Most public bodies have a Social Media Policy due to the potential for reputation damage to the individual and their organisation if ill-judged or unguarded comments are made. The problem with the internet is that once a post is published it cannot be withdrawn. Even if the originator deletes it the comment will have already been registered with the other members of that particular group. Chances are it will re-surface at the most inopportune moment to the intense embarrassment of the originator.
A classic example is Emily Thornberry’s ill-judged tweet “Image from #Rochester” which cost her a shadow cabinet position. Admittedly she has now been reappointed as Shadow Foreign Secretary but there were probably not a lot of alternative options. I doubt that she will be invited to support the labour candidate in the Copeland by-election.
As a holder of public office it is very unwise to argue with another user on social media. As many people have found to their cost the watching audience can be vast – ask Sally Bercow who thought she was being ever so clever by asking a “loaded” question and regretted it later to her cost.
The role of Chair of any group or committee is not easy, there is a lot of guidance available but ultimately it comes down to the individual. I have worked with some excellent Chairs who made every member feel valued and appreciated, I have also worked with Chairs who were autocratic and felt their role was to direct operations or too weak and failed to move the group forwards because they allowed infighting to develop between the members. Successful Chairs guide and support, while they have to keep to an agenda they realise that during discussion it may be necessary to exercise judgement to bring items to a resolution. If outcomes are pre-planned you will quickly lose the support of the members as a whole. The Chair should always try to avoid unnecessary votes. This is particularly relevant for cross-party groups where the minority faction will always feel aggrieved if they are constantly outvoted when compromise solutions are available. The Chair needs to exercise discretion and recognise the need to think on their feet and adopt a modified position as a result of the discussion. Good Chairs are able to do this and stand up for the group and the decisions they make. By nature the Chair needs to be impartial and not try to impose their own personal views on the others. These ideas and suggestions are based on my experience having chaired a number of committees/panels with up to 25 members over the last 8 years. I also have the pleasure of working with Jacqui Smith, Chair of UHB and HEFT who sets an excellent example of best practice in my opinion – though her roles are of a totally different scale..
For any voluntary organisation to work well and fulfill its objectives it requires a group of like-minded people with the necessary skills to come together. Crucial roles are:- Leader/Prime Mover, administrator and book-keeper (If applicable.) So often voluntary organisations fail because people take on these roles without an understanding of work involved. This leads to confusion, frustration and ultimately the failure of the group. Too often the excuse is “well its voluntary so we cannot expect too much.” The secret is to attract people with the right skill sets for these key roles and then build the rest of the group around this core. The other issue is to aim for a good demographic spread with an eye towards continuity. Members need to bond and enjoy the group activities. Voluntary work should generate a feeling of fulfilment and that it is time well spent – you do it because you want to not because you have to! If ever it becomes a burden or you find yourself getting stressed then it is time to step back and review the activity and the reason why you are involved. After 8 years experience in a number of groups with a variety of roles I consider myself fortunate to have worked with some committed and far-sighted people. In the main I have enjoyed the work and felt that it was time well spent. Such activity helps one grow as an individual and is a way to challenge oneself. I recommend it to anyone who wants ‘put something back’ and contribution to the wider community in which they live.