What follows is largely from the 39 formal written submissions we received but I have also included comments made in the responses to our draft Vision and Mission articles as well as from the many conversations that I have had with ringers over the last five months and those shared with me by other CRAG members. The comments provide a quite rounded view of the current Central Council and suggestions for how a future central body for ringing should be different in order to be more effective and more in tune with what ringers in general want and need.
WHAT DO PEOPLE THINK AND FEEL ABOUT THE CENTRAL COUNCIL? Positives
Although some of what was said seemed rather harsh, even hurtful, to past and present members of the Central Council, it is important to stress that most submissions acknowledged and often praised the large amount of hard work that is done by Council members – all of whom are unpaid volunteers. None of the submissions showed signs of being vindictive or unkind and all were written in a way to provide honest feedback and thus something to work on to do better. Very few felt that ringing would be better without any central body.
Criticisms of the Central Council
Accountability is poor and the CC lacks follow through
There was a repeated theme that the CC and its committees are seen to be inefficient and sometimes not to see important tasks through to completion. Various examples were provided and the observation that previous attempts to introduce effective accountability for committees or chairmen have failed, largely for cultural reasons within the Council.
It lacks any clear strategy or vision
The lack of an overall strategy or vision was commented on by a number of people. This was felt to prevent coordination between the different committees and prioritization of what the council should, and should not be doing.
It seems Closed, Insular and Inward-‐looking
The Council was variously described as “impenetrable”, “opaque” and “inward-‐ looking” with insufficient turnover in some committees. It was noted that most of the business transacted at Council meetings is about the Council itself or its activities and that it was frequently dismissive of work that was initiated outside of its control.
It is defensive
Regrettably the reputation for being defensive still persists quite strongly. It was also noteworthy that some of the submissions made in a personal capacity by people who are prominent members of the Council put the blame for the Council’s problems as a lack of volunteers willing to join the CC. They did not explore what about the Council itself might be the cause for this unwillingness. I should say however that the current officers of the Council have in no way been defensive in their dealings with CRAG.
It is ineffective
A number of submissions, including some from Council members, commented on problems with getting things done effectively with a tendency to dive into irrelevant details seen as part of the culture. Many submissions said that the size of the Council was far too big to operate effectively and to make decisions swiftly.
It can appear autocratic
A number of submissions referred to a perception of “Council knows best” and issuing top down edicts rather than engaging with those outside it. While much of this was in relation to the treatment of new methods and novel compositions – clearly a minority interest – the debate over ringing as sport was seen to be another example.
It communicates poorly and doesn’t promote ringing
There were more adverse comments about communication than any other issue. In general, despite some efforts to engage and communicate more widely, the Council has a poor reputation in this area.
It is run on a shoestring
Many submissions stressed that funding was a major issue, with the ability of the
Council to get things done being hampered by a lack of available funds. :
It appears irrelevant to most ringers
There was a recurrent comment in submissions that the CC was irrelevant to most ringers and was that it focused on matters that were not of interest or relevance to the majority.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CHANGE
There many individual suggestions for change and many contributors have clearly put a lot of time and thought into the problems. Some were about individual services but there were a number of frequent themes for a future central body for ringing:
- It needs to be properly funded with subscriptions more in line with those paid for other hobbies and activities
- It would need to communicate with ringers in general far better than at present
- It should have a broader focus so as to be of relevance to all ringers
- It should be more open and transparent
The body itself should
- Be smaller
- Be more “nimble” and proactive
- Operate more efficiently and effectively
- Open membership of its committees and elected roles to the whole ringing community
- Hold itself and its officers properly to account
- Pay for professional help in areas of importance, such as projecting a positive image for ringing with the public
There were a significant number of submissions that favoured individuals being able to join the central body directly rather than only having a relationship via other ringing societies.
WHERE HAS CRAG REACHED IN ITS THINKING?
I should be clear what CRAG will be doing when we make our recommendations to the Central Council later this year. We will describe what a central body serving ringing and ringers should look like, how it needs to work and behave and particularly how it needs to relate to all ringers no matter where they are based or what they can ring. Put simply, to design a body that is not only fit for purpose now but will also be looking to the medium to long term and planning how it will respond proactively in the interests of ringing and all ringers.
During the course of our various meetings (both face to face and by Skype) a broad consensus has emerged that, while a central body for ringing is needed, the Central Council needs radical change if it is to do what ringing needs it to do. The evidence from the feedback described above and in previous articles reinforces this view.
While attempts to improve engagement and communication might help to improve the perception of the Council to some extent we are not confident that it will create something fit for the future. We are therefore developing proposals for a body that would be quite different.
A smaller representative body of about 50-70 delegates providing advice and holding committees and officers to account.
The body to be run by a small management executive, probably of seven people, which will develop strategy, be proactive, plan and oversee the work that needs doing – just as is the case now for many other charities.
A reduced number of committees or workgroups, with full membership selected for skills and attributes and all ringers encouraged to apply – not just those members of the representative body.
It will seek actively to be relevant to all ringers and be accountable to all ringers.
A body that will develop funding streams that will in time allow professional help to be hired for tasks that volunteers may not have the time or skills to undertake.
We are also considering whether ultimately ringing would be served best by opening membership of this central ringing association to all ringers.
PLEASE LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK OF OUR SUGGESTIONS
We are interested in knowing how ringers in general feel about some of the things we feel are likely to be important in a future central body for ringing. We have constructed a short online survey that which will be open from 0900 on Saturday January 14th until February 3rd via http://cc-crag.weebly.com/2017-survey.html. The survey will also includes links to a longer version of this article with some of the quotes and to the previous articles from CRAG.
We would like as many ringers as possible to complete the survey, which should take no more than 3-4 minutes and will greatly help our work. Please therefore pass the web address to as many other ringers as possible. We need to hear everyone’s feedback.