Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Has WSFS Outgrown Itself?

In the latest issue of Salon Futura, Cheryl Morgan has written an article questioning whether WSFS has outgrown its current governance system.

You might expect that I, one of the experts in how the current system works, and someone who has gone to considerable lengths to try and de-mystify the governance of the World Science Fiction Society, might object to this. I do not. While I do not agree with everything that Cheryl says in this article, I think, and have thought for some time, that the way in which we manage WSFS is not fit for purpose.

I have seen quite a few people who seem to think that you can solve this by making it easier for more people to attend the Business Meeting. Some have proposed that the WSFS Business Meeting shouldn't be held during Worldcon, and that it should be held at some other time and completely online, with everyone participating remotely. As someone who chewed over the possibility of how to manage an in-person meeting with 1000 people in 2015, I shudder at what amounts to a 1000-person Zoom call.

WSFS Business Meetings have been in my experience up to about 300 or so people, out of the many thousands of attending members attending the convention. There are those who claim that requiring people to attend in person to be highly exclusionary and unfair, and that we should make it so that anyone can attend remotely. Some propose allowing proxy voting, without in my opinion considering the consequences of someone walking into the meeting, plopping down 1000 proxies on the head table, and saying, "The rest of you can go home now; I outvote you all."

Now I'm sympathetic to the argument that most of the members of Worldcon don't want to devote 9-12 hours of convention time to attending a debate. I authored the proposal that would have given every member, including the supporting ones, a voice in the process by replacing the current system of having each Business Meeting have to ratify the decisions of the previous meeting with what I called "Popular Ratification." In that system, any changes to the WSFS Constitution (substantially the Hugo Awards and Site Selection) would be put to a ballot vote of the following years' members, similar to site selection voting. (You wouldn't have to pay extra to vote, however; site selection voting costs extra because you're buying a membership in the two-years-hence Worldcon.) Members could vote by mail or in person, and the results would be announced at the Business Meeting, just like Site Selection. This would allow members to express their opinion without having to sit through all of the debates.

We almost got Popular Ratification as far as a test case. In order to get it past the first Business Meeting (London, 2014), those of us who supported it had to agree to make the popular vote a third step. You'd still have to pass two consecutive Worldcon Business Meetings, after which the members of the next Worldcon would also have to ratify. However, then 2015 happened and the Puppies overran the Hugo Award ballot. Not only did people not want to make it take three years instead of two to change the constitution, there were quite a few who were furious that it took two years -- or even one! They wanted a Strong Man to Change the Rules Immediately. In any event, the 2015 Business Meeting rejected the ratification of Popular Ratification.

Now there still are people who think that two years is two years too long: changes should happen immediately! Of course, they only want their changes, not those Other People's changes. Well, Constitutions Aren't Supposed to be Easy to Change. Heck, WSFS is like an Olympic sprinter compared to my own state. In Nevada, not only does the legislature (which only meets for 120 days every two years) have to approve constitutional amendments, but then they have to be ratified by a popular vote of the citizens of the state in the next general election (i.e. two years later), and then if they pass, they have to wait for two more years and be ratified again, so it can take six years to amend the state constitution.

In any event, I recognize that WSFS's current system, which is open to any attending member, selects for a certain type of person, and they have to for the most part be willing to work within a process that is designed to balance the rights of both minorities and majorities. And it does take a lot of time. Most people don't have the time for it. Most Worldcon attendees don't even know they can participate in the process, despite the convention telling them about it on their website, their publications, and in the convention newsletter.

I suspect that if you asked most Worldcon members how the rules are made, they'd say, "I guess the Board of Directors makes them," and would be surprised to hear that there is no such body. If they looked into the room where that "Business Meeting" thing was happening, they'd assume that those four or five people on the head table are the ones whom make the decisions, like a city council, with the people in the audience sometimes allowed to speak. But the idea that those hundreds of people are the governing body, and that every single members could vote if they wanted to do so? That's crazy.

How would I change things? Well, most people who even think about it probably assume that there's some sort of elected government of the society, so why not give them what they expect? My basic proposal is to create an elected Council of WSFS, which would replace the Business Meeting as the origin of legislation. The Council would consider changes to the WSFS Constitution, and would have to consider any proposal submitted by a sufficient number of members. Anything the Council passes would be submitted to popular ratification of the members of the following Worldcon — supporting and attending. I would allow both supporting and attending members to vote on the elections to the Council, too. That's because I think that the Worldcon "supporting membership" is your actual membership dues to the World Science Fiction Society. The amount above that to purchase an attending membership is the "convention supplement," common to many organizations that require you to not only be a member but to pay an additional amount to attend the annual convention.

Where I'm likely to lose people is the size of such a Council of WSFS. Based on the "cube root" rule of the governing body being roughly the cube root of the size of the electorate, I would have 21 elected members (3 groups of seven, serving three-year terms), with other members appointed by the current and future Worldcons and NASFiCs and at least the last two years' Worldcons and NASFiCs. This keeps the total size of the Council to not more than about 30 people. That, in my opinion, is around the upper limit of a group that can easily meet online and still debate and vote. I'm skeptical of the practicality of much larger governing bodies having the same sort of freedom of debate that you get with an in-person meeting.

I've been toying with this for a while now. Whether I'm willing to draw it up formally and submit it to a Worldcon Business Meeting is something I have not decided yet. Pushing primary legislation is difficult, and getting the Business Meeting to effectively vote itself out of business is even more difficult. I don't like spending time on legislation that I don't think has a plausible chance of being adopted.
Tags: worldcon, wsfs

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