9 October 2012

IfA Chartership Seminar and AGM

Members of the IfA (Institute for Archaeologists) gathered yesterday at Burlington House to hear a review of progress towards Chartership and to discuss possible ways forward.

Chartership is the process of seeking the formal approval and support of the Crown for the IfA - and thus enhancing the status of the archaeological and historic environment professions. It is an essential step - both for the IfA and the profession - if we are to gain 'parity of esteem' with other professions (such as architects, engineers and surveyors) with whom we often work closely.

Get charter

Already in the last three years the IfA has made significant progress towards Chartership. At the last AGM the membership approved a resolution to allow Council to continue progress on this front - specifically drafting the necessary documents (with legal advice and support) and beginning discussions with the Privy Council. At yesterday's seminar the IfA published the drafts of four key areas of documentation, and invited members to comment on them and discuss the implications.

A full summary of events will no doubt appear on the IfA website, and it is not my intention here to provide a full record. Instead I just want to record some impressions whilst they are still fresh in the mind. Firstly, however, I have to say that I was slightly disappointed by the turnout - only 1% of the IfA membership were present in the room (with a further 3% represented by proxy for the subsequent AGM). I guess this means that the other 99% (or 96%) are quite happy with the direction the IfA is going.

Although Chartership was the basis of the meeting, the main areas of discussion concerned the underpinning documents. These were the outcome of the long Council debates about governance reform which have dominated our thoughts for the last couple of years. Because the structure of the organisation will effectively be 'fixed' by a Royal Charter, it is essential that the IfA has an appropriate structure that will work well long-term.

In fact, governance reform is essential, whether the IfA is successful in its application for Chartership or not.

This is because at the moment the IfA has a single Council of 20-24 people that simultaneously considers both the day-to-day management of the Institute, and the longer-term strategic issues which beset the profession. Perhaps inevitably, more time is spent on the former than the latter; and despite having an 'Executive' which considers much of the day-to-day aspects, constitutionally all decisions need to come back to Council - resulting in a lot of 'double handling'.

The proposal therefore is to split the role of the current Council between two bodies - a Board of Directors (a fiduciary body of 10-12 people meeting six times per year) and an Advisory Council (a strategic planning body of up to 40 people meeting no less than twice a year); the Advisory Council also represents the Special Interest Groups and the broader membership.

Consequently, there are effectively three tiers of documentation - the Charter itself, the by-laws (which also form part of the formal Charter), and the regulations. Changes to the Charter and the by-laws need approval from the Privy Council, so these are as broadly-worded as they can be. The Regulations are derived largely from the current Code of Conduct and Articles of Association. IfA members can find all the background here.

Despite the relatively low turnout, discussion at the meeting was well-informed, robust and analytical. We began with a discussion about the philosophy of archaeology and its role in Society. Whilst this was brought up initially in relation to the name of the Institute (Chartered Institute for Archaeologists = CIA?!), questions and discussion also addressed the relationship of the IfA to community archaeology and to the wider European family of archaeologists.

Further and more detailed discussion included some very helpful questions from the floor about the composition of the Board of Directors, the relationship between it and the Advisory Council (and communication between the two bodies), and the question of liability for those on both bodies. These were, of course, issues that we had been grappling with in Council, but it was interesting to hear some similar concerns raised from different perspectives by other members. The international relevance of the IfA was a theme which recurred throughout - and admittedly this is an important aspect which has not always been uppermost in Council's mind.

The seminar concluded with a short discussion about the (still highly theoretical) routes to individual Chartered status, should the IfA be successful with its application. Kate Geary gave an excellent overview of the situation in comparable professional bodies, including the Landscape Institute, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Institute of Environmental Management, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. A wide range of options and possibilities were presented.

Finally, Pete Hinton gave a quick review of what would happen if the IfA's application for Chartership was unsuccessful... it was not the 'end of the world', but it would mean that the profession would take a lot longer to reach 'parity of esteem'.

There is of course still time - until the end of the week - for members to respond to the consultation. For those who are still unconvinced by the importance of Chartership, here is an interesting article in the Guardian.

The AGM saw some significant changes to Council members and Officers. Gerry Wait stood down after six years as Chairman, during which time he has been a very positive force for the development of the IfA and the profession; his elected successor is Jan Wills. Also after a six-year stint, Martin Newman stood down as Treasurer, leaving his successor with a healthy surplus on the books.

This was also my last day as a Member of Council after three years. I decided not to seek re-election, as in the last few months I have not been able to commit as fully as I should like to the role, and it is much better that someone takes my place who can make a full contribution in this important time of change.

I wish all the new and continuing Council members 'good luck' for the next few years. Hopefully it will be possible to sustain the momentum and make a Chartered institute - and indeed Chartered Archaeologists - a reality.

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