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Re: SEAOC Committee Meetings

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Postings to this thread by Wish, Allen, Natividad and others have suggested
that committee participation and democracy can be vastly increased through a
new paradigm of virtual committee work.  As one example,

ErnieNSE(--nospam--at)aol.com write:

>  Discussions could be thru the listserve the way we are doing it now
>  but it must be organized, supervised and documented. Committee 
>  membership should be limited at the start-up and trial period to avoid
>  being overwhelmed with too many post in our site. If any other
>  volunteer wants to start his own committee on another topic, that
>  would be better. 

This is an unrealistic suggestion.  Who will be the self-appointed
gatekeepers?  How will qualifications, voting rights, etc. be determined, or
will the entire listserv eventually vote as a committee-of-the-whole?  If so,
should there be requirements for listserv 'voting' membership?  How will the
inputs of non-committee kibbitzers, whether brilliant, out in left field,
articulate, incohoate, annoying or persistent, be handled?  The chair of a
formally constituted committee can bring closure even when there are minority
positions.  That's highly cumbersome and unlikely in the free-form environment
of cyberspace participation by the self-appointed.  Someone in an earlier
posting joked about a camel being a horse designed by a committee.  This
listserv has thousands of subscribers.  Camellipeds, anyone?

Natividad's thought about forming smaller, self-selected(?) groups to focus on
one issue is only the first step in a journey that may never arrive at the
destination.  Eventually, if the products of such small groups are to be given
serious consideration by those in policy and decision-making bodies, these
products must be reviewed, debated and 'signed offed' by the listserv
membership, so that by implication they carry the conscensus and gravitas of
the structural engineering community.  Otherwise, they'd be viewed as just the
agenda of a small special interest group.  Wish arguably has made the case
that the communications technology for committee work finally has arrived.
However, that previous technology obstacle merely masked the real obstacle for
this approach:  the need for organizational structure to make sure these
cyberspace 'virtual townhall meetings' don't just deteriorate into a babble of
voices and opinions (this happens even in in-person town hall meetings -
recall the recent one held in Columbus OH by Clinton cabinet members).  Most
engineers have healthy respect and confidence in their own judgment, hold
self-images of standing firm on beliefs and principals, and have distaste of
realpolitiks and compromises.  As Wish observed, some folks who are shy about
speaking up in face-to-face meetings will be more willing to do so in the
annonymity of body language-free cyberspace, especially when they can collect
their thoughts and express them at their convenience.  So, expect much more
input, strong opinions and firm stands on most issues.   Getting conscensus on
an issue in a *reasonable* time frame before everyone burns out on the issue
will be akin to herding a hundred (or more) cats, and be equally as
successful.  As Drake and Nelson put it well, there continues to be value, and
need, for formally charged and constituted committees that finalize their work
in face meetings, and conduct some interim meetings in this manner as well.

Frank Lew, SE
Orinda, CA