Our Society, the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (RPS), was founded in 1853 as the “Learned Society" for the art and science of photography. It is also registered as a charity with the Charity Commission. The existing model of governance under which we operate is provided by three instruments: the Royal Charter, awarded by HM the Queen on 27 July 2004, the By-Laws and the Rules.
Our Charter sets out the main purposes and structures of the organisation, whilst its day to day running is governed by our By-Laws and, on a more practical day-to-day level, by our Rules. Many years of incremental revision and change have over-complicated our By-Laws and Rules such that they have become difficult for many of us to understand, are inconsistent with modern standards and 'best practice' of governance, and leave much to individual interpretation. This can cause problems for the smooth running of the organisation.
Perhaps the most recent example of this was in the procedure and management of the 2019 Trustee Elections. The problems prompted several complaints from members and a most difficult transition from one Council to the next. In response, the current Council arranged for an independent review of the election process. A summary of this report can be found here. One of the most important recommendations from this review was that we undertake a review of our existing model of governance. After an open and rigorous tendering process, we engaged Mike Taylor (our former Chief Operating Officer) to carry out this work.
Governance Review 2020
Our Council asked Janet Haines, Simon Hill (President Elect) and John Miskelly (Honorary Treasurer) to liaise between the Council, the Executive and Mike. The review has now been completed and Mike’s full report can be found here. John Miskelly has kindly provided a very useful summary of the report, which can be found here.
The Governance Review has been an incredibly useful exercise and it is helping to shape our view of how our model of governance can be improved to ensure that the RPS becomes even more focussed on successfully fulfilling its charitable objects, and in providing a service and benefits to encourage and help each and every member in their pursuit and understanding of photography.
Each of the key recommendations below will, if adopted by our members, help to prepare the RPS for the future:
• A new Members’ Committee to advocate for the role of members and oversee the work of volunteer-led groups, with powers to hold the Board to account.
• An increase in the size of the Board of Trustees, with a greater proportion of directly-appointed trustees.
• A Nominations Committee appointed by the Board of Trustees with responsibilities and powers clearly enshrined in the By-Laws.
• Separation of the roles of "President" and "Chair of Trustees" - with the President elected by the Members, and the Chair appointed by the Board of Trustees from one of their number.
• Adjustments to the requirements for EGMs and Members’ Resolutions to more easily enable the Members of the RPS to hold the Board to account, and a greater threshold for approval of By-Law changes.
This is an exciting and important opportunity for the RPS to modernise its practices, benchmarking it against other leading organisations, and providing much-needed clarity and involvement for members.
The greatest strength of the Royal Photographic Society is its membership: the expertise, commitment and diversity of thousands of photographers around the world. For our organisation to thrive, we must build upon that strength, ensuring that the best people are in positions of responsibility and that they - individually and collectively - can be held to account by the membership.
As our Council continues to develop a far-reaching strategy for the future of the RPS, we need to ensure that our model of governance is robust and relevant. If we get this right, we can make sure that the organisation will be perfectly placed to embrace future opportunities and challenges, bringing inspirational photography to even more people.
To provide an opportunity for you to discuss and question the motivations and implications of these recommendations, the Trustees and Executive invite you to join us for an informal online question and answer session. This will be held online on 5 December 2020, at 11am. If you would like to join us, please sign up here.
In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions, please do email these to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in the comment form below.