Convention Business Meeting

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See also: Dead Dog Panel, Convention
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A Convention Business Meeting is a gathering of fans at a fan-run science fiction con to discuss the actual mechanics of running the convention and policies for future conventions. Since these conventions depend on the unpaid work and cooperation of their members it's important to maintain transparency, to ensure that the members know and approve of any changes. For example, a business meeting might discuss financial matters related to the convention, the wording of rules related to an award (such as the Hugos), the constitution of the organization that operates the convention, sexual harassment policy, and so forth. Generally the length of these meetings rises steeply with the size of the convention.

  • In the case of small conventions the business meeting might cover selection of the site and date for a later convention (usually by vote), problems that have arisen during the convention, and so forth.
  • The largest conventions often have several hours of business to discuss, with meetings held over several days; since much of this business is of limited interest to the majority of fans, the most interesting and important decisions (such as choosing between rival bids for the next convention) tend to be run as separate program items distinct from the main business meeting, or by write in / on-line ballot before the convention.
    • The World Science Fiction Society (Worldcon) business meeting is based on the concept of the US town meeting, a form of Athenian democracy. Any member of the convention is entitled to speak at the meeting. To avoid degenerating into a free-for-all, rules are imposed to ensure that anyone who wants to speak gets a chance, and time limits are imposed to prevent filibustering. The podium staff at the meeting have a function similar to the Speaker in a debate in the House of Commons. The rules of the meeting are designed, on purpose, to make it difficult to change things. If a motion is introduced that many people consider frivolous, or downright undesirable, a call of "Object to Consideration" followed by a vote in which three quarters are opposed to considering the motion leads to the motion being dropped without debate. Similarly, any amendment to the WSFS constitution needs to be ratified at the following year's convention before it becomes official. As consecutive Worldcons are usually held thousands of miles apart this prevents local groups flooding the meeting to change the constitution.
        Most of the motions presented to the meeting are amendments to the constitution. As the constitution covers things like the rules for the Hugos and for site selection, this is how you change them. So, if you wanted to introduce a Hugo award for the best musical item, you'd introduce a motion to amend section 3.3 in article 3 of the constitution.
        Site selection is officially part of the WSFS business meeting. Voting closes on the third night of the convention and the first order of business of the session of the meeting the following morning is a report by the tellers, followed by a presentation by the winning bid.
        While most participants see these meetings as a necessary part of running a big convention, it's hard to avoid the impression that some regard them as an end in themselves, a complex game of rules modification akin to Nomic.
  • Media conventions often refer to their business meetings as the Dead Dog Panel, since they are run as the last item of the program. They should not be confused with Dead Dog Parties, informal post-convention parties run at many conventions.

An unusual variant is an annual one-day mini-convention built around the British Science Fiction Association and Science Fiction Foundation Annual General Meetings. Since the BSFA is a registered company and the SFF is a charity both are legally required to allow free public access to these meetings. Originally both organisations ran them at the annual Eastercon SF convention, which was attended by some of their members, but it was pointed out that this caused problems and expense for anyone who wanted to take part in the AGMs but not the convention as a whole, and therefore was not genuine free public access. There were also legal problems in years when the convention was held in the Channel Islands, where different laws applied. To avoid these problems the meetings are now run jointly by the two organizations as a separate free convention, usually in London, with talks and panel discussions related to BSFA and SFF activities before and after the business meetings.

Commercially run conventions generally do not include a public business meeting, since decisions are made by the company that runs the convention.

Examples

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

A 1984 British Star Trek Example

The The British Star Trek Convention Business Meetings were on the Sunday after the con. The purpose of the meeting was for fans to put forth proposals for another con in the series, the one two years later.

1984 British Star Trek Rules

Fans' Comments on a 1984 British Star Trek Example

The con com for Frontiers reported on the business meeting and the complaints they had received: one interesting note -- the number of fans at the business meeting: "We were very sad to see that only about two hundred and fifty people attended the business meeting at Frontiers, especially considering there was well over nine hundred people registered at the con." Another fan comments: "Do we want our Conventions to go the way of American Conventions? For a similar price you will get a show put on to entertain you. It will start at 10am and finish at 6pm. It will be conducted in a single room where you will see videos, slides, competitions and guest speakers (although these days the major guests often have a separate evening performance for which you have to buy an additional ticket). There will be a dealer's room (not necessarily any bigger or better than our ones). More importantly, all profits go into the pockets of the organisers, not to charity! Is this what the new generation of Star Trek fans want? British
Conventions are unique, friendly, participatory affairs. Let's keep
 hem that way! [1]
The convention committees are made up of a small core of active people. When I first went to convention business meetings there were two or three different groups competing for the same spot. What I think is required is a more accessible type of committee and better communications between them and the attendees. It was seen as quite accepted in 1982 but conventions were smaller and, I expect, easier to organise. Now the newer type of attendees want a committee to be answerable to their attendees and also in clear view, not hidden away in a committee room. We also need a central meeting place for people to sit and chat. [2]
The British Star Trek conventions have had it their own way for over twenty years and now it seems that Paramount may be going to crack down on them. Well, everything must come to an end. British Star Trek conventions are run by a clique, a group of people who wouldn't like Paramount to take away their power. The attendees are getting a raw deal at British Conventions these days. The Business Meeting rules are a big joke. The only rule should be "the convention is for the attendees", and not all the mumbo jumbo they have now. If it's going to take Paramount to take away the influence of this clique, then so be it. The Generations convention was a turning point in U.K. conventions. It was competition for the fan run conventions and, like the film, it was the start of a new era, and the end of an old one. [3]
At my request, Vivienne has sent me a copy of the minutes from the SuperNova Convention Business Meeting. They highlight not only the ineptitude of the committee in running a business meeting, but also their immaturity and lack of seriousness in their approach to the task. Quite frankly, the minutes are not worth reprinting here According to Vivienne, the meeting was not held as it should have been as stated in the rules. Also, a suggested amendment to the rules, which she had sent to the committee in writing some months earlier, was not listed and therefore could not be debated. The committee had apparently decided that, in their opinion, the suggestion would be too expensive to implement and therefore didn't need debating. As you can imagine, this caused quite an uproar. I no longer attend the major conventions (for a number of reasons) so perhaps it's not my place to say this. However, it seems to me that the business meeting and rules need overhauling. Perhaps the business meeting could be taken out of the hands of individual committees and become the job of an elected fan or group of fans who would oversee everything pertaining to the business meeting at the two major conventions each year. I hope that one of our members who reads this will have been on a convention committee at some time and be able to comment. Perhaps other members would like to comment too. While on the subject of conventions, and in case anyone hoping to attend hasn't heard, the Five Oh convention in August has been cancelled. [4]
It was rather worrying to see the comments about business meetings at conventions. I'm starting to feel like the Voice of Ancient History, but I remember the first business meetings and the reasons they were started — there were too many cons being run too close to each other without any coordination. Also there was a professional company that wanted to run cons in the UK and this was perceived as a threat to the fan-run cons, where the cost of attendance was kept as low as possible with as much going on as possible. A professional event did not allow for any fan-run things like the fancy dress, art shows, etc., but treated fans purely as consumers to be shepherded around and got to spend as much money as possible. So we organised. We sorted out a system of two 'Official' cons a year (though Paramount soon stopped us calling them official), and the cons had to be bid for and voted for. Democratic accountability and ail that. So we had organisers concentrating their efforts on the best possible cons at intervals that meant no organiser would lose money on a failed con and fans could attend good events without being too far out of pocket. It worked very well through the 80s and everyone benefited. I hope it doesn't fall apart because newcomers to con organising don't know or appreciate the history of what went on before. [5]

References

  1. from STAG #94
  2. from STAG #95
  3. from STAG #120
  4. from STAG #135
  5. from STAG #136