SAA 2015: Session 210, How SAA Comes to a Policy Position

In advance of the 2015 Annual Meeting, we invited SNAP members to contribute summaries of panels, roundtable and section meetings, forums, and pop-up sessions. Summaries represent the opinions of their individual authors; they are not necessarily endorsed by SNAP, members of the SNAP Steering Committee, or SAA.

This session was moderated by former SAA President Danna Bell and was set up in the fishbowl format, meaning there were many questions and comments from audience members. Two members of the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy (CAPP), Frank Boles and Amy Lazarus, started the session by explaining how their committee developed policy positions and how it worked with SAA Council.

CAPP has two processes for developing policy; one is reactive, and the other is proactive. For the proactive process, Council decides there is an issue that they believe might be worth SAA addressing, so they ask CAPP to look into it. CAPP then drafts a policy and sends it to Council for review, which usually prompts rounds of edits before the final policy is submitted to the membership at large for review. The second process – the reactive one – is more difficult because it comes in the wake of something happening that Council feels it must address quickly.

Boles admitted that policy statements in reaction to current events often take longer than the CAPP committee members or members of Council wished they did, but he stressed the belief that it was better to get it right than it was to get bad information out quickly. He pointed to situations where SAA has made public statements and gotten “egg all over its face” when it turned out they they had relied on bad information to craft a response.

Christine George, an archivist at the University of Buffalo, disagreed that taking time to get things absolutely right was the best approach, as it left it looking as though SAA had no response in many situations. She pointed to the Boston College issue with the Belfast subpoenas. A 24-hour turnaround would be a good goal for responses. She also thought that CAPP committee members shouldn’t be appointed; rather, it was better to elect people to the committee, as it would be easier to know where members stood on issues. George was very concerned that the unelected members of CAPP were making the policy decisions for SAA.

Lazarus said a 24-hour turn around sounded great, but in reality, she didn’t think it wast possible to develop a complete response in that timeframe. Further, she pointed out that though there were only eight people on CAPP, they often asked non-CAPP members to help draft policy positions when they knew someone outside of the committee had specialized knowledge of a topic. She also stressed that CAPP was an advisory role to Council; they did not make policy for SAA because that is Council’s responsibility.

Phoebe Letocha, the Collections Management Archivist for Johns Hopkins University’s medical collections, worked with CAPP when she drafted the HIPPA issue brief in 2013. Letocha pointed out that document had been through many revisions since she first wrote it, and there was a call for input from the membership. She’s glad she had the opportunity to work on the brief, and found the process to be very collaborative.

Sarah Quigley is the manuscript archivist at the Woodruff Library at Emory University. Her involvement with policy statements from SAA came from the issue with the Georgia Archives, which faced closure in 2012. She was the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable Vice Chair at the time and found that the roundtable and Council often ran afoul of each other. She wanted that relationship to change, but the reason for I & A’s existence was to address issues that arise and support archives that were in crisis. She has tried to make sure Council is aware of the issues that arise, but she feels that I & A doesn’t have a clear role in the policy-making process at this time. She hopes that the roundtable and CAPP can work together to the benefit of archives and archivists because there are many archivists with a passion for advocacy in the roundtable who want to be more involved.

The three members on the panel who were not committee members all agreed that CAPP is a mystery to most members. What is the committee’s role? Who is the audience? What is the workflow that goes into developing policies? Why does it take so long to address issues? Who sets the boundary for issues on which SAA will comment and which it will not?

George pointed out that CAPP claims there is a process for developing policy, but that it seemed to change every time. Further, she pointed out that if Council or CAPP weren’t all in when it came to advocacy, it was pointless.

Boles said that Council has decided that it will only comment on issues that have an archival component. That was Council’s decision, and Council is elected. They appoint advisors for CAPP, and they instruct CAPP when to look into an issue. CAPP does not search for issues to address. Any member of SAA has the right to petition Council to address issues, at which time Council would ask CAPP to look into whatever issue it is that has been brought to its attention.  He agreed that CAPP’s role needed to be better communicated. Also, Boles was very concerned about Council trying to act on issues quickly.

Quigley pointed out that the perfect was often the enemy of the good, and that many times SAA was too risk-averse. If SAA waited too long to respond to crises, then they put themselves in the position to be shut out of the conversation. She also noted that there are more people who are willing to be involved than CAPP or Council realized.

Bell ended the session by saying that she nor members of Council or CAPP could ask people for help if they don’t know these individuals exist. Therefore, leadership needs to hear from those who want to be involved, particularly those with a background in areas that can be helpful with policy positions.

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