Monday, February 6, 2012

Being accountable

Ninth in a series of posts about the January UUA Board meeting

A basic tenet of our governance is that if the board does not speak with one voice, the board has not spoken. "One voice" is not consensus, but rather relies on our democratic principle: we vote.

And so we voted to send the President's Ends Monitoring Report back to the staff for additional work. Those of us who had seen all three iterations agreed this was the best attempt yet: there was were clear operational definitions and defined means of measurement. Essentially the staff said progress toward the UUA goals would be measured annually by the change in how a sample of Unitarian Universalists perceived we were doing. "People develop a personal spiritual practice" would be measured by asking the sample if they had one (on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being highest, 56% were a 4 or 5), or "Our congregations are open and inclusive in their outreach and welcome" by asking the sample if they thought their congregations were (2/3 labeled it a 5). The President/staff found itself in "non-compliance" because this established a single data point for each end/goal, rather than showing progress over time.

Despite obvious problems with the sample*, I found the data fascinating. Should we rejoice, for example, that less than 2% of UUs find their congregations NOT welcoming (a 1 or 2), or are we asking the wrong people? How about 2/3 giving their congregations high marks (4 or 5) for being "intentionally multi-generational"? It substantiated things many of us know: about a third have a "strong relationship" with other congregations (4 or 5), a third really engage (4 or 5) with issues of oppression and privilege, and a third have "high expectations of their members" (4 or 5).

It was not enough for most board members. We are looking for a way to say definitively to our congregations "here is proof of the difference being made by the Association". These kinds of high-level surveys are not meant to give definitive answers, but rather indicate where further analysis is needed, particularly over time. Is this monitoring report significant progress towards being able to do that, or the third year of something we are unable to take back confidently? Is the staff really using the ends to generate strategies going forward, or force-fitting the campaign platform into enough of them to attempt to satisfy the board?

Who sets the vision?

I think members of the staff are genuinely trying to shift to the new paradigm and are having genuine difficulty doing so, not because they are unwilling or incapable, but because what we are attempting to do something that has never been done before. The shift showed up big time in some of the limitations policies reviewed by the board -- they were superb, and sailed through on the consent agenda. They addressed, not "here is what we did" so that board members used their own experience on whether or not that was enough, but "here is our standard for knowing what we did worked, why that standard is reasonable, and the data that proves our compliance." The shift difficulties are exacerbated by the board: we know what we don't want, but do not have a clearly articulated sense of what we do want. Four of us actually found the report "in compliance" initially even though the staff said it wasn't.

It is a new world to us too.

*The sample was pulled from the email database of 121,000 UUWorld recipients. Over 40% of the respondents were paid staff -- 5% were under the age of 34. Though I suspect the age ranges really do represent our congregations (at least they do in the Bay Area), the paid staff ratio suggested that the sample would not accurately mirror the universe of Unitarian Universalists.

2 comments: said...

A point of clarification about the source of the survey data: The random sample of 3,200 individuals was pulled from the 28,000 UU World subscribers for whom the UUA also has an email address. UU World doesn't collect members' email addresses, so most of the 121,000 subscribers cannot be surveyed via email. The UUA does collect email addresses through other means, which is where those 28,000 email addresses came from.

Chris Walton
Editor, UU World

Christine Robinson said...

such disrespectful and demoralizing language you use for what you seem to think are the sincere attempts of the staff to figure out how to measure such intangible goals. This is not the way I want to be treated or the way I treat the people who work for and with me.