Union to change democratic structure: your guide to the proposals

ABERYSTYWTH Students’ Union, as part of an NUS pilot, the Democracy Commission, has been working on creating new, innovative and unconventional models of democratic representation. After consultation with Student Officers, the Trustee Board and student members, four proposals aiming to increase student participation in Aberystwyth Students’ Union and decrease the democratic deficit have been announced.

These proposals will be presented at the Annual General Meeting of the Students’ Union on May 7th.

Whichever model is voted on will replace the current general meeting system, which was defaulted back to after the final Assembly voted to dissolve that structure in February.

General Meetings

get-involved-logoThe first proposal is for a return to General Meetings as a system of representation, which all members of AberSU would be able to attend and participate in. This is a popular model of democracy amongst universities to formulate policy, and has been used in Aberystwyth previously. GMs have the advantage that everyone has a vote and so it is easier for minorities to be heard, however they can be easy to manipulate and because they are one specific meeting they rely on people being able to attend on feeling able to speak up.

Forums and cross-campus voting

The second proposal is for forums and cross-campus voting. This would seek to use online voting to engage all members, rather than one decision-making body. It would use forums for specific areas of AberSU policy to raise issues and propose solutions through debate and consensus, with these recorded and made available online to be accessible to all. An online cross-campus ballot system to pass policy, with all students eligible to vote, is a further part of this proposal. Forums and cross-campus voting are able to more effectively hold officers and committees to account, as well as making it easier to vote on motions and widening student participation. However, they require a lot more administration, are open to manipulation and still rely heavily on attendance at forums.

Surveys and liberation caucuses

The third proposal calls for a move away from large formal meetings such as GMs or Assemblies, to regular surveys and liberation caucuses to gather information on student views. Regular meetings of the Union Executive Committee to decide AberSU policy on the basis of this research would take place. Decision making would be publicised through traditional methods of canvassing students, utilising the various student representatives to help spread the word about what the union is doing and in promoting campaigns and surveys. Executives would hold officers to account. This system would allow for more input from students and would be a positive move away from large general meetings, but removes the right to vote on policy from all but student officers and removes students from the decision-making process unless they are members of a committee or student representatives. It would also mean a significantly lower amount of oversight over officers who would have a lot more power to decide policy.

Online consensus

The fourth proposal is for a system of online consensus, which would not require any attendance at meetings to propose or vote for ideas. Members could submit ideas to AberSU and these could be voted on by students in a petition format, with a specific amount of signatures needed to move to the next stage of the process. Ideas could also be submitted by student officers which would skip the petition stage. Meetings of those students who submitted ideas could also be held, with a focus on discussion and consensus rather than debate. Ideas would be decided by referendum, with certain quotas (perhaps from different socioeconomic groups, for example) being needed to pass rather than a simple 50% +1, in order to encourage consensus. This system removes the traditional combative debating structure of deciding union policy and so opens up the process to many more students, and ensures that nothing can be passed without widespread consensus. However, the removal of traditional debate could be seen as the removal of analysis of ideas, and the quote system could lead to a proposal which has a majority vote of over 50% not being passed.

Conclusions?

The first and third proposals – GMs and surveys – in particular are reasonably common, and so variations can be made according to other best practice examples. The second proposal – the forum model – on the other hand, is much more innovative and is not practiced by many organisations. These proposals are not, however, the only possibilities and the Students’ Union would like to hear from anyone who has an alternative idea. The Officer Team has still to agree on which model to present to the Annual General Meeting, who will then vote on whether to accept the proposed model or to use something different.

Any questions about this should be addressed to [email protected]