Monday, 17 April 2000

FoE Board Report

December is when the Board and Senior Management Team (SMT) have our Away Days. We have a long weekend at Flatford Mill, now a Field Studies Council centre, but originally famous as inspiration for the painter Constable. This gives us the opportunity to discuss issues at greater length than we have time for during the rest of the year.

This year we spent a day looking at the issues raised by a review of the role of the Board.  We agreed three main proposals, that we should:
  • concentrate discussion on strategic issues;
  • also discuss organisational capacity issues;
  • and concentrate on determining the legitimacy of proposals and issues.

In order to do this we will have to change some of our existing ways of working. The first change agreed is that the Strategy Committee should cease to operate. We have found that most of the discussions that take place at this committee are duplicated at the following Board meeting, wasting staff and Board members time. In addition we believe that the whole Board should consider strategy issues, so we will be looking at how to ensure that we have the time to do this as a whole Board. Friends of the Earth considers strategy in the spring. This year the Board spent a day looking at the strategic overview which tries to encapsulate our vision, mission and values for the next 15 years. We also looked at our Political, Citizen Power and Corporate Strategies. There was some vigorous debate and the staff took away our comments to feed into further drafts. Local groups will be consulted on these in May and the Board should give its final approval at the beginning of June. This process will be assessed to see if we need to alter it in future years.
We have also reviewed the terms of reference of the other three committees, Finance, Local Groups and Personnel and clarified which of the staff should report to each committee. To cover gaps in the support the Board provides we have revised the idea of advisory committees. These will be chaired by the member of staff seeking advice on a particular area of their work and will include relevant experts who are not necessarily Board members. We will also review other ways of operating. The new ways of working will take time to bed down, but we intend to have an initial review of how they are doing at Flatford in December this year.

Back at Flatford we spent several sessions looking at work in the early stages of development including our emerging political strategy, a prototype election strategy and a draft business plan. It is useful for the Board to comment on strategy formulation in its early stages as alterations are easier the earlier they are made. There is still a lot of work to be done on these strategies before they are brought back to the Board for further consideration at the March meeting.

The December Board Meeting was held at the end of the weekend. The Communications Strategy was approved and the team responsible congratulated for all the work involved. The first draft of a Diversity Strategy was welcomed as this is a vital area of work if we are to put into practice our intention to become a sustainable organisation. The Boards response to the resolutions passed at the Local Groups Conference was discussed and provisionally approved. The motions that were not discussed at Local Groups Conference were noted. In addition to the regular financial, health & safety and committee reports, the Board also received reports on the Friends of the Earth International AGM and on the WTO meeting in Seattle.

The Board and SMT did not spend the whole weekend working. There was an opportunity on Saturday to explore the surroundings of Flatford Mill, although not everyone was prepared to brave the cold to do so. After the final meeting on Friday and Saturday Board and staff walked the mile or so to the nearest pub to work off some of the generous food the centre provided. These times gave us excellent opportunities for getting to know each other better. Indeed so much bonding went on that on the way back to Flatford Mill from the pub on Saturday one group was heard singing a rousing(?) version of Rolf Harris’s “Two Little Boys”. Others preferred to enjoy the stars in peace, if not quiet.

The Away Days provide a very important opportunity for the Board and senior staff to make sure we are all pulling in roughly the same direction. It also allows us to spend time with each other outside of our formal round of meetings and to develop our relationships which undoubtedly contributes to smoother working together.

Since then we have had the Strategy discussion day as mentioned above and the March Board meeting. We heard a report from Tony Juniper on recent campaign successes including the Warm Homes Bill, Countryside Bill and the Illisu dam project (in Turkey) which was really exciting. If we had the money I’d like to have sent you all a video of Tony, because I know this report is rather dull. But the point is Friends of the Earth are out there working away at campaigns, some like the Countryside Bill are the result of twenty years of work, but we get there in the end.