I wouldn’t start from here

This is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else in the group.

Over the years, numerous people have proposed changing the way that Eastercon is organised. About twenty years ago, Tim Illingworth and a few others proposed setting Eastercon up in much the same way as Worldcon, so that it would be the annual convention of an unincorporated literary society. This would mean having an annual business meeting at the convention and a minimal amount of bureaucracy running it. Nobody could really see the benefit of this model, and there was always the awful spectacle of the Worldcon business meeting to deter those who felt that there might be advantages in having some sort of governance structure behind Eastercon. There was the movement to try and establish an Eastercon Charter. That also failed. At various times people have suggested that Eastercon should actually be a limited company, or maybe a charity, and that this would solve various problems to do with taxes, legal obligations or reputation. Now we’re having another look. The pressures have become a little more noticeable, and the world is a little less forgiving of people who don’t really want to be organised.

As I see it, we need to answer three questions:

1. Do we need a continuing organisation to help run Eastercon?
2. If yes, does this organisation need to own the Eastercon?
3. How do we get there from here? How do we manage the transition?

Obviously, there are a number of options available to us, if we decide that we need to change. If we need a continuing organisation, but not one that controls the governance of Eastercon, it is relatively easy. We can restrict ourselves to wikis, mailing lists and support organisations that exist alongside, in parallel with Eastercon but not changing its nature. If we we need an organisation that actually owns the Eastercon, we can look at limited companies, charities, community management organisations or a number of other options. However, the big question, and the one that has never been answered satisfactorily in the past is the third one.

Every time in the past, when the question of changing the basis on which Eastercon is organised has come up, somebody has always said “how are you going to get everyone to agree to this?” There haven’t been any satisfactory answers to date and I’m not sure that there is a perfect answer. There are some possibilities, but mostly they raise other, even scarier questions. The main problem here is one of legitimacy. If I (or anybody else) were to propose turning Eastercon into a limited company, lots of people would immediately start complaining that they didn’t agree, that they hadn’t been consulted and that they were philosophically opposed to doing any such thing. In fact quite a number of people have already raised their voices and we haven’t actually proposed doing anything. Personally, I think this is a good thing. The fact that people have strong views about the Eastercon shows that it is alive, that it matters to a large number of people involved in it. If nobody cared, that would be a bad sign.

So, the issue at hand is to agree on a way in which a group of people can propose a change to the way Eastercon is run, and have it ratified in such a way that everyone (or nearly everyone) is happy with the outcome and is prepared to accept the change. This is going to be very, very difficult.

Just to recap, every Eastercon committee is completely separate from every other Eastercon committee. Over the years we have negotiated a couple of interfaces, such as Convention N allowing Convention N+1 to use its mailing list once for the purpose of sending out PR1. Similarly, every convention accepts that is its responsibility to run the bidding session. Incidentally, as far as I aware, the only successful change to our unwritten constitution was the change from one-year bidding to two-year bidding. As with most Eastercon traditions, this took hold by a couple of committees deciding it would be a good thing, asking for feedback at the bidding session and then enforcing it over a couple of years. After 3 years it was a tradition and nobody even thought of changing it.

So, that’s one option. We could hold a vote at the business meeting one Eastercon. One year, Pat McMurray came to the business meeting with a proposal that we should enter into a 5-year contract with Hilton, we turned him down, partly because we felt that we could not bind five years of Eastercon committees to a contract, and partly because it was felt that it wasn’t a very good deal from the point of view of Eastercons in general. What if we’d agreed to the contract and then, three years later, a committee decided they didn’t want to use Hilton? There was no corporate body to sign the contract, no way to bind the subsequent committees to its terms. If we were to hold a vote at Eastercon, let’s say we made the business meeting into a plenary session with every convention member present, and we voted, would that vote be binding on those members who weren’t present, people hadn’t joined that year’s convention or people who were there and voted against? Unfortunately, the answer is no. We can only make decisions for ourselves and for people who agree to be bound by the terms of those decisions.

What we could do is publicise in advance that we were going to make such a decision, get agreements from all current Eastercon committees and bids that they would accept the decision, maybe allow proxy votes from anyone who had been to an Eastercon in the last ten years. Would the decision be unanimous? No. If we decided for incorporation, what would those people on the losing side do? Start up their own Eastercon? What degree of wastage, of people forced out of Eastercon fandom would we be prepared to accept? How about 1%? That’s 10 to 12 people who decide that they don’t want to take part in the new Eastercon. That might be acceptable. How about 10%? That’s over hundred people committed to the existence of the traditional Eastercon. Would we require a better than 90% vote in favour of a change before we could stomach it?

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2 thoughts on “I wouldn’t start from here

  1. I had completely forgotten the Hilton thing, but I think it was more tentative than an actual proposal. But I think now that’s an extra reason why some form of continuity would be useful, to enable multiple year contracts, if we want to.

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