Here are my answers to the many questions.
1. Would you consider implementing election procedure like those used by MEC? Why or why not?
I personaly resent the current “Board recommended candidate” procedure at MEC. I think it is the worst of two worlds (I explain below). My thoughts on the matter have evolved, and resentment is currently my baseline feeling on the matter. When I vote in MEC elections — which I do most every year –, I make a point of voting for the non-recommended candidates, precisely for the purpose of fostering viewpoint diversity. I also aim for geographic and gender diversity. I am not blind to the requirement of governance expertise, however.
2. How does your co-operative recruit new directors? Could recruitment be improved?
At The Co-operators Group Limited (CGL), directors are eñected through a regional committee process. Member-owners in each region (some in more than one region) send delegates to the Region Committee, that then elects its assigned number of Board directors from the delegate base.
3. How do you ensure your directors have the skills needed to successfully participate on the board?
CGL signals to the member-owners and their delegates both a) a skills matrix and how it is currently covered by sitting Directors, and b) diversity targets, most notably a gender diversity target.
4. Should the MEC board continue to require board candidates to have high-level governance experience? Why or why not?
Yes and no. Its a tough nut to crack for sure. Governance experience matters. Yet viewpoint diversity matters at least as much. What if you end up with a set of very experienced directors with little familiarity with current and emerging technology? What if no one on the board can provide insight on the emerging (and disruptive) social justice warrior — diversity-inclusion-equity (d-i-e) — postmodern intersectional vibe? Especially for cooperatives, Principle 5 Director training has to be a major component of the governance solution.
5. Does operating a large retail business in a highly competitive market justify restricting who can run for the board?
Yes and no. We want expertise on the board for sure, but we also want representation and members involvement. This is often an either-or, cut the cake in three proposition (Birchall, 2015). We want the people who can challenge management, the people who have an ear to current trends all arounf, and as many different different individual and constituency viewpoints as the governance structure can process. Restrictions on who can join the Board set by the Board — i.e., by Management, wink, wink — leads to a loss of the kind of viewpoint diversity that can make a large co-op behave differently in the market than an investor-owned business.
6. Should co-op elections always be as open as possible?
Even the ancient Athenians — the historic model for democratic governance, with women, slaves, and alien residents not considered — set limits on who could be elected (Raaflaub, 2007). There were disqualifying filters, such as insanity — however defined back then — or not caring for one’s parents, etc. Most elections — except those requiring specific expertise, like the posion of military strategist, most notably — were run through sortition, mind you. Sortition (the lot) is one surest way of achieving statistical tepresentation, provided your sortition pool is large enough and that the mecanism truly provides for a random draw. The basic idea was “isonomia”, i.e., that all citizens — yes, free male citizens only back then –, if it is true that they were not equal in strength, intelligence, beauty, wisdon, wealth, connexions, etc., they could still CHOOSE to be equal politicsly — one citizen, one vote, and an equal chance to be elected to short and non-renewable positions of governance (magistratures). Specialised slaves — the ancient version of public servants, computers, and voice-to-text recognition — provided the expertise. The assembly provided member voice (involvement). This system, unique in its time, worked fairly well (for the citizens, at least) for the better part of two centuries, all things considered. We still use sortition today to select for jury duty – a most critical function in our society that requires no special expertise, beyond remaining awake and interested. Might not sortition be introduced into coop governance to help solve the expertise-representation-involvement conundrum, for sone aspects of governance at least?
Birchall, J. (2015). “The Design of Effective Democratic Governance Structures for Larger Organizations,” in S. Novkovic and K. Miner, Co-operative Governance Fit to Build Resilience in the Face of Complexity (Geneva: International Co-operative Alliance), pp. 23-31.
Raaflaub, Kurt A. (2007): The Breakthrough of Demokratia in Mid-Fifth-Century Athens, p. 112, in: Raaflaub, Kurt A.; Ober, Josiah; Wallace, Robert, eds. (2007). Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece. Berkeley: University of California Press.