Per my previous post these are my notes from the Dialogue on Government Information meeting.
While several participants had differing views on why we all assembled, good discussion happened. ALA has mostly good processes for moving issues to and through Council for offical comment, which can break when stressed by the need for both speed and expertise. Generally, these processes work fine for issues which affect small groups of interest but strain when several large groups of interest have opposing views on an issue needing a swift response.
Suggestions for smoothing the rough patches included: providing mechanisms for year-round, asynchronous, online communication; raising awareness of issues which affect parts of ALA subgroups; identifying which groups are doing what about an issue, and fostering collaboration among disparate groups with similar interests.
Several related problems were identified and some ideas for mitigation/routing around were offered. The impression I got from the participants at this meeting is that ALA needs to specifically acknowledge and encourage the online collaborative tools already in use by ALA subunits *and provide an excellent way to host services which allow for this.* (ALA Communities was indicated as “not acceptable” when mentioned as an existing tool)
Started out acknowledging the basics:
- ALA is a complex organization
- Many members = many points of view
- Hoary old line “ALA has been successful *because* it has been unable to move quickly” mentioned (received a marked lack of enthusiasm)
- Recognized that “newer” members also have points of view, willing to make contributions, and a tendency to not respond well to in-action on issues
Wide ranging discussion:
- ALA has a very strong process in place to handle “low-impact” issues; however when a “high-imapct” issue comes along, the process breaks down. “Impact” here is breadth of membership impacted — if some issue affects only one division or round-table the standard process works well; However, when more than a couple interest groups are affected the standard process is no wher enear adequate to do justice to all sides of an issue.
- ALA likened to “Democracy” and then to “Summer Camp” and then to “Rich Kids’ Summer Camp.” Generally everyone knows ALA members’ core beliefs, but we (”ALA and sub-groups volunteer leadership”) need to practice inclusion; need to make ALA less complex; need to make or encourage funding availability for remote, poor, and underheard library folks.
- ALA is lots of small, informed groups; we need to get related groups together to come to consensus and bring a broad view to issues.
- What “Dialogue” vs “Discussion” vs “Deliberation” are or can be seen as, and what tools might be usable to foster better communication between and among the various ALA subgroups.
- Discussed “self-reliance” and “cooperation” and “collaboration”
- Transparency: ALA process management hasn’t always been fully transparent, often transparency appears political.
- Policy, process, politics, and how a blend of this should/can be used
- Respecting minority opinions: Deliberations & discussions should be allowed to continue after a decision is made - to be sure decision is monitored and remains relevant. When a minority (quanitity, not ethnic/racial) view is not adopted, this does not mean the minority’s views are negated or ignored - it means there is an honest difference of opinion which can be talked through.
- Debate then Deliberate then Decide: “Debate” is where each side puts forth its views in the best/strongest argument. “Deliberate” is were each side discusses points made by all sides and works toward a common understanding. ALA often “Debates,” rarely “Deliberates.” The result, hopefully, should be a mutually acceptable (or at least not objectionable) decision about an issue at hand. Suggetsed reading: _Hearing the other side_
- Compromise, Consensus, and Common Ground (for Action) Handout: The group felt we should add: communication, inclusion, community, and outreach to this group of ideas to encourage within ALA. Determine when is it appropriate for member representatives (elected ALA leaders) to handle issues? When should full membership (of subgroup or of ALA in toto) be consulted? How should ALA/staff/subgroups determine what kind of expertise to rely upon? (personal, aggrigate, etc.) How should ALA/staff/subgroups determine what kind of voice to use to express opinions or make statements? (official, personal, on behalf of (whom)?) Who decides about these and how is what is decided? Need to have procedural path_s_ laid out and indications for when to use which path. Maybe need a decision-making grid.
So what is the problem?
- When ALA needs quick action to make an expert opinion/statement on issues that affect more than one or two subgroups — is often where things get bogged down
- How do we improve communications in and among ALA units, people, groups, etc.?
- Need to become aware of how to get things done
- Need a way to see where the issues are, which groups are following/impacted by an issue, and what is being done about an issue
- Where are the roadblocks to the various processes?
- Who speaks for ALA? (see policy manual for official answer)
- What process do speakers use to gather data nad opinions? to write policy statements?
- ALA has lots of structure, but very little navigational aids
- When ALA stuff happens across silos “we don;t play well together”
- How do we improve ALA cross-training and dialoguing?
- What can and can’t a Round Table do?
- Legislative Assembly is not as effective as it could be, need to get LegAssReps to report back to subgroup Boards and bring up items of concern to their subgroups at LegAss meetings
- Communications; who & how do we get the word out? who & how pulls groups together?
- mentioned in the communications piece, several people complained that ALA only meets twice a year; others proposed making activity year-round via asynchronous online tools that could/should be hosted by ALA.
- ALA often errs on the side of participation, at the cost of being quick & nimble
Take away comments / impressions:
- ALA processes mostly work, most of the time - unless more than two ALA subgroups are involved
- Need an ALA101 / Intro to ALA processes session or two
- ALA has been an effective voice over the past decade or so as a good, authentic voice for the public good
- ALA only “meets” twice a year; open, members-only, virtual participation would allow for asynchronous discussion and deliberation
- COL and COL Gov’t Info Subcommittee need to have balanced representation from the various government focussed groups, such as GODORT, the Divisional Legislation Committees, etc.
- The COL email list needs to have a read-only option like alacoun does
Critical factors which need addressed:
- Timeliness vs Inclusive — need to strike a careful balance between these
- Proactive vs Reactive
- ALA Gov’t/Legislative issues wiki?
- ALA 101 Wiki? Intro to the association and how to navigate around it?
- ALA Council 101 Wiki? Intro to Council and how to get stuff done?
- Explore options about alternatives to “offical statements”? Maybe “interim statements”? (most folks didn’t like this one)
- “More tha twice a year” processes for legislation, COL, & Legislative Assembly activities?
- Strong interest in online asynchronous methods for participation
- Council orientation committee looking into streaming Councilor Orientation information
- How do we identify stakeholders on issues? (assigned to COL?)