Think Forward BC NDP
September 16, 2009 (draft #3)
This is the companion document to the Think Forward BC NDP Principles Document.
The purpose of the work plan document is to introduce a specific set of projects and initiatives, in a variety of areas, which collectively deliver on the goals outlined in the principles document. Overarching all of these projects and initiatives are the core ideas introduced in the principles document: democracy, transparency, and accountability.
Openness, Innovation, Collaboration
“We must empower members and non-members…Treating members like donors who merely allow “professionals” to do the work of democracy is bad for democracy.”
Action #1: Open Source Policy Generation
Currently the policy generation process is a relatively closed process centred around conventions where members spend a couple of days attempting to generative substantive policy often based upon only several prior weeks of thought. Further debate and deliberation is untenable at these conventions due to time restraints, and collaboration with experts on specific policy areas is impossible. As a result, policies that are adopted are very often ill-conceived, poorly thought out, lack much supporting evidence or theory, and are easy to dismiss in favour of a more centralized policy generation process.
The BC NDP should immediately move to adopt an open policy development process that is accessible to any member who wishes to be involved. The policy process will be ongoing and iterative, with many opportunities for collaboration and input at various stages of development. Any model adopted should include various points of access including online collaborative methods (such as forums or wikis), surveys (both online and off), face to face meetings, email, and regional and local conferences. All of these models should include an iterative focus that involves collaboration and the benefit of input from ‘experts’ in the field (such as progressive economic groups, credit unions, environmental experts, the CCPA, etc).
Policy could be ranked ahead of convention by members of the community itself, rather than an opaque resolutions committee, and the top resolutions could be made available for more detailed discussion during convention. Since the ideas may have had many months of work and collaboration attached to them, the people or experts that worked on the policy could inform any discourse at convention. This would make for a much more focused and rewarding discussion.
While only BC NDP members would be able to propose and collaboratively work on policy, the overall development process would be openly viewable by anyone, allowing for an unprecedented level of transparency and openness.
This process would also give new life to the regional policy conferences that have in recent years become less and less about policy generation and have become more and more controlled. Local members can meet to discuss pending policy brought forward from other points of access, or propose new policy. Experts could meet with regional policy attendees (as well as the central provincial party) to help further strengthen debate and understanding of proposed policy initiatives.
This incredibly open and iterative policy process would not only generate thoughtful, intelligently informed policy, but also afford a greater level of accountability for members. Since the policy process was exceedingly transparent, elected leaders could be held accountable for decisions made that contravened established policy much easier than can be done today.
This open-sourced process could be facilitated and moderated through the existing committee structure (which must be renewed) or implemented as a separate, complimentary process.
Action #2: Thoughtful Policy at Convention
Bi-annual conventions are and will continue to be an important part of policy generation for the party. However, too much of the time, delegates are made to feel that they have little – or even no – control over the process.
Resolutions should be available on the website as early as possible for delegates to peruse prior to convention. The same goes for “cheat sheets” on plenary procedure which should be available well in advance of convention. During convention, officers should be available for more in-depth questions that ushers may not be able to answer.
New plenary procedures should also be adopted that would allow amendments from the floor and a possibility for extended debate while balancing concerns over time constraints. Finally, resolution prioritization must be re-imagined so as to allow a more open flow of information.
Action #3: Streamlining Existing Policy
The collection of BC NDP policy as it is today is a confusing mix of resolutions adopted at conventions and provincial councils that date back to 1987. Many policy items are completely outdated or are in need of updating to reflect current realities. While a searchable database of historical policy positions is a valuable tool, the current database should be explicitly characterized as a database of past policies that may not necessarily reflect current party policy or direction.
Going forward, policy that speaks to current issues should be more prominent than the historical database and be separated from current resolutions that do not contain actionable items, are less specific, or that do not deal with major government policy.
A more current list of action-oriented policy would remain, and this would constitute core principles that inform party direction and any election platform. This core list could then be made subject to regular review in a way that was less burdened. Policies could be moved to the historical database if they were deemed less relevant at a future stage, without needing to un-adopt them through a potentially contentious convention-based process.
Action #4: Making Our Policy Accessible
Currently, party policy resides on the “Activist” section of the website which is protected behind a password available to only select BC NDP members. Upon a clean up of our policy database, there is no reason for a party that values engagement and transparency to restrict access to its policy.
An organized and relevant list of all policy should be made publicly available to anyone directly on the BC NDP website. Such a move would further help to empower members and provide accountability to leaders and decision makers within the central party structure. It would also showcase to all British Columbians our commitment to transparency.
Action #5: Encouraging Innovation and Change
The party will appoint a “Change Officer” as part of an “Innovation Committee” to act as a liaison between the members and caucus/staff. This “Change Officer” will be available to facilitate feedback from grassroots members to other decision makers within the party and will engage in a formal report-back process to ensure accountability.
Capacity Building and Engagement at the Constituency Level and Beyond
“We must develop our members’ strengths and capacities to make a difference in our communities and show all citizens that the NDP is the party to promote people’s interests.”
Action #1: Training Community Organisers
The BC NDP needs to build and strengthen its relationship with other community-based organisations working on real community issues and taking a leadership role in bringing together community organisations with similar concerns
The BC NDP should provide on at least an annual basis a training program of at least one full day in duration for people seeking training in community outreach, community development, and community liaison.
The “toolbox” items in the activist section of the website are useful for just this type of training and should be expanded upon. One possibility, for example, could be a toolbox on how to organize a “town hall” meeting at the constituency level.
“More regular communication as well as formal and informal relationships need to take place from caucus and the executive to provincial councils, constituencies and members to increase transparency and accountability.”
Action #1: Reveal the Decision Makers
Currently, a list of executive members and positions is not publicly available, even for NDP members. No such list exists on the BC NDP website, nor is it freely provided upon request. The individuals who occupy these positions should do so publicly, and with a certain measure of accountability.
The BC NDP should provide a page on their website containing the list of executive members and their roles, as well as other lists such as constituency associations and their presidents as well as committees and their members. These members should have a generic bcndp.ca email address that can be used by members to get into contact with them and provide feedback or thoughts.
Also needed is a public flow-chart, explaining to regular members the decision making processes between staff, elected representatives, and members at caucus, the leader’s office, convention and the provincial party. It could include a section on “how to get involved as a member.”
Action #2: Engaging and Effective Communications
Currently communications to members have largely focused around fundraising drives. As a result, members have been relegated to little more than sources of revenue. This creates disengagement and apathy, and also wastes an opportunity to engage with members in a meaningful way as well as harness grassroots talent.
While party to member communications represents a key fundraising source for a party that must deal with critical expenses, interaction with members by the party should be re-evaluated and inject more of a focus on relationship building at the heart of all new communications initiatives.
“All elements of the party need to be grounded in party policies developed by convention. Lower voter turnout and our struggle with volunteer recruitment and retention reflect both our actions drifting away from our beliefs and the lack of innovation for new members to get excited about.”
Action #1: Accountability
Elected representatives, as well as staff, must accountable for decisions made with regard to the open-source and convention process, while taking into account the communications concerns and sensitivities of a fast-paced professional political party. There must be a private, formal review process for members to give feedback.
Action #2: Reflecting our constituencies
NDP MLA’s should be required to hold “town hall meetings” with their constituents at least three times a year and report that info to the constituency association and to caucus.
Thank you for your commitment to progressive change,
Vancouver-Kensington Constituency Executive