:35am: - boxes being brought in were left blocking stairwell. Cleared to side-room.

1:20pm: water spill outside con suite.

3:50pm: trash dropped adjacent to trash can instead of in.


This includes any incidents of harassment, obviously, and you should have all sorts of procedures defined in advance for how to deal with that, although altogether that stuff is a different post.

But the Safety Log does not cease to be relevant at the conclusion of the event.

After the event, at the next committee meeting, the Safety Officer should go through the log with the committee, informing them of every single event. The committee can then discuss what needs new procedures at the next event to prevent recurrence, whether anything could have been handled better, and have a general sense of what went wrong and right with the plans that were in place.

Anything which will be relevant to future events can then be summarised neatly in a reference document that will be kept for the use of future committees. There should be a collection of documents that are passed on as part of committee turnover that have records of everything important.

There should never, ever be a situation where something bad has happened, and gets to happen again because the previous committee knew all about it but the new committee didn't. Ever.
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