Saturday, October 1, 2016

The IEEE Constitution amendment 2016 : As I see it

I am an IEEE grass root volunteer closing on my 9th year of IEEE membership. In this time period, I have been a student, young professional, graduate student as well as a professional member of IEEE. I am a member of both PES and IAS societies and have been a member of sections in Region 8 as well as Region 10. I have been a member of the Excoms of PES as well as section and have served as section YP chair, SAC and also as webmaster. This is because, I am a passionate believer in IEEE and the immense role that IEEE can play in helping overcome the ever increasing challenges thrust upon humanity. This constitution amendment is therefore a very important to me and I believe it is my responsibility to convey my views to the leadership as well as my fellow grass root members on the proposed amendment.
There is a huge archive running to 1995 (IEEEin2030) relating to restructuring of IEEE. I read a few of them and got a basic idea of what they are trying to achieve. My guess is that this amendment will not be passed because the BoDs approach has been to bull doze the amendment by appealing to the membership directly by bypassing the leadership of the IEEE’s OUs. The BoD requests that we vote for because it is proposed by them. However they have not understood that there is one thing that engineers universally despise, that is to be told that this is the best for you because we say so. The correct approach would be to pose us with the question, and ask us to come up with solutions. Now everyone will come up with answers but engineers are smart enough to recognize the best options, even if it is proposed by others. This surprising miscalculation points out to the fact that the top leadership has become way too disconnected with the grass root membership, who provide the engine and the fuel to drive IEEE.  

I have corresponded with our top leaders, Karen and Barry, and after much deliberation I have decided to vote against the amendments for the below reasons. Karen was kind enough to provide me a link to the IEEE2030 archive as well as to provide a detailed response to my questions. Kudos to her!

The amendment proposes to completely change the top level structure of the organization in a break or make approach

I do not understand why the proposed amendments can’t be integrated to the constitution a single (small) step at a time. This amendment proposes to completely change the system yet there is no case study done to understand the how a similar volunteer driven organization will respond to such drastic changes.
So for a first step we could choose the issue of misrepresentation of certain regions, (we could easily isolate this issue first), find a solution, and do the needful to solve it. Depending on the success of this, we could move to other issues. For example, if region 8 or 10 needs more representation, we could have a weighed approach to voting (BoD) or create new regions.
On the other hand, what if this change breaks IEEE? We have a system that is working and thriving compared to other similar volunteer organizations like IET. Why do we need to change the system (turn it upside down) and take such a huge risk when we are the clear leaders and light years ahead of our potential competitors?

Conflict of interest is a key underlying issue addressed by this amendment 

If the amendment goes through, the BoD will be voted by 100% membership votes. According to the proposers (BoD 2015), this helps IEEE to pursue a strategic direction that is not having any conflicts of interests. If we are to accept that the current conflicts of interests are detrimental to the organization, then they need to provide us with specific instances and examples where this had occurred in the past. In any case, I do not understand how the proposed BoD will not have conflicts of interest. The voters will vote based on their interest and the elected directors will be obliged to sponsor these interests. Though there will not be clear cut boundaries in the interests, still I am not satisfied with the proposed solution. The other side of the coin is that we will move completely from a state like representation in the BoD to a federal like representation.

In any case, as a global organization, different groups will have different interests. Be it a company, a country or a volunteer organization, there will be various people with different personal interests, yet it is the responsibility of the leaders to bring them towards a common platform. In fact that is how I measure the success of a leader. So for this I think we are medicating the wrong place. IEEE leadership should be smart and strong enough to channel all these towards our mission. In my opinion, we are trying to treat a broken foot by operating the hand!
In reality BoD should have fairer representation of the grass root membership, but the structure of representation should not change. I reality, this is how IEEE leadership mechanism operate;. I provide my interests to my section/local society and they provide that to the region and then the region/society representation conveys to the BoD. However it is very rare that a normal member gets to know about even one of the members of IEEE who are director material! And even assuming that I vote for a person with a great resume (which shows that he is dedicated towards IEEE goals and has great strategy skills), he will never have any responsibility towards me, unlike in the current scenario where if the region/society director acts out of order we can take action. He has direct responsibility to us. In any case it puzzles me to understand, what will motivate a director candidate to nominate him/herself in the proposed system.

Should IEEE be run as a business or a volunteer run organization?

 The success of IEEE in my view is because of it being a volunteer run organization. Be it IEEExtreme, region conferences, student activities all are created by volunteers and these amazing volunteers are the ones who made IEEE the leader it is today. Further, it is important to compare IEEE with a similar organization like IET. Why are we so far ahead of them? The answer is our student, women and young professional volunteers. They are people who came up with projects from IEEExtreme to MadC. They are the people who make IEEE colorful and drive the humanitarian efforts forward. Thus IEEE should be run by volunteers and we should not have any paid employees as members in any of our boards.

My concerns

1.       The BoD has being very aggressively promoting the amendments using IEEE resources where as the opposers have not had the same exposure. This kind of amendment should be controlled by an independent committee to ensure that the members both proposing and opposing gets equal exposure.
2.       Adding the ED as a non-voting member – Why should this be done? It should be justified by showing examples where the projects were negatively affected by his role been limited to an observer.
3.       Which is the “similar organization” that the investigation extrapolates to IEEE?
4.       Why is there so little discussion about the amendment? Why is the process done in such a fast paced manner? Why is there so few discussion regarding the amendment when we have a membership of over 400,000 professionals. Do members fear to voice dissent?
5.       No other alternatives have been explored by the proposers to address the short comings that this amendment is targeting. So it is natural that I ask, are there easier ways to do it?
6.       IEEE PES and many societies have opposed the amendment. Rather than paying heed to their concerns and wooing them over, the BoD has taken a inflexible stand. This might open a schism in the organization for one and even thinking of going for a vote in such circumstance is a questionable choice.
Quote -  “The bottom line is that the PES Governing Board is concerned that the constitution changes and the proposed governance models will do little to fix the problems of IEEE as we see them.” – has the BoD approached them and tried to negotiate and find solutions to the legitimate questions they pose? Quote -  “There’s a great likelihood that problems will get worse. With the three governance bodies instead of the one current BOD, it’s a given that IEEE overheads will rise even more, something that IEEE cannot tolerate. In summary, we cannot see how three governing bodies is a better alternative to solve the current problems and how allowing the BOD to make decisions on the structure of IEEE without membership approval will improve transparency.”

Our way forward

May be the concerns of BoD are real and may be not, yet I do not agree with the approach that they are using to bring about the changes. We need to have broader, inclusive and in-depth discussions and in any case the changes to the constitution should be done small step at a time (at each step, the response should be tested and depending on the response, the next amendment should be decided on). All OU’s should agree to the final document before bringing it to the membership for a vote. Even if the vote might be won, the disharmony that it will create  in the organization is not a price worth paying. That is because the strength of IEEE is in its unity! We all seek a panacea, but real problems have real solutions, which take time, patience, leadership and is also very grueling process. There are no any short cuts that provide instantaneous relief from all ills!

I only saw the seriousness of amendment after receiving the ballot. Therefore, I assume that most of the volunteers and members have no idea of what is happening. We need to be inclusive in this discussion and get all the OUs aboard and take small steps forward to provide solutions acceptable to all of us. In principle, I cannot vote for an amendment that my society affiliation asks me not to even if that amendment might be acceptable to me (This time it is not).

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