Secretary

Tom Webster

Independent Members

Hello, I'm Tom and am currently a second-year PhD student at Edinburgh, having previously been part of Cambridge SSAGO for my undergraduate I'm now part of the Indie Club. You may know me as:

  • The 2019/20 Member's Officer on the national exec,
  • The chair of the upcoming virtual Green Rally Yellow Rally,
  • Part of the team behind the ScotNorth fresher's camp,
  • The chair of 2018's Cambridge Duck Rally,
  • Past Chair, Adventurous Activities Coordinator, Social Sec, and rep to Scouts, Guides and SSAGO for CUSAGC, 
  • Someone who's been around SSAGO since 2014.

I'm running for Secretary as I want to make changes and provide some experience to the next executive, while much of the focus will be on safely transitioning SSAGO back to in-person events I want to focus on improving the engagement of the average SSAGO member with national SSAGO, including reviewing lots of the structure of national SSAGO with the aim to engage a much wider part of our membership. I think now is the time to do this as many of these changes are things that have been temporarily introduced with COVID or represent issues that have been exasperated by lockdowns and isolation. 

The past year has been "unprecedented" however I think we can learn a lot from the changes over the past year to make SSAGO into a more modern organisation that fits the demands of each of the thousand members across the country, whether they're part of an established club, working towards starting a new club or part of Indie and scattered across the country (or even the world). We've seen lots of new ideas and formats for adapting SSAGO to work in lockdown and I would like to consult members on incorporating lots of them into the 'new normal', this includes:

  • Online Events
    While we all hope national events can resume in some form in the next year we've seen many inventive ideas to keep SSAGO going over lockdown, not only have these all been fun they've successfully engaged member's who haven't been to any in-person events and brought new people into SSAGO. I'd look to introduce an annual large virtual event into the SSAGO calendar which could be bidded for at the AGM. The suggested date for this would be late August/early September with the idea being it could link into the national advertising around results day and give clubs the chance to talk to freshers before they even reach university. The format of the event would be open to ideas from those bidding, 24-hours of constant activities, a week of more sporadic options or something in between, and will obviously be themed like other national events! 
  • Taking Reps Online
    If we've learnt anything it's that zoom can be used for everything, so going forward I'd like to see more uses for national SSAGO. Taking reps online would take it from an early morning obligation into a truly representative process, with more clubs are able to engage. New clubs and those far away from in-person events not only struggle to attend rallies but this means they then miss out on being part of the reps process. Reps frequently miss activities on the Sunday morning of rally, removing them opens that space for event committees to try something new on Sunday mornings which everyone can take part in. The exec also have more free time at events to engage with members instead of planning out and attending reps.
  • New Reps Schedule
    If Reps moves online I'd look to introduce a 4 meeting a year schedule with meetings happening around February, May, August and November each year. Having four evenly spaced meetings hopefully makes each shorter. This schedule also places a meeting shortly before each rally, allowing reps to better hold events to account as they have plans in place and can make changes. Currently, events update 3 months when there are few details available and on Sunday when it's nearly over. A fourth 'new' meeting in August fits would allow reps the chance to discuss national publicity plans for results day and projects the exec has been working on over the summer.
  • Discord
    As something created as I left exec the Discord is something I feel has benefited lots of people, including me, over the last lockdown and has provided many members with their first exposure of national SSAGO and formed many cross-club friendships usually exclusive to those attending national events. As exec I'd look to put more of the management of the server into the hands of the community, forming a Discord Project who could take on the day to day running from Oli and organise events on the server. While in the next year many of us may be able to go back to regular in-person activities there will always be indie members, those away on placements and people who may appreciate the more flexible online meetings possible on Discord. 
  • Online AGM?
    I'd review how this online election went and if it is successful and increases voter engagement I'd consult on moving the AGM online permanently. There are 1000 members in SSAGO and the majority of those that vote are those able to attend in-person events. An online AGM means people anywhere in the UK can vote, avoiding any geographic bias in the results and includes new clubs and indies who may struggle to attend in-person the same access to voting. The majority of members don't attend the AGM, so how can they be represented? An online AGM would also allow us to consider moving towards a ranked-choice vote in national elections compared to the current first past the post system.

There are also lots of general tasks I'd like to accomplish which I feel will help SSAGO function even better than before:

  • Redefine Projects
    Currently, SSAGO has lots of projects but also lots of part-finished things from past execs. With an annual exec turnover, handing over long term tasks every year leads to no progress being made. I'd like to redefine projects and assistants (or project leaders) to be for this purpose, in this system the exec could create a project group, led by an assistant, who'd report to the exec and reps, and could make progress without the loss of continuity. Some of these projects will be ongoing, like the existing archives, shop, web team and international projects, others could be set up with a fixed end goal in mind. There'd also be scope to involve the project leads in relevant exec meetings, promoting transparency and creating more experienced candidates for exec positions. Using this system the right people can complete each task and allowing members to join these project groups gives new avenues to shape SSAGO as a member. (There could also be project badges...)
  • Charity Status 
    Talking of unfinished projects, the operation of becoming a charity has been ongoing for nearly 4 years. I think this is the ideal use case for a new project and would look to appoint a Charity Assistant to lead the constitutional updates and finally finish this task. Becoming a charity would provide lots of benefits to SSAGO however it needs someone's dedicated attention and isn't compatible with also being a full-time member of the exec.
  • Welfare, Access and Inclusion
    I'd also look to create a new project looking into welfare, access and inclusion within SSAGO and ensure we're doing everything we can to proactively include people. There are lots of separate issues this project should look at including improving the diversity within SSAGO, increasing the accessibility of national events with guidance to event committees and reviewing the membership eligibility requirements regarding qualification levels which can be off-putting to those studying at less traditional universities or studying for Foundation Degrees and higher-level apprenticeships  The project would be able to report on it's suggestions to the exec and we can begin to introduce changes as new policy is drafted when the project explores each of the different issues.
  • Events
    With a year so far without in-person events, there will be lots of support required to guide people about COVID restrictions in the short-term and in the long-term support event committees who are less experienced with national events organise their own. I'd see this being achieved through the group meetings lead by the events officer and attended by all events, plus individuals who join the events project. These meetings can help share best practices and experiences and is also available to support special events, like Witan and Reunions, Regional events and club events. I'm happy to lend my experience with in-person and virtual events to this too.
  • Training
    The National Executive has no training and this has at times shown in responses to incidents and contingency planning. Through the SSAGO Active Support Unit, we have access to scout training modules which would be compulsory for a similar manager role in Scouting, as well as courses that are offered by Students Unions. I'd look to work with scouting to design a list of modules exec members would have to validate, this could include training on management, mental health, unconscious bias and role-specific training on topics like public relations. This training could also be offered to club and event committees too.
  • Exec Review
    I'd look to review the current exec roles and descriptions to see what could be done to encourage more candidates, considering creating new roles and having a longer handover period of 6 months where the exec-elect act as understudies while completing the training and having the role handed over. I'd also look to close the loop-hole which allows current exec to run again, even if they're not a student, this should either be stopped entirely or eligibility to run extended to everyone that graduated in the last year. There are lots of models for how this could work based on how students unions structure their executive and handover, as they suffer similar problems to national SSAGO with membership turnover.
  • Website
    Encourage the development of the website and look at ways to make this more sustainable going forwards, including working with SAGGA or our international counterparts to broaden the pool of people able to develop the site. Also, look at adding new features like a page to highlight "clubs in formation" which have some interested members but are looking for more committee or members to get started. 
  • No Confidence
    The current system of no-confidence votes isn't really fit for purpose, I'd set up a form on the website to allow members to express no-confidence and update the constitution so there was an independent party who could manage the no-confidence process independently from the exec and manage the hand over of the bank accounts. While this should hopefully never be needed having a process in place gives members the confidence to use it and means no-confidence motions could be brought without being pushed by a small group of members. 
  • Communication
    With all the work that goes into being on exec, I think it's also important to spend time to communicate what it is that's been done that week. While on exec I plan to publish regular updates of what I've been doing each week, that may be "typed lots of minutes from a great exec meeting", sometimes "oh god uni deadlines" and hopefully at least one "gone camping, no wifi"! These will be my first Facebook status updates since November 2014 but I think some insight into what the exec does is needed. I also think the current online events provide a great advantage to the national exec to 'virtually visit' clubs and I'd love to explore ways to better engage the membership with the national exec, both virtually and in-person.

While there are lots of goals here the review of membership and exec can be discussed by reps to identify which areas are most important to prioritise and using the revitalised project system the longer-term goals can be set up in a way they won't get discarded at the next exec handover. Overall I hope to create a foundation for SSAGO to be able to continue to grow and make progress towards being more inclusive and accessible to members across the UK.

As a bonus, here are some photos of me being SSAGOey!

If you want to know my views on some of the wider issues within SSAGO, beyond the role of secretary, which may come up while I'm on exec:

  • Events in the Short Term
    I'm in favour of electing a virtual event to take place in June/July in replacement of Rali Cymru and Witan and a "first event back" with no set date to begin the 12-month planning process for an in-person event at an EGM as soon as possible. While events can be planned faster I feel allowing them the most amount of time ensures these events are still up to the high standards of past events and don't feel rushed or under-planned. I also feel wider membership should have had more of a say on the potential options if further postponements are required.
  • Membership Review
    For members who don't attend national events, the £4 charge can be hard to see the benefits of and it can cause clubs to lose out on membership to other societies which can offer free membership. Even though clubs get a free year it often takes much longer for members to attend their first national event and for those part of a local Network and Inspire group it can be an off-putting part of joining both. I'd consult on moving some of the membership fees onto national event fees, for instance, a 10% increase in event fees going towards membership costs would raise a similar amount to the £4 fee. The current system encourages clubs to under-report their membership by omitting members who don't attend national events and forces the member's officer to spend time policing this. These unofficial members who aren't listed aren't able to vote in national elections or join in with the free virtual events that have been happening.
  • Regions
    I feel with many past execs (including myself) having tried to implement regions there's no model which will satisfy all clubs. I'd support a more flexible approach, where clubs could opt to join multiple regions to avoid problems with clubs at the boundary of two regions. I'd also like to give more exec support to regional events, however feel with official support and accounts members should be given more say in choosing the events.
  • National Kit

    I am against expanding the amount of equipment national SSAGO owns, with the uncertainty about national events in the coming year I don't feel now is the time to be making big purchases. If SSAGO were to buy equipment it'd either put pressure on individuals to transport it to events or events to organise collecting it. Ultimately it'd only be beneficial to a small number of clubs that are close to where it's stored. I'd rather see a system developed to let clubs loan their equipment out and support each other. As members officer I organised for Sheffield to spare loan tents to indies and internationals at Roman Rally and an area of the website clubs could advertise equipment available would make this even easier and the exec could look how to cover damage to loaned equipment in case any incidents arise.

  • Coronavirus

    While I'd like to be optimistic, I feel that coronavirus will continue to be a risk to national SSAGO over the next year and beyond. I've already outlined lots of digital changes I would make which would safeguard SSAGOs future in case of a snap lockdown in future, while this may cause an event cancellation, it won't affect any of the democratic processes. I'd also look to ensure there are clear guidelines as and when in-person events can resume in each region. Having drawn up contingency plans for Green Rally Yellow Rally back in April I've already considered several options for how in-person events could look under different coronavirus restrictions which I'd aim to discuss with the events project.

  • Links with Scouting, Guiding and SAGGA

    I think maintaining and developing links with all three organisations is important however, having worked closely with all three before as a member of the exec and chair of two national events, there is only so much SSAGO can do without more reciprocation from them. I'd ensure Guiding and Scouting were always offered the same opportunities to engage with and be part of SSAGO and offer more opportunities to SAGGA to be visibly part of events. I'd also work on also promoting SSAGO to adults in scouting and guiding, highlighting stats about our retention of explorers and rangers after turning 18, our work on support events and the leadership skills SSAGO develops. This will hopefully increase demands internally for national Scouting and Guiding to work with us and give us a permanent source of advertising from ranger and explorer leaders.