For Farmers Weekly October 2013
I’ve had to take stock of the number of committees that I’m serving on. The fact is I’m a bit of a committee junkie. From my very first taste of committee life at our local Young Farmers’ club, many years ago, I knew that I was hooked.
Those innocent wee young farmers club meetings led on to other ‘gateway’ organisations like sheep breed societies so now I find myself overdosing on ten different committees at the moment! Only one of them is a sheep breed society, I hasten to add; I’m now doing hard-core craic like NSA!
Four out of those ten are committees in my own parish but the other six are spread between Edinburgh and Malvern. Edinburgh is three hours in the car from where I live and Malvern is a whopping seven hours away. These six are all connected with farming and they all rely on volunteers like me to give their time freely to help manage them and form future policy.
I would emphasise that they rely on ‘volunteers’ like me and not particularly ‘me’, I’m quite sure that life for them all would go on if I stopped turning up.
However, enough is enough and ten is far too many, her outdoors is beginning to notice I’m away a lot. So I have decided to have an autumn cull on committees.
I care with a passion about all of those respective organisations; I wouldn’t spend six hours in the car getting to and coming back from their meetings if I didn’t. So, when I really started to think about where to start to thin them down the choice was easy. It was the one that had never offered teleconferencing as an option to join their meetings that was first to get the chop.
I suppose that I should take part of the responsibility here because I never suggested using teleconferencing at any of their meetings that I attended. However, in my own defence, it had not gone down well when I suggested that Twitter should be tried in order to connect with their membership. Perhaps I should have taken smaller, less radical, steps by suggesting we should use the telephone to help connect the committee.
Organisations that cover relatively large geographical areas and rely on unpaid volunteers to serve on management boards and committees need to catch up with where the technology is at today. The rest of the world has moved on past teleconferencing and they’re now into videoconferencing. I can hear a chorus about broadband in rural areas in the distance but it’s no excuse.
The problem is inherent within some organisations that aren’t already using modern communication techniques. The type of person that lives near to a central meeting place and can’t see the need to provide remote access for others that live far away is never going to change the world. At the same time, the person that lives far away that might have ideas that could change the world will never get involved due to the distance they will have to travel.
I think we’re a long way off the day when everyone is sitting in their own farmhouse with a bank of screens in front of them taking part in videoconferencing without the need to ever meet up. And let’s hope that never happens. But, we should have reached the stage by this time when one or two folk that live a long way away from a central meeting point should be provided with the opportunity to occasionally take part in meetings when they are disadvantaged by distance.