Our Way Forward to a New QA Office

Kerstin Reimers, Tasmania Regional Meeting

Friends in what we call Australia have embarked on an adventure. We are about to make the transition to a different way of running our national office with the new structure being implemented mid-2023. We encourage you to be open to some changes, big and small (such as different names for familiar work), to embrace the concept of a team (there will no longer be ‘a Secretary’) and to support the new staff.

We’ve all known for some time that something had to be done about the Australia Yearly Meeting (AYM) Secretary’s role and workload, which had not only changed in nature but greatly increased. During 2022 one working group mapped out the range of duties (14 categories of tasks!) and the complexities of communications, then another group consulted widely (including at our last Yearly Meeting) to create comprehensive recommendations for a cluster of four paid and three unpaid roles.

Their wish was that “Friends would be open to doing things differently and willing to invest in our infrastructure”. Standing Committee in September approved the new direction, while recognising that the movement of the Spirit might alter the form as the vision evolved and was further refined. This was our task.

We, the members of TIWG (affectionately pronounced ‘Twig’ even though that’s not how it’s spelt! – the Transition Implementation Working Group)  picked up the baton in October 2022. Informed by the previous group’s report we were to develop role descriptions and liaise with the Selection Committee (we’re calling it that rather than ‘Search Committee’) who will be responsible for advertising the paid positions, interviewing applicants and making appointments.

This is the stage we’re at now, in February 2023 (at the time of writing), since TIWG’s many recommendations were accepted with some modifications at an Urgent Decision-Making meeting in January. The Selection Committee is now finalising the contracts and the new jobs will be advertised early March

The new framework has a smaller cluster and a different configuration compared to the previous proposal, yet many of the elements remain the same. Some tasks have been moved, others removed. Some reshaping has arisen out of fresh considerations leading to other priorities—a different emphasis or balance. What primarily drove our discernment was a concern for good governance and responsible duty of care towards our employees.

We consulted widely and much of that work is continuing in the background (especially regarding key stakeholders and funding sources). Along the way we discovered that the Secretary (and others employed to assist from time to time) had no real authority to act, nor clear channels for communication about workplace matters.

Here is TIWG’s model for the Quakers Australia Office (note that we’re encouraging the use of ‘QA’ rather than ‘AYM’ now):
Coordinator (paid) starting in July;
Communications & Publicity Manager (paid) starting in August;
Staff Oversight & Support (unpaid); and
Probity Adviser (unpaid).
There is the potential for other volunteers or co-opted Friends to be involved short or long term. A specific unpaid or volunteer position is suggested in the separate sphere of Finances to assist with work that has been moved out of the QA Office.

The Coordinator, an ongoing position, (note the new name to help us break out of our old patterns) is responsible for supporting the internal business operations of Australian Friends as an organisation—Yearly Meeting, Standing Committee, the Annual General Meeting.

The Communications & Publicity Manager (C&PM or Comms), a contract position, deals with the website, social media, community connections and outreach and is the first point of contact for external enquiries. The newsletter currently produced by the Secretary would fall within the C&PM’s scope, if it were to continue. It may be that there are other ways to fulfil this wish in future. (Didn’t we talk about rationalising our publications at YM21? See the final paragraph in Minute YM21.35.)

We have created a model that is non-hierarchical as far as the two paid Office staff go. Both will liaise with members and attenders, and our clerks and committees, but for different purposes. These two staff members will collaborate, but each is accountable to the Presiding Clerk.

The actual day-to-day (or fortnightly) supervision rests with the Staff Oversight & Support Friend (yes, that’s ‘S.O.S.’!), who can monitor how things are going and be a port in a storm. This unpaid role will keep an eye on the welfare of staff, their workloads and the effectiveness and efficiency of work arrangements and processes, answer any human resources queries and provide support.

Another vital unpaid role is the Probity Adviser, who will take care of QA’s compliance obligations—the annual Child Protection audits are just one of these requirements. This person will ensure mandatory reporting and record keeping are undertaken to a satisfactory standard.

Financial tasks, for example payments and reimbursements, will in future be handled by someone under the Treasurer and/or Finance Committee—this could be an additional and important unpaid role if not taken up by a Finance Committee member.

Apart from spreading the work, we have attempted to trim the roles to reduce and simplify the load. For this reason, we’ve dropped the notion of ‘ex officio’. Instead, the C&PM (or Comms) will be an active member of the Information Technology (IT) Committee. We felt that representing QA on other bodies (like Quaker Service Australia) could be dispensed with. This removes some functions from that long list of duties, but you’ll find the rest of them shared amongst the various roles.

TIWG’s task will continue, working alongside the Selection Committee over the next few weeks and months and then with the new Office staff for the first couple of years, monitoring, refining and supporting the process of transition and implementation as these employees settle in and adjust. We have put in as much care as possible to anticipate potential issues and prepare for a smooth way ahead. All the same, Australian Friends are setting off on a radical venture. Let’s move forward with courage.


Note: If you would like more information and a chance to ask questions, please feel welcome to come to TIWG’s Information Sessions in March and May or contact any one of us. You can find details on our web page here.  

This article has been prepared by Kerstin Reimers (TRM) on behalf of TIWG, whose other members are Jennifer Burrell (NSW RM) and Jonathan Benyei (C&RQ).

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