Cameron Meldrum

Cameron

vpdci@unionsouthampton.org

22 May 2017 17:07


Democracy Review: One Year On

Last year, the Union passed one of the biggest changes it has ever made at it’s annual AGM in the form of the Democracy Review. This was a seismic shift in the way Union conducts decision-making, ranging from changing from creating ‘policy’ to documents called ‘action plans’, to reorganising the internal structure of the Union in order to allow it to create a framework that is more easy to understand, and creates more decisive action. One year on, I think now is a good time to look back at what’s been going on in the past year.

 

The big headline changes were:

  • The growth in importance of the Union’s Zones
  • Replacement of Union Council with Union Senate
  • Increased prominence of You Make Change as the way students can submit their ideas
  • Ideas leading to Action Plans instead of Policy
  • Creation of an Operations and Services Advisory Forum

 

So where are we with all of these?

Undergoing a change as big as the Democracy Review obviously takes time to adjust to, and you will always experience some teething problems along the way. Hold on tight, as I might get a little bit carried away!

The Zones

The Zones have become far more autonomous, which means they get more flexibility in the areas they work on. We have stopped using the word ‘committee’ and instead focus on making meetings more engaging places where we focus on discussion and action rather than process and administration.

One area where I think we can improve is publicising the ideas and actions that come out of Zone meetings better. The Zones often work on projects that have the ability to make a huge impact to a lot of students, so advertising this work better can only prove useful.

Last year we also introduced Open Places on each Zone that were gender balanced against the total membership of the committee in order to get more female voices involved in decision-making. Whilst I admit this is the right step forwards, getting these positions filled often proved difficult. In future, we’ll need to start work early on to cultivate interest so that all our Open Place positions get filled.

Union Senate

This year was the first year of Union Senate. Senate is smaller than Union Council, and is made up of the seven full-time officers, one representative from each of the Union’s eight Zones, and one representative from each underrepresented group (eight in total). Senate is different from Council in that it is more like an oversight body, akin to the Senate in the USA, or the House of Lords in the UK. Senate meets less frequently than Council, and has so far met twice this year with a third and final meeting taking place shortly after exams. In my view, Senate has been functioning well as it spends more time holding the Full-time Officers to account than Council previously did. There is some debate as to whether there should be more meetings of Senate, or whether there should be meetings with Senators between each Senate meeting to discuss the progress of Zones in more depth. This is something I imagine will be decided upon next year.

You Make Change

You Make Change is the central online portal that we use to get Ideas and Questions. We’ve been using You Make Change far more this year, and it has proven a really useful tool for getting students’ questions and ideas that can be brought to each Zone. In my view, it’s a definite improvement over the old system of ‘proposals’, as its far easier for students to submit their ideas to us.

Often, a lot of Ideas have been ‘greenlighted’ – these are Ideas that are so straightforward and simple that we just immediately action them! Being able to have this quick form of decision-making has proven really useful this year, as often students want quick results to ideas that are often straightforward.

This year we also introduced the ability to comment on Ideas submitted by other students. This is a really important feature, but one that is rarely used. In future, we need to make this functionality more well-known so students know they can engage in the discussion and help formulate the decision!

Operations and Services Advisory Forum

The Operations and Services Advisory Forum was also launched this year, and offers the ability for student consultation on the Operations and Union Services areas of the Union’s work. For instance, this could involve ideas to do with the Union’s food outlets and bars, or the events that are run by the Union, and marketing and communications. This has met three times this year, and the list of ideas on the agenda is often long which means that it was definitely a good idea to create it. As with the case of all the Union’s Zone meetings, we’ve realised it would be hugely beneficial to raise the profile of the ideas brought to the Forum to allow for more student input. It has been discussed that the Forum could meet at more targeted times of year, such as after Freshers’, which would allow for better opportunities for student feedback.

To conclude, I think it’s been really important this year to implement the Democracy review in its purest form to allow us to find and snags and teething problems, which can then be dealt with for successive years. Myself and the Democracy team have been keeping an eye on the whole rollout process, and will be making adjustments and improvements here and there to ensure the process for students and officers in future is as smooth and effective as it can be. Overall though, I definitely think the Democracy Review has been a step in the right direction!

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