Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Goodnight, and Good Luck

Last in a series of posts about the Unitarian Universalist Association Board Meetings

"Goodnight, and good luck" was Edward Murrow's signature sign-off throughout his 1950s television program, and the title of a 2005 movie about Murrow's run-in with Joseph McCarthy.  According to Wikipedia, "It focuses on the theme of media responsibility, and also addresses what occurs when the media offer a voice of dissent from government policy".

That is a little of what my blog tried to do.  Rather than just report out what happened, I tried to give some insight into the thinking, process, and background of the board's actions, whether or not I agreed with our outcomes.  Most of the time I did agree, and when I did not, I was mindful of the "one voice" policy:  I wasn't muzzled, but I did have a responsibility to share the logic behind the decision.  Some posts got a handful of views -- others quite a bit more.  Here were some of the most popular:

The decision on Independent Affiliates was made before I joined the board, but I probably got more feedback on that than any other topic.  This post, with guest Gini Courter, gives the lo-o-o-ng background behind the decision. 

Few people seem to recall any information on the Bay Area marketing campaign in 2007 -- you would have found it here. 

I have no idea why this one about my "elevator speech" went "viral" or this one about the April 2009 board packet.  More understandable is the one about wearing yellow shirts.

Governance was a hot topic -- including the post that asked "Do the UUA's ends violate congregational polity?", reducing the size of the board, writing ends, or this one about hiring and firing the President.   I am convinced that this one about the role of the congregational president got a thousand hits because it included the word "alligator".  And how about revoking the Fifth Principle?

Some posts reported out on work I led or partnered in, such as the Healthy Relationships conversations with congregations, Hearing Voices, or Gathered Here, led by Amanda Trosten-Bloom.

My favorite?  Singing hymns, about the 2011 virtual delegate trial, probably because I was instrumental in making it happen.

Signing off after six years...  goodnight, and good luck.   

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Coming to Louisville?

Fourth in a series of posts about the April UUA Board meeting

Saturday afternoon of the Board meeting found several of us standing awkwardly in front of a camera, extolling the virtues of GA 2013 in Louisville.  I appear with Elizabeth Greene, trustee from the Pacific Northwest, and Tom Loughrey, Pacific Southwest in a somewhat lighthearted two minutes that only took two takes.  Those of you who know me will get the joke.  Some of the others include the Youth and Young Adults on the board, the two moderator candidates, and Gini being... Gini.

Why should you come?  Louisville was chosen because of the central location in terms of population -- it is accessible by car for a significant share of Unitarian Universalists, albeit a bit far from California (2300 miles and 34 hours according to Mapquest).  The focus on covenant is more than a theme for the assembly -- we will be having important discussions about who we are as a faith, and whether or not the only way to be counted as a Unitarian Universalist is to join a congregation.  We will also be electing a new moderator -- someone who clearly impacts the tone of many General Assemblies to come. 

The next best thing to being there is to be an offsite delegate -- you can represent your congregation from anywhere in the world, with a telephone line and a high speed internet connection.  Offsite registration is open until June 7. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The $100,000 Question

Third in a series of posts about the April UUA Board Meeting

The virtual UU skies have lately been focused on a decision coming out of Sunday's UUA board meeting:  hiring a consultant to help us (staff and board) create a system to measure whether or not the roughly $20 million we spend each year is working.  By "working", I mean whether or not what we do moves us towards the results we have said we want.

Described by one blogger as "marriage counseling", the solution is born out of the frustration of both Board and Staff around our current inability to provide tangible measurements for the effectiveness of the budgeted dollars.  The board insists that such measurement is doable, and cites examples from other industries; the Administration has made multiple attempts, none of which have satisfied the Board's need for accountability.  This is not about "marriage counseling" or "a consultant to work out their relationship"; it is about a nuanced and complex set of skills needed to "measure the unmeasurable".

An old adage says "you measure what you think is important".  This applies to the non-profit world as well.  Rather than financial return, the investor is putting in money to help achieve the organization's mission.  The founder of Developing Indigenous Resources, for example,  is a former public health doctor (and member of my congregation) who is fanatical about measuring outcomes.  Do I invest so that his home health workers average 4.2 home visits/month, or rather that infant mortality in a slum of 16,000 people dropped to one fifth of its previous rate in six short years?

How willing are you to continue to invest in an organization whose mission has lofty goals, but can't tell you if we are making progress towards them?

I do not think this is easy, nor do I think it is impossible.  The Board has identified $100,000 (one half of one percent of the annual budget) to hire a consultant to help create these measurements. I understand why this amount is disconcerting, especially in light of recent UUA layoffs, but given what is at stake, worth doing.

I believe we have a highly dedicated and competent staff who are doing good work -- what I don't know if whether or not this work is moving the needle.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hearing Voices

Second in a series of posts about the April UUA board meeting

Last January the Board drafted a set of outcomes for the Association – what results do we want to produce, and for whose benefit?  In partnership with the District Presidents Association, we have received feedback from more than 1000 Unitarian Universalists.  You can see the draft here.

More than 150 of these voices were called and elected leadership of congregations chosen by the district boards because they were superb examples of the values of Unitarian Universalism.  These were rich interviews conducted by our district partners.  Over 100 called and elected congregation leaders responded by survey.  About 200 were drawn from our Current and Future Generations – Youth, Young Adults, Children (through proxy with Liberal Religious Educators), and people who identify and Unitarian Universalist but are not currently members. These were done through both focus groups and survey.  Interviews and surveys were also done with a little over 200 people from those  representing our Vision of Beloved Community.  A number of historians and the writings of key historical figures were consulted.  In addition to the roughly 600 people who represented our Sources of Authority and Accountability, we had nearly 400 individual UUs who responded via survey. 

What did we hear?  A lot.  A quote that typifies the overall reaction to the draft came from one of our selected congregations in response to the question “To what degree does this reflect the values of your congregation?”  Though 94% of them said it “strongly” or “mostly”, one congregation also said:  “As a matter of substance, yes.  As a matter of style, not so much.”

Some of the feedback was more about language than concept, but a significant number also addressed the latter.   For example, a description of congregations as “intentionally inclusive, multi-generational and multi-cultural in powerful mission to, and with, under-served and un-served communities” was taken to task for the patriarchal tone of “servicing” communities rather than being in partnership with them, as well as raising polity concerns about the UUA describing the mission of a congregation. The concept of “covenanted communities” raised both plaudits and concerns (described as “bubble-speak” by one), and while many liked the clear specificity of language around net increases of congregations, people served, and inspired leadership, others groaned “it is SOOO not about growth. Growth is an unavoidable outcome of doing covenanted community well.”

In response to this feedback, trustees have started rewriting some of these statements.  The DPA/UUA Joint Task Force on Linkage, which has been collecting and analyzing the feedback, will be making suggestions to the board in an iterative process over the next month.  The intent is still to have a final draft for the board to approve in its pre-General Assembly meeting in June.  This then becomes the guidance for the Administration, which has been a key part of creating and revising these statements.   

Monday, April 22, 2013


First in a series of posts about the April 2013 UUA Board Meeting

Last Monday’s twin blasts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon were just the beginning of a surreal UUA Board meeting.  Most of us arrived Wednesday evening, as the police were still combing through photos with no one claiming credit for the violence. I took the subway, less crowded than usual, but with lots of MBTA officials standing at every subway door, national guard and police readily apparent.  As I hauled my suitcase across the Common to Beacon Hill, a young man’s voice right behind me offered to carry the suitcase up the stairs.  It was the first offer of help in carrying luggage since I started coming to board meetings (and using the subway) six years ago.

Meetings continued on Thursday, but several people were unable to get into them because the transit system was shut down.  The events that started Thursday evening and essentially led to Boston and the surrounding suburbs on “lock down” most of Friday were even more surreal.  Financial Advisor Dan Brody, unable to leave his home in Newton, described the eerie quiet of his neighborhood as “an invisible snow storm”.  I had made it down to Starbucks early that morning– there was an unusual comraderie in the half full coffee shop.   It was shut down by the police right after I left. 

Most of us trooped quickly the half block from Pickett and Elliot, the UUA’s inn located behind the headquarters, into 25 Beacon – and stayed there all day.  It appeared no one was actually being prohibited from being outside – but everything was closed, and we saw mostly police and heard mostly sirens and helicopters.   

When the “shelter in place” was lifted, Kathy Burek (District Presidents Association President) and I walked down as close as we could get to the blast site (2 blocks away from it) where I took the this photo of the impromptu memorial – sacred space so close to tragedy.  The cross for the Chinese national (was she Christian?) was tastefully draped with a Chinese flag. 

That night the Common was filled with people.  People were lining up to shake hands and get their photos taken with the police officers there.  What you perceived was a product of your experiences.  Was it a group of mostly young men celebrating deliverance by chanting sports slogans?  Or was it a drunken mob that could have easily exploded in violence, targeting someone with the “wrong” head gear or facial features?  

Being with a group of Unitarian Universalist lay leaders and ministers was not a bad place to be this week.  We shared a lot of tears, poetry and prayer – including this beautiful one from Sue Phillips, District Executive for Massachusetts Bay District, at a vigil last Tuesday night, created as a video by Jessica Ferguson.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Listening to our Sources

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

The new draft of the UUA "ends" took into account a lot of feedback from various groups we are accountable to (think "Gathered Here" and  the World Cafe with Youth as two of them) - and we want more.

The District Presidents Association (DPA), our partners in linking with member  congregations, is currently in the process of contacting nearly 100 congregations across the US to get their feedback on these new outcomes.  We have surveys going out to Young Adults and unaffiliated UUs (those who identify as UU but are not currently a member of a congregation), focus groups with Youth and Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) members; interviews with members of various affinity groups, historians, and theologians, as well as an opportunity for anyone who wants to, to weigh in (see below).  Much of the work on the "non-congregational Sources" has been with Unity Consulting, who are creating a set of methodologies for a smaller post-June board to be able to continue this kind of dialogue.

Will the UUA Board actually use this feedback?  Yes.  A group of 5 UUA trustees and 3 DPA presidents will spend several weeks in early April making "meaning" of the feedback, i.e.:  looking for common themes. This will be provided to the Board at the April meeting, and the same group will spend most of May identifying recommendations for potential changes to these draft ends. 

Let your voice be heard!  You can click here to provide your own feedback on why the UUA exists. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Why the UUA exists

Fourth in a series of posts about the January UUA Board Meeting

-->A healthy network of covenanted Unitarian Universalist congregations and covenanted communities, in accountable relationships and alive with transforming power, moving our local communities and the world towards more love, justice, and peace at a justifiable cost that does not undermine long term sustainability. 
A significant shift in the Board's thinking about the Association's outcomes ("ends") was in focusing on the value added by the Association, not the differences made by its member congregations.  Rather than thinking about the above as the UUA mission or vision statement, think of it as the Board's instructions to the Administration.  Note the terms "networks", "covenanted communities" and "covenanted UU congregations".  We defined "covenanted communities" as:
Covenanted Communities: The basis of a Unitarian Universalist congregation is not creed, but covenant.  The term “covenanted communities” includes congregations, and also includes other Unitarian Universalist communities--external to, or overlapping with, congregations--who have a covenant, but are not currently defined as formal congregational status, under UUA bylaws.
The remaining statements provide more detail about this overall outcome:
1.1 Congregations have and use UUA resources necessary to enhance the spiritual and religious exploration by people in their communities and to enhance the ministry of their members.
1.2 Congregations are better able to achieve their missions and to spread awareness of UU ideals and principles through their participation in covenanted networks of UU congregations and covenanted communities
1.3 Congregations are intentionally inclusive, multi-generational and multi-cultural in powerful mission to, and with, under-served and un-served communities.
1.4 Net increase in the number of people served by our congregations and covenanted communities.
1.5 Net increase in the number of mutually covenanted congregations.
1.6 Net increase in inspired religious leaders equipped to effectively start and sustain new covenanted communities.
1.7 UU institutions are healthy, vital, collaborative partners invested in the future of UUism, its principles and theologies.
The next few months will be spent getting feedback on these outcomes -- I will explain how we are doing it in the next post.  Your feedback is always welcome, either as a comment to this one, or to llaskowski@uua.org.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

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

This was the fourth -- and last -- report from the President on the "ends" adopted by the UUA Board in 2009.  This report did what the Board has asked for:  establish a "reasonable" standard for compliance and then measure to that standard.  Mostly using a standard that at least 50% of the respondents to two nation-wide surveys (one of which included Youth, Young Adults, and People of Color) would rate their perception of whether or not that outcome was actually happening, the result was that half of the outcomes showed "non-compliance".

Surveys have their own set of issues, but it's a start.  Interestingly, most of the non-compliance by this definition was not about what was happening within congregations, but rather in the intersection between congregations and the outside world, UU or not. Non-compliant areas included whether or not our congregations were perceived as multicultural and "struggling with issues of oppression and privilege", active participants in ministerial preparation and development, growing in membership, and "living their mission in their communities", as well as all of the outcomes that are part of living "in covenant with other congregations in our Association".  Also included as non-compliant was the outcome of congregations involved in "national or international efforts", and working in interfaith partnerships or alliances.  So far is anyone surprised?

What was not included in the report was a plan to address the non-compliance, which the board has asked for in the next few months.  This as an excellent opportunity to have meaningful discussions about serious issues within the Association, and what the Administration has been doing to address those issues.

The Board has been resistant to doing that in the past because it was not linked to data-driven standards.  In the not so distant past, board meetings would be filled with presentations from staff around programs being developed and implemented.  The board has pushed back, refocusing on the differences we want to make as an Association.  How do we know that these are the right programs, and that we are spending our resources in a way that will move us closer to the kind of outcomes board and staff agree on?  It's a little like having a house with structural problems that you want remediated, and the contractor brings you a list of projects that could be done on the house without any connection to whether or not this will enhance the structural integrity of the house.

For example, the Administration has been doing excellent work with a number of organizations around a strategic review of ministry. What part of moving to our shared vision does this address?  How can we determine if what we are putting in place is moving us toward "living in covenant with other congregations in the Association", or "working in interfaith partnerships or alliances"?  We understand these are long term goals, but being accountable to our member congregations and other Sources means achieving some indication that the programs are working -- or when we will know if they are.   

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How we gather

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

In 2009 the Fifth Principle Task Force presented their report with the refrain "the status quo is not an option". Task Force chair Denny Davidoff even threatened to propose revoking the UU fifth principle if something was not done to how we governed ourselves at General Assemblies.

General Assembly governance is still mostly "status quo", Justice GA notwithstanding.  Faced with a two year change process for the by-laws that govern GA plenaries, the board delayed action until after last summer's assembly.

It appears most of the recommendations will not be taken up any time soon.  We will still have delegates that are mostly self-funded, excluding those without the time or resources to get there, and often chosen because they were going, with little or no guidance from, or attempt to represent, their congregations.

Though an excellent piece of work, the recommendations were, as the Board requested, about governance.  What has become clear is that separating how we govern from how we gather is not only a leap for most of our GA attendees, but the two are synergistic.  Exciting workshops and opportunities for affinity groups to meet create a "buzz" that adds to the experience even for those addicted to by-laws.  Large annual gatherings of some sort create opportunities for critical mass for some of our smallest minority groups -- creating connections to each other that strengthen our faith. 

This theme was emphasized multiple times by the various groups invited to speak to the board on Friday:  Young Adults, members of DRUUMM, the District Presidents Association, and the UU Ministers Association. 

There is still agreement that there needs to be change in terms of how we choose delegates and hold them accountable.  I expect significant discussion at General Assembly in June  -- but don't expect any votes around Fifth Principle recommendations. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Last January

First in a series of blogs about the January 2013 UUA Board meeting

For me that is – this will be the sixth January UUA Board meeting before I leave the board in June as part of our downsizing to a more manageable (and effective) number of trustees. 

This board meeting includes finalizing a large number of proposals for by-laws changes.    There are bold ones (the combination of three “Mid-America” districts into one region, assuming passage by their member congregations) and others that we think reflect what delegates have already approved (electronic voting). We will not be submitting by-laws changes around General Assembly, but rather continuing what is a fairly complex conversation.

The meeting also kicks off the start of intensive dialogues on the impacts of the Association (the “Ends”) with the Board’s Sources of Authority and Accountability (what John Carver calls “moral owners”), with our DPA partners and through the work done with Unity Consulting around the voices of our other 4 “sources”.  You can expect to see a variety of ways to comment on these desired outcomes over the next few months, with the final "Ends" adopted at the June board meeting. 

It seems appropriate that my first January meeting in 2008 included "Policy Governance as Holy Work", which resulted in the first set of outcomes (Ends) for the Association.  Check back over the next few weeks -- the entire packet can be downloaded here.