Two days ago I attended the CIPR’s Annual General Meeting, with a guest turn from Matthew Elliott, (former) Chief Executive of Vote Leave.

The choice of Elliott surprised some, but even the most ardent of Remainiacs – and I guess you could include me here – think that Vote Leave did a good job in conning the electorate convincing people that the UK would be better out than in. We had Max Clifford at Northern Conference in 2012, so I’m willing to go with the flow.

It was also interesting to hear how, essentially, his job was only to win the battle, not the peace afterwards. It ties in with professional discussions I’ve had, about personal and professional ethics. Did Elliott believe in what he was communicating or was he merely a conduit – a tool, if you will.

If you want a good summary of that part of the evening, read Jenni Field’s post on LinkedIn or the industry write-up on PR Week. There’s also a summary of the AGM on the CIPR’s own site; suffice it to say that the discussion afterwards was a bit too much politics than communications for some of us, and I’m still not sure if I learned anything new.

de facto v de jure

So why am I up in arms?

It’s because one of the decisions we had to vote on were changes to the Bylaws and Regulations. A three page summary of changes to 45 pages of document.

Now: I will happily admit that I broadly understand the need for the changes, broadly agree with them and would probably had voted in favour had I known about them in advance.

But I didn’t know about them in advance. I could have seen them if I’d visited the AGM 2017 page on the CIPR web site, but then I’d have to know that there were some changes coming up that I might want to look at and have an opinion on.

We deleted the position of Honorary Treasurer with barely word of discussion outside Council or Board and replaced it with the Chair of the Finance Committee – a position approved by Board and Council – on the basis that there’s never been a contested election. Apart from this one, which wasn’t all that long ago and which seems to have forgotten about when the paper was written. You can see my problem.

I can well imagine that the Honorary Treasurer position doesn’t attract a lot of members. I’m only Yorkshire & Lincolnshire’s Group Treasurer because no-one else wanted to do it. But how about trying to attract people instead of just deleting the position?

An open, Chartered Institute

I’ve written before how transparency is the best way to foster engagement with our members, and given that a couple of members raised the point that simply updating references to ‘he’ and ‘him’ to ‘s/he’ and ‘his/her’ didn’t cover those who chose to be neither, a bit of engagement and consultation might not have gone amiss here. But no. Vote the changes through en masse or not at all were the two choices.

The CIPR’s write-up of the AGM event – which doesn’t mention the changes, oddly enough – says that there were over 70 people present. Around one-third of those would be Council / Board members (there was Council that afternoon, around 27 members).

So the changes were passed on the nod by 50 people out of over 8,000 eligible to vote (based on the number of people eligible to vote in last year’s elections).

Get involved

One reason Vote Leave’s campaign worked is that no-one really understands how the European Union works, what it can do for the individual and its range of competencies – even me, and I know more than most, thanks to my studies. With little media coverage in the UK, our perception is of a faceless bureaucracy, decisions made behind closed doors by people we don’t know and rarely see, lacking in oversight or scrutiny. A disengaged electorate. A poor public profile, apart from the occasional big event. We see the logo but don’t know the context, unless you know who to ask and where to look.

Sound familiar?

Yesterday the call was made for the election of next year’s President-Elect. What hope do we have of encouraging more people to stand for election and more people to vote in them when our decision-making process is so opaque and our institutional memory doesn’t even go back to an election three years ago? How do we bring the members with us when even the ones who show an interest don’t know what’s going on?

It’s also not enough to communicate with just the engaged, but with the disengaged and occasionally disagreeing members as well – and even non-members. Which was something else Elliott pointed out, about the failure of Government to engage with the 48%.

The Chartered Institute guides and watches over the profession, and rightly so – but who watches the watchers, if not its members?

Aux armes, citoyens…