On Wednesday I was in London to attend the first meeting of the new NCVO Members’ Assembly. NCVO’s recent governance review reduced the size of its Board of Trustees but created the Assembly as a way of retaining the representative voices of all parts of the NCVO membership. The Assembly comprises about 50 people representing geographical regions and thematic electoral colleges: I am one of two representatives of ‘recreation and culture’. All of which sounds fairly formal and stuffy, but there was a determination to make the bi-annual Assembly meetings as informal and creative as possible. Wednesday’s meeting used ‘Open Space’ techniques to allow Assembly members to dictate the agenda and it worked really well. There was a massive noise level in the room throughout the day as people got stuck in to hundreds of intense conversations. Every single person made a substantial contribution to the debates – which is not something you can say very often about a meeting of 50 people! – and the closing comments indicated a high level of enjoyment, enthusiasm and inspiration. I worry a little that this may have created very high expectations – both for the next meeting and for how the NCVO Board uses the ideas and opinions that came out of the Assembly: this is now a key challenge for NCVO. As part of our exploration of the future of civil society, I led a discussion on ‘the conundrum of infrastructure’ (which I still think sounds like an Indiana Jones film!). The key message generated by this discussion was the danger of infrastructure organisations getting too distant from their members and beginning to exist for their own sake. Infrastructure organisations should be less focused on perpetuating themselves and concentrate on enabling their members to do what they do better: we may need to work harder to stay rooted with our members. This might usefully be applied to all infrastructure organisations, including NCVO itself.
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