Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Rulebook . . .

Ah yes, everyone’s favourite part about any organisation, the rulebook.  Whether you call it a ‘constitution’, a ‘rulebook’, a ‘manual’ or some other name, as soon as any organisation gets to be any size at all, consensus and using individual judgement isn’t enough, and there is a need to draw up a constitution in order to give a clear view of the purpose and principles, and write down some rules for the members to follow in order to maintain consistency across the club.  And that’s where the fun starts.

Where an organisation makes a rule, there is normally a sound intention behind it, and the intention is not normally ‘to make things difficult for the members’.

The first problem is scope.  If you try to write down a rule for every possible circumstance, then you end up with a book which is so heavy you need to fit castors!  If you try to only make rules about the key things (the main principles, and the absolute basics of health and safety) then people will criticise the lack of guidance on this topic or that, or the lack of clarity leading to widely different interpretations in the absence of unambiguous rules.

The next problem is strictness.  We could label them as certain categories – category 1 being rules which must be obeyed without any exception – “you must”.  Category 2 might be rules which should normally be obeyed at all possible times, but which may under special circumstances be flexed – “you should”.  Category 3 would be recommendations/good advice which can be followed but can equally be disregarded where this is felt appropriate to the circumstances - “you may”.  Flexibility may be related to the scale of the event, or the number and experience levels of the leaders and/or participants, or the geography of the area, or other relevant factors which make it different to the norm.  But inevitably, people will bristle at any category 1 rule, and will apply varying levels of compliance to category 2, trying to stretch the flexibility provided to near breaking point, and some will choose to almost automatically disregard or even oppose category 3 without necessarily giving due consideration to the reasoning behind the recommendation and whether their circumstance is actually exceptional.

Then there is interpretation.  Even where the authors do their best to find the perfect wording which clearly and unambiguously sets down the rule they intend to apply, and even where they take care to word accompanying text in such a way as to clarify the rule and how it should be applied – as soon as a wording is committed to print, people will seek to analyse and interpret it, trying to draw every possible nuance and implication from each word.  From such interpretations can ‘bye-laws’ grow.  And that’s not to mention the ‘if I don’t care for a rule then I ignore it, who’s going to ‘shop’ me?’ brigade.

It’s a bit like playing the ‘cucumber sandwich instructions’ game, where you challenge the groups to each write out the detailed instructions for making a cucumber sandwich, then set the groups to swap instructions with another group and then follow the instruction sheet as literally as possible, applying no prior knowledge or interpretation to what has been written.  It soon becomes clear that writing out clear and unambiguous instructions for making a sandwich is not as easy as it sounds however hard you try, far less anything less straightforward . . .

And finally, there’s navigability.  So you have tried to word each rule carefully, with explanations, so that there is nothing which could be misinterpreted.  You try to achieve a logical layout and efficient indexing, with a moderate amount of cross-referencing – and find that there are some rules which could well appear under several headings, others which don’t seem to fit under any, and some where any of a dozen key-words could be picked out for the index.  And you find yourself with a giant book and a multipage index.  And the more complex the book navigation becomes, the harder it becomes to manage the updating, the harder for users to find the relevant rule quickly (for if they can’t find it quickly they may stop looking and just act as they think best anyway).  This isn’t helped by the fact that there are updates issued every month – but that Leaders are only aware of them if they look on the ‘updates’ webpage, as they aren’t announced elsewhere, and it’s not clear if there’s a set date in the month when they are issued or whether it is random.  Of course, that’s for those who have regular access to the internet, and the proportion within those who regularly check for updates.  For the rest who don’t have access or don’t check regularly . . .

So absolutely, I happily join the chorus saying that the current rulebook is a nightmare for Leaders.  There is no doubt that that is the case.  And I’m sure that both Leaders and the CHQ staff who deal with the flood of queries alike, would love to find a structure and format which would be easy to navigate, unambiguous to interpret, absolutely clear on what is permitted, permitted under certain circumstances, and not permitted.  And if there was a genius who could produce such a miracle book, they would earn the gratitude of Leaders up and down the land, who have been crying out for just such a book for over 100 years.  But until the miracle occurs – shouldn’t we try our best to stick to the rules in the book we’ve got?

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