In the discussion that ensued under my initial policy work call for participation, one of the needs that was expressed was more transparency in terms of the Media Co-op's decisionmaking process. Who makes decisions, when and where do they get the authority to do so?
And more importantly, how does that compare to where we want to be?
My aim here is to answer the first question, and get a discussion started about the second one.
It will be increasingly important for me to begin with the proviso that these discussions do not affect the local structures -- which are autonomous entities within the Media Co-op -- except insofar as they interact with each other and with the Dominion and the central Media Co-op.
The existing decisionmaking bodies
It's a little hard to pin down how things get done at the Media Co-op, because we've barely existed for two years, and things are evolving quickly. But as of right now, here's what we've got:
The membership: We have three different kinds of members: editors, contributors, and readers. Collectively, they get to vote on resolutions at our annual general meetings, and the Co-op regularly asks them for input.
How to take part: become a member, by contributing two or more articles per year (contributor), paying $15 (reader member) or working 10+ hours/week for the media co-op (editor member).
The board consists of one representative each from the contributors and readers, and three reps for the editor members. To be honest, it currently does the minimum necessary to fulfill its currently minimal role in the governance of the co-op.
How to take part: Get elected to the board.
The editorial collective consists of people who work on the Media Co-op sites or the Dominion on a day to day basis. This includes paid staff members in Halifax and Montreal, interns in Montreal, and representatives from Locals in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax. They communicate through weekly conference calls, and a daily handful of email threads on the editorial collective listserv.
How to take part: join the collective (get in touch with us, or apply for a job when it comes up) and participate in the Media Co-op or a local on a day to day basis.
The spokescouncil was created to address the need for a formal setting where the Media Co-op locals could make decisions collectively. Decisions made through the spokescouncil must be approved by local collectives to officially take effect. The spokescouncil requires a lot of followup and energy, so it hasn't been very functional, beyond conjuring itself into existence. The hope is to eventually include other recognized affinity groups within the Media Co-op membership to take part in the spokescouncil, but first we have to get it to work with the existing locals. Currently, the spokescouncil mainly deals with setting policy that governs the interactions between the different parts of the co-op.
How to take part: Join a local collective or the editorial collective.
The kinds of decisions that are made
The summary is that most decisions (again, regarding the Dominion and the central Media Co-op, but not the locals) are made by the editorial collective and to a small but increasing extent, by the spokescouncil, with varying degrees of consultation with the membership.
Editorial decisions: Day to day, the editorial collective decides on what to include in the Dominion, what to feature on MediaCoop.ca (applies to posts that were only posted to the main site and not one of the Locals). Individuals from the collective are assigned to work with authors on particular authors. Editorial decisions get made based on a set of evolving criteria that, for brevity's sake, I will have to document in a later post.
Paid contributions: Once a month, the editors meet to decide on which of the month's pitches will be paid, and which will qualify for in-kind payment (usually Dominion subscriptions or books).
Special issues: Our current process calls for consultation with the membership and the locals. This is ongoing for the Spring 2011 sp'issue.
Policy: Some policy (e.g. regarding editorial decisions or ads) is set by the editorial collective, but larger media co-op issues go through the spokescouncil.
Hiring: Hiring is officially done by the board, but in practice the editorial collective has taken the lead on recent hires.
The budget: In the past, our budget has been set by the editorial collective, but this year, we established a participatory budget process which consults the entire membership before striking a committee to submit a proposal. The proposal is then submitted to the membership for comments. If there are no major issues with what is submitted, the budget takes effect.
Overall direction and mandate: This is mainly set through discussions among the editorial collective, and precedents from the last seven years.
This is a subject that requires more discussion, but I propose the following as a framework strictly to give people something to react to or build on.
The mandate for every aspect of the Media Co-op's operations should (ideally, eventually) come from the membership. This would start with a basis of unity, and, time allowing, move into more and more specific areas of the operations. For example, priorities for staff time, or a change in criteria for accepting pitches.
We have a good beginning to this, with examples like regular queries to the readership about what stories should be covered and how, the participatory budget consultations and the ongoing special issue consultation. We should continue to refine and institutionalize these practices, while extending them to other areas of activity.
Because getting a proper mandate from the membership is time consuming and easy to derail, committees should be empowered on an ongoing basis to make day to day decisions about the Media Co-op's operations.
This implies a process of gradually informing the membership about each area of the Media Co-op's activities, modifying it based on proposals from the membership, and getting the membership to a point where it can make informed decisions about the Media Co-op's overall direction.
Proposals agreed to by consensus of the spokescouncil can modify the mandate at any time.
There would also be a regular (every few years) review of the mandate.
Missing pieces include what to do in the absence of consensus (consent to a majority vote? not change anything until consensus is achieved?), how to decide what to discuss first (a vote by the spokes? a budget-style rating system for the whole membership?).
What do you think?