18. ELECTRONIC DECISION MAKING (Standing Committee)

That the Assembly

authorize the Assembly Standing Committee, on the advice of the Legal Reference Committee, to

1. remove current references in the Regulations to electronic ballots or decision making; and
2. amend the “Conduct of Business” Regulations to provide for electronic decision making consistent with the Manual for Meetings.

Rationale:

A survey of Synods reveals a wide variation in practice across the life of the church.

There is variance in the language used from flying minute to electronic ballot to electronic decision making. There is also variance in practice about the number of persons who are required to dissent before a matter is referred to full meeting. It is quite intimidating to dissent to a decision in this kind of communication and is not really consistent with the use of indicator cards. Blue does not always mean ‘no’ but rather can mean uncertainty or uncomfortableness.

The essential characteristics of most of the protocols provided are:

    • The threshold who need to participate in the vote
    • The number who need to dissent for a referral
    • The timeline
    • The person responsible for initiating the ballot

There appear to be two circumstances when it is anticipated that an electronic decision making process might be initiated. First when a matter has been considered at a face to face meeting and requires further information prior to a decision and second, when a matter arises between meetings which requires determination as a matter of urgency.

It seems the practice of electronic decision making is widespread in the church. However the Regulations and Manual for Meetings only incidentally and tangentially acknowledge its existence. This explains why many Synods have adopted by-laws and protocols. However these are also inconsistent in their application, for instance many only apply to standing committees rather than to all decision making bodies. It is unclear what practice exists in presbyteries.

Electronic decision making provides for dealing with matters promptly, particularly those which require little discussion. However the Manual for Meetings is founded on principles of community formation, discussion and deliberation and respecting dissent or difference in perspective. This appears to be much more difficult in electronic decision making.

The increased use of electronic decision making, the inconsistent practice, the questions about its consistency with the principles in the Manual for Meetings and the concerns about its use allowing for dissent mean that a case can be made for an amendment to the Manual to include a protocol for electronic decision making. This could still be varied as it currently is by councils however it would provide a foundation and would allow all the issues to be thoroughly considered.