Some possible options

There are a number of possible options for the Eastercon, depending on whether we want a top-down governance approach, a bottom-up support approach or a minimal approach. At present, these are some (very broad) options that I’ve identified:

  • Top down
    • Incorporate Eastercon as a limited company (either by shares or by guarantee) and mandate use of company services by any future Eastercon committee
    • Incorporate Eastercon as a charitable incorporated organisation or charitable company (with limited liability) and mandate/encourage use of its services by any future Eastercon committee.
    • Set up Eastercon as an unincorporated association or trust (with trustees responsible for the organisation – note that they then can’t enter into contracts) with responsibility for ensuring the con is held and possibly providing other services. I think this is the closest UK equivalent to WSFS (which is an unincorporated literary society)
    • Place the Eastercon under the governance of the BSFA (or a similar existing group) and hope they take a hands-off approach (as the Brum Group does with Novacon)
  • Bottom up
    • Create a purely voluntary conrunning support group (e.g. like the LFF does for fan charities) to provide support and services to Eastercons (and others)
    • Create a mutual aid society/association (possibly in the form of either a charitable company or unincorporated association) to provide support and services to con committees that join the society, recommending that all Eastercons join and sign up to a common code
    • Create a profit-making business to supply services to conventions that are prepared to pay for them
  • Minimal
    • No change (you always have to consider the ‘no change’ option)
    • A concerted, but informal, effort simply to produce better documentation of options for committees

There’s an interesting web page at https://www.gov.uk/charity-types-how-to-choose-a-structure on the different possible structures for a charitable organisation. However this doesn’t help with the question of whether we’re looking at a governing body or a support body, it also doesn’t help with thing like questions of scope.

If you can think of any other alternatives, please let me know in the comments.

First Steps

What I’m thinking of doing is running a poll using something like SurveyMonkey to determine what the problems are and how people think we can solve them. Based on the session at Eastercon, the commonest issues that people have around our current (lack of) organisation seemed to be:

  • Credit history
    • A continuing organisation might improve our relationship with banks
    • It might make it easier to deal with suppliers
  • Payments
    • We would have a continuing history of business and not appear like a scam
    • We could avoid the current problem with new conventions gearing up to take payments
    • Avoid problems with PayPal
    • Avoid problems with credit card transactions
    • We could adopt more recent payment technology
    • We could pay suppliers more easily
  • Storage
    • We could keep all the Eastercon physical assets in one place
    • We could avoid keeping stuff in people’s garages
    • Greater ease of transport to/from conventions
  • Insurance
    • Easier to get insurance when you are a continuing organisation
    • Insurance costs now very high and might be reduced if we can show a history of compliance
  • Information
    • Make it easier to exchange information/experience between conventions
    • Reduce Data Protection issues
    • Share legal advice
    • Common approach to disability issues
    • Common approach to Code of Conduct
  • Negotiation
    • Get better deals from hotels
    • Share knowledge of contracts
    • Better information on how conventions did – so can get better prices for e.g. beer
  • Governance
    • Make it harder to change some things (what?)
    • Hold web addresses
    • Hold trademarks
    • Prevent possible commercial hijacking

If you have any other things that you see as being problems, please mention them in the comments.

Some initial thoughts

There has been a great deal of discussion over possible ways of changing the Eastercon. We could turn the convention into a limited company, into a charitable business, into a non-profit, into a WSFS clone. Lots of people have lots of different ideas and have been pushing their favoured option. One or more of them may even be right that their option is the best thing for Eastercon. However, in each case we seem to have started from the position that we should consider a particular solution.

What we don’t seem to be doing is considering what our problems are, what we want to change and where we want to end up. If we don’t do this, we are very likely to suffer some unintended consequences and possibly end up with a situation we really don’t want to be in.

In business, when we define a strategy for a company, we consider the nature of the organisation, its values and its vision of where it wants to be. Well, in theory anyway. Lots of businesses just plough ahead, much like Eastercon, and just end up at some random place. Others do lots of planning and still fail to hit their target. But it’s generally worth doing this bit of initial information-gathering, rather than just assuming we know exactly what’s wrong and trying to fix it.

What I’m proposing is a bit of research. We should talk to con chairs, talk to people in WSFS, charities, other organisations. We should carry out polls of convention members both recent and longstanding – is what they want compatible with what we want? We should also pull together some of the fannish background information from historians and people who were present during particularly trying episodes in our shared history. We probably also need to pull together a definitive list of the problems we are trying to deal with, the things we want to keep about the Eastercon and the things we are prepared to give up. We ought to look at our values and make sure we’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.

The Future of Eastercons

This site came out of a panel (The Future of Eastercons) at Dysprosium, the 2015 Eastercon. We were asked to look at some of the problems of running Eastercon, the British National Science Fiction Convention,  and whether or not radical solutions such as incorporation were required to support the convention. The panel agreed to go away and look at the problem, reporting back at the 2016 Eastercon.