Thursday, October 29, 2009

UUSC Values in responding to humanitarian crises

Fifth in a series about the October 2009 UUA Board Meeting. Today's guest post is by Nancy Bartlett, Trustee from the Mid-South District, who previously served on the board of the UU Service Committee. The presentation she refers to makes one of the best cases I have ever seen on why we should be giving to the UU Service Committee.

UUSC report as a demonstration of how we can live out our AR/AO/MC values in world

Our denomination‘s commitment to anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multi-culturalism (“AR/AO/MC”) permeates all of our work, from programs to policies to process observations at our meetings. This commitment became even more tangible on Saturday afternoon when we saw how strongly our partnerships with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee reflect our AR/AO/MC values. Atema Eclai, UUSC Director of Programs, and Martha Thompson, UUSC Rights in Humanitarian Crises Program Manager, presented an evaluation of our joint UUA-UUSC responses to humanitarian crises resulting from the 2004 tsunami in Asia and Africa, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2005 Pakistan and Kashmir India earthquake. While our members generously contributed to these efforts, 5.5 million dollars, the most striking result was the way the money was used. The focus was marginalized groups, i.e., groups who traditionally are left out of relief due to their race, class and gender. Our goal in working with these groups was to help them access aid in ways that empowered them and to support them in addressing the inequalities they face. Examples of such groups included Muslim widows in Sri Lanka, Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, Dalits in India, and people from the 9th ward in New Orleans.

UUSC’s programs use the Eye to Eye partnership model, which is founded on principles of equality. They form equitable relationships, listening to the people who need assistance and analyzing together what is working. This Eye to Eye partnership model, coupled with UUSC’s expertise in identifying marginalized groups and strategies for their empowerment, creates a unique niche for us in humanitarian crisis response. Disaster response requires immediate action and the report includes acknowledgement of the challenges we have faced and lessons learned, such as the need for consultants on the ground, better reporting systems, and improved communication with donors and constituents. Future joint UUA-UUSC disaster responses will require improved staff coordination structures and rapid communication about fund dispersal. For all the challenges, the work is real and the need is great, particularly for those groups who so often remain invisible to the television cameras and traditional aid organizations. By identifying and supporting these people, we cry out against racism and oppression and give substance to the values we profess.

Next post: Role of the District Trustee

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Youth Leadership

Fourth in a series of posts about the October 2009 UUA Board meeting

I first wrote about youth ministry on this blog in May of 2008, detailing the Summit on Youth Ministry in July of 2007 and the decision to dismantle the current continental youth organization known as YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists). Unfortunately, despite many good intentions and a number of planning meetings, there is no national structure that has taken its place.

Do we need one? UUA President Peter Morales made a good point at the last board meeting the youth ministry cannot be "done" effectively by the UUA -- it requires strong commitment and engagement at the congregation level, as laid out in the Responsive Resolution on Youth at GA 2008. What I am realizing is that "youth ministry" and "youth leadership" are not the same thing. Though the Board has a strong interest in both, its immediate interest in "youth leadership" is even keener -- where do we provide the kind of training and experience that ensures the voice of our youth is "at the table" in the UUA Board room, and the various committees appointed by Board and staff, with the level of expertise and grace shown by Nick Allen and Joe Gayeski, respectively our current Youth Trustee at Large and Youth Observer? Nick reminds us that we are losing an entire generation of youth as the planning begins again with a new administration.

The Board is currently wading its way through how we hold the President and his staff accountable for their role in addressing this, versus what the Board needs to address through policy. This will be a major agenda item in January, where the Board will take into consideration the following information provided by staff:
  • Chronology about what happened from 2004 on
  • Where are we now on District and National Youth Leadership?
  • Administration’s vision
  • What are the models of youth leadership in other denominations?


  • Text of Responsive Resolution on Youth (from GA 2008)
  • Consultation to and with Youth
  • Mosaic Report
Each board trustee will also be contacting youth leadership in their own districts.

What are our values around youth leadership? How should this be reflected in policy?

Next post: Guest post on the UUSC "lens" by Nancy Barlett, Mid-South District Trustee

Thursday, October 22, 2009

So many policies, so little time....

Third in a series of posts about the October 2009 UUA Board meeting

The monitoring process can seem daunting. My quick count of total policies in the UUA Governance manual was 20 "Ends" plus nearly 130 executive limitations. The high number of limitations is tied to our desire – two years ago – to not leave anything out and started with a compilation of our existing policies. A somewhat more educated Board is realizing the wisdom of establishing policy for only those items we think we as a board need to monitor, and will be reconsidering the need for some of our policies in that light.

And lest we think the Board is off the hook, we have nearly 70 policies on our own self-governance, not counting the multiplicity of alphabetical sub-points. As painful as that may seem, being explicit about these kinds of things is part of the power of Policy Governance: the Board also monitors itself. It forces us to keep asking ourselves questions about how well we are meeting our own criteria. According to The Policy Governance Field Guide, one of the top reasons for Boards "failing" at Policy Governance is the failure to monitor itself, along with a failure to adequately train new board members.

Next post: Linking with our Sources of Authority and Accountability

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How do you eat an elephant?

Second in a series of posts about the October 2009 UUA Board meeting

I spent nearly five years creating monitoring reports as part of the Coordinating (Executive) Team for my home congregation, so one would think I knew a lot about how to write monitoring reports.

I didn’t.

What the UUA Board and staff are learning (together) is a very different methodology that I find really exciting. It has tremendous potential for providing the kind of clarity and accountability promised by Policy Governance(R), the Carver model that has been adopted by the UUA Board, over half of our Districts, and scores of congregations. This methodology is also a relatively new development in the discipline of “Carver-land”, so few of us in Districts or congregations are actually doing it this way.

This approach to monitoring reports has four components: an interpretation by the President of what a particular end or executive limitation means, the rationale for why that interpretation is reasonable, how he intends to measure progress on whatever he has identified, and then the results of that measurement. The “ahas” for me were the realizations that a) “less is more” – you really do not need long reports, b) there is a good reason that the discipline around structure and format is a key part of the Carver model, and c) a reasonable interpretation could potentially be the steps that one takes to even get started on something.

Which leads me to the elephant. I am constantly reminded of a joke from my grade school days that starts with the question “how do you eat an elephant?”. This is probably because I often worked on projects over the ensuing decades that attempted to do so (symbolically). So what if the “end” was to eat an elephant? Forgetting beneficiaries for a moment (for all the PG junkies), it might be totally appropriate to point out that we have to catch one first and prepare it in a way that makes it edible before we can even start eating. If the President provided an interpretation that reminded us we really didn’t have an elephant yet, laid out the plans for trapping, with some supporting documentation on the prevalence of elephants and trapping experience, and a timeline that addressed roasting and eating, I would be highly likely as a board member to accept the interpretation and rationale as reasonable – and the report as compliant even though not a single bite was taken. The next year I am going to want to know how he is progressing on the plan he has laid out.

This is an important point, since presumably we do not yet have systems in place to measure many of the outcomes we want to make as an Association. I would expect our creative staff in the short term can come up with surrogate measurements that give a good sense of direction when an exact measurement is not possible. I also think there is a real market out there for some consultant to come up with a system of surrogate measures that congregations under policy governance can easily incorporate and use as part of their monitoring. I would love comments from any of you who have developed such measures.

And why are we doing this again? So that we (the Board) can be accountable to our member congregations and other "sources of authority and accountability" for progress toward the outcomes they worked with us over the past few years to establish.

And why was the elephant in the refrigerator?????

Next post: So many policies, so little time...

October 2009 Board Meeting

First in a series of posts about the October 2009 UUA Board meeting

After several years of preparation, October was to be the “real” beginning of a new way of working with the President : a different way of holding him accountable, and a different way of the Board doing its own work.

It was. Aided by our Policy Governance(R) consultant Sue Stratton-Radwan, whose observations of our occasional floundering came at just the right time, it was an interesting preview of how we will operate into the future. Over the next few weeks I will be posting about how this change "feels”, along with posts about youth leadership, the role of the UUA trustees on their district boards, the move of the UUA Board out of Boston for their next meeting, and the AR/AO/MC “lens” of one of our partners that is making a real difference in lives around the world.

Next post: How do you eat an elephant?