I don’t want governance by platitudes – Scattered Thoughts on Governance, Consultants, and more.

(So, if you want some background, check out the UU World, Tom Schade and Sarah Stewart)

I don’t want governance by platitudes.  Now, I freely admit that I’m on the outside looking in, but when I look at the UUA I don’t see a lot of concrete stuff coming out, especially from President Morales.  I hear platitudes.  I see people talking about how exciting and revolutionary those platitudes are, but I rarely see concrete action beyond a blog post.  And I am all for “monitoring” with clear definitions/job roles/etc. because as someone who does contribute to the UUA I do want to know that the money is making an impact.

Yes, I can take a certain amount on trust, on faith, but at the moment I also work for the CLF doing social media.  I’ve got a pretty clear ability to see what my impact is and how good of a job I’m doing.  And I can also look at those analytics to see what I need to change and how I need to adjust my programming so I can better reach my goals.  I can’t imagine not having those metrics because I find them so essential in changing how I do my job on a daily and weekly basis so I can do a better job.  Yes, I’m fortunate that social media metrics are easy to get (for the most part.)  And if that’s what this consultant is for – figuring out the best way to measure the impact – then I’m all for spending 100k to figure that out.

Yes, not everything can be made into a metric, but a whole lot can, and it’s an objective way to make future staff decisions.  When we have data to back up what programs are and aren’t working, we can then better adjust for the future.  We just let quite a few staff go and for the first time I actually knew some of the folks let go.  So, without metrics that measure the impact they had on the mission of the UUA, how can those layoffs be adequately justified?

There’s a lot of concern about tone out there.  Folks worried about the relationships – relationships between the Board and the President are broken, relationships being frayed, communication is strained, etc. etc. etc.  Ok, so I don’t really see the big deal with that I have to admit (I guess I fall into the grown ups can work together without liking each other camp.)  I really don’t particularly care if the president and the moderator don’t get along – how does that have any relevance on my day-to-day life as a Unitarian Universalist?  If they aren’t getting along and we’re having to have conversations about the lack of conversations, then gridlock sets in and sure, that’s a problem…usually.  But gridlock implies that before the gridlock there were interesting and exciting things coming out of the UUA and I’m not sold on that.  How much is my life as a member in a congregation affected by what’s going on that the UUA?  Are some folks seeing this as a big deal because folks on staff in congregations are affected more by things at the UUA than the common layfolk (that’s a genuine question – beats me.)  Are folks just excited that there’s drama in what are probably otherwise dull board meetings, so people are getting excited about the drama involved?  I’m not sure I see why this is making such big news.

I imagine that it’s tied to the Moderator race at upcoming GA.  And from what I’m feeling out there, folks who do want the Moderator and the President to hold hands and skip through the plenary hall are leaning towards Key and those who aren’t as concerned with that total harmony or kinda like the status quo are leaning Payne-Alex.  So I think I’m beginning to lean toward Payne-Alex, and indeed, today made the call and am now supporting Tamara Payne-Alex for moderator. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on that decision making process.)

I just keep coming back to this: How much of this board vs. president conflict is actually relevant in our congregations vs. folks saying it’s important.  How much of this is relevant to the folks serving at the greeting table in my congregation vs. how much of this is relevant to the smallish “Elite UU Leaders” circle?

I’m not inspired at all by the current president, which makes me think the Board is more likely to be in the right.  I also come in knowing many Board members and have worked with more than one on various things.  So I do have something of a Board Bias I should be upfront with here, but I don’t think it’s clouding my thoughts too much.

Maybe the problem is in what the actual role of the president is.  I don’t think we should necessarily elect the CEO of the UUA.  I think we can elect the person or persons that CEO reports to and that person or those people can set the vision.  Maybe the president should be something like Missionalist-in-Chief, where they set the mission of the next x years that fits in to the overall vision of the UUA that’s set by the Board.  When folks elect the president, they’re under the assumption the president sets the vision – which doesn’t apparently happen with this policy governance model.

Anywho, those are some of my scattered thoughts.  I’m not quite sure what to make of all of this and even if I should be worried about it truth be told.  (I’ve got enough on my plate as it is!) In the end, I bet in a week or two this falls off the collective RADAR screen and will be a minor asterix, unless it gets brought up again (and again (and again)) in the context of the Moderator election.  Here’s hoping.

10 thoughts on “I don’t want governance by platitudes – Scattered Thoughts on Governance, Consultants, and more.

  1. Pingback: The $100,000 question, and more UU conversation online « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

  2. Gini

    You’re my hero this morning and my goad, so I forwarded your post to the UUA Board. “How much of this really matters to congregations like mine” is a refreshing question, and directly related to some of the critical questions that the Board has been asking: How do we know that the activities of the UUA Board make any difference for congregations? How does the President know that the activities of the staff make any difference for congregations? I describe these as critical questions for two reasons: First, because if we can’t answer them we should close the doors and go home. Second, because we get criticized for asking these questions.

    More later perhaps, but thank you for being precisely who you are

  3. Thomas Earthman

    I wish I had your faith in the Board. I do not. I don’t have much faith in “governance” as our saving grace. It seems, to me, a lot like checking the organizational chart to figure out how to run the operation, while the patient is bleeding out. We are just rearranging deck chairs….

    We need a lot more than “ends”. As I said in comment to Tom Schade’s “A Hundred Grand Doesn’t Buy Inspiration”, ” If we believe in ongoing revelation and deny that there is a set end to the world, then we need to do away with the idea that our goals have “ends”. We need to see our mission as continuous and we need to make it central to everything we do.”

    We clearly don’t have that. As you ask, how is this leading the Congregations? How is this a model that helps them help people? What is the mission, at this point? Because if all we care about is membership numbers, measured in dues, then we don’t deserve to go on another decade, much less 50 years.

    I want more. The UUA made promises to me, by way of 7 Principles and 6 Sources. And I don’t mean “pick and choose”. I want them all. I get so tired of the divisions between “HUUmanists” and “UU Christains” and “UU Pagans”. Is it even possible to be a Unitarian Universalist without modifiers? Is it possible to promote that as a goal? Shouldn’t we have less of that 50 years in, rather than more?

  4. Beth Ellen Cooper-Davis

    Without vision, the people will perish.

    The endless wheel-spinning about governance is simply a way of staying stuck in the “how” question. This is a very easy way to avoid the one that NO ONE will answer, which is WHY.

    Why does the UU faith exist? Why do we do things the way we do them? Why are the goals the goals? Why are we still stuck in the same What-should-we-do-How-should-we-do-it rut after more than 50 years? Because we will not engage the deeper questions of purpose, mission, meaning, and religious doctrine. At least not at our broadest levels.

    Many of us are done waiting. We’ll just create it ourselves.

    • Thomas Earthman

      Commenting because there is no “like” feature.

      We need an answer to “why” that is about the individuals who show up, and not just the people we want to either help or recruit. We need to be inspiring people to do social justice, rather than making it the expectation. We need to stop thinking that we deserve a place in every parade and protest because we are UUs, and start working on going there as individual allies, moved to do something.

      At what point are we just mirroring the Westboro Baptists, showing up in our yellow uniforms, eager for a headline grabbing arrest? I want justice, I also want encouragement to spiritual growth.

      Universalism answers some very important questions. We should be proud of the fact that it welcomes people of all cultures and coming out of all other faith traditions. It doesn’t matter where you come from, we are all going to the same place. The universe was created in love, and that love should inspire us all.

  5. Donald O'Bloggin

    How about the other side? I don’t want soulless Governance.

    Rarely in the last 10 years have I heard a statement that wasn’t social justice related come out of the UUA Board sounding like it came from a faith group instead of from my local school board or food co-op directors.

    Rarer still have I seen UUA Board members engaged with the congregations they serve being faith educators, or even governance educators. The district trustees are rare in our faith, being leaders/servants who have connections and relationships with a majority of the congregations in their district. In a faith where most members can’t accurately tell you what 3 UU congregations are closest to their own and where congregations have image problems that makes them seem detached from both the faith as a whole and the world generally, this is power unlike ANYthing else and it should be being leveraged to affect deep and authentic change in our Association and its congregations, but the Board instead chooses to spend its time and our money pursuing and encouraging the adoption of a governance construct that specifically and intentionally limits and discourages their contact with the member congregations.

    Give me another Morales as a Moderator, and I’ll show you a faith that grows more deeply and more swiftly than at any time in our history. SWAP Morales and Courter in their roles, and I’ll show you the same!

  6. kathleen hutner

    I appreciated your thoughtful blog. I watched the videos of both Tamara Payne- Alex and Jim Keys and I am sorry to say, given your position, that all I heard from Tamara Payne-Alex were platitudes and cliches. Watch all her videos again and read her “paper” and see if you still feel the same.

    • Tim Atkins Post author

      I did watch the videos and read through both websites – pretty much every page on those sites I could find. And spent weeks talking to folk – It took me about a month to make up my mind. I did my research.

      If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly encourage watching the CLF Moderator Forum – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0noruiQD9c – It takes a little bit of time to load, so be patient. The Q&A portion especially helped push me over to Tamara’s camp.

  7. Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

    As a UUA field staff member I can say that we do look at the analytics that we have available to us and use that to tailor programming. We pay close attention to post-event surveys and respond by adjusting our programs to better fit congregational needs.

    In our region, our YouTube page has over 16,000 views in a little over 2 years. Our on-demand webinar website has over 700 registered users. http://www.cerguua.org/moodle/
    The UUA website gets an amazing amount of traffic, and we are always in the process of updating resources.

    We also pay attention to the metrics available in the wider religious world and respond to the changing context (including the “Congregations and Beyond” lens). We know that we can’t go back to the church of the 1950’s and we don’t yet know what the church will look like in 20 years. Part of our job is to help the leaders in our congregations build their own capacity to respond to the changing context with healthy practices, wisdom and vision. This is an adaptive challenge, and we need all hands on deck to meet it.

    (For what I mean by context, look here: http://wp.me/P3jfG3-6j)


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