ESFS is the European Science Fiction Society, which was founded in 1972. Its primary activity is managing the continuity of the yearly Eurocon SF convention, which this year is Shamrokon in Dublin, and next year will be Interpresscon in St. Petersburg. It’s a society that operates from a set of rules, the ESFS Statutes.
In my opinion, those rules are broken, and need fixing. So I posted the following to the ESFS’s discussion mailing list, as well as to the Eurosmof Facebook group, as a series of separate posts. I’ve left out the long list of nitpicking, as that’s not as important.
Membership, the Committee and the General Meeting
I think the ESFS committee needs to be discontinued, membership of the society should be redefined, and the General Meeting that’s held at Eurocon needs to be more clearly a meeting of the ESFS national delegates.
The current committee membership consists of the board + national delegates + former board members + honorary members. At the moment, the statutes only allow for the committee to meet if one third of its members request an Extraordinary Meeting. All of the tasks assigned to it are really tasks for the board. It has no annual meeting, and effectively does nothing at all. It has no reason to exist.
The ESFS General Meeting at each Eurocon is not a committee meeting; it’s a meeting that’s open to anyone at the con “but up to two votes are allowed for each country”, and assesses the activity of this committee that never meets. That’s just silly.
A much better formulation of the current (and practical!) state of affairs would be that the General Meeting is a meeting of the society’s national delegates or their representatives, which is open for participation but not voting by all Eurocon members. The primary tasks of that meeting should be to assess and elect the board (which we ought to be able to replace via a vote of no confidence!), to approve the Eurocon voting results, and to handle statute changes.
On a related note, being an “ESFS member” is currently a completely useless concept. Instead, the society’s membership should be redefined to be the inclusion of the members of current and future Eurocons, the national delegates, and the board.
I think we’re squandering an important opportunity here by not raising the profile of ESFS national delegates. As I mentioned previously, the committee that they form the bulk of is completely useless. They are invisible, powerless, and usually selected at the very last minute at the Eurocon in question.
In fact the only thing these delegates currently do is act as a second voting body for Eurocon site selection, confusing everybody and making it more likely that the site selection fails.
National delegates really should be agents of the society, points of contact and channels for information dissemination. Their names and contact details should be listed on the ESFS website. They should be actively confirmed by the board some months before Eurocon, especially if they’re not members of that convention. They should be able and expected to network with each other, providing ways of advertising events and activites across the continent.
Most of that could get done just by listing these people on the website, but I think these activities should also be included in their job description in the statutes.
Bidding and Site Selection
We desperately need to take better control of the bidding and site selection process for Eurocons. The current rules are archaic, and arbitrary. We should decide just by delegate votes, but we should also redefine how delegation sizes are determined.
To start with the bidding, I’d like to hear any solid argument why there are such strict restrictions against bid parties and the enumerated list of approved “campaign materials”? That’s effectively knee-capping any outreach a bid might make outside of the Eurocon where the selection happens, and that’s really bad. If it’s set up right, bidding groups can be really active promoters of Eurocon. As is, they are not, and much less Eurocon promotion happens than it could.
Next, we should know much more about bids by the time we’re voting for them. As is, they don’t need to announce themselves until at the Eurocon itself, which means that often they do exactly that, and no-one really knows anything about them. Instead, we should require bids to present themselves months in advance, and to publicly answer questions posed to them by the board, by other bids, and by the public. Late-announcing bids should have a further hoop to jump through, such as gathering signed approval by some significant number of national delegates at-con.
Then, the voting. It’s silly, and pointlessly favours the local membership of the con where it’s being voted on. Because, let’s face it, we’re not at a stage yet where Eurocon isn’t always dominated by local fans. We really should be seeking to get Eurocons to promote themselves continent-wide, rather than to a select audience of whoever is able to make it there in person. In other words, we should get rid of the popular vote and just have delegate votes decide.
However, countries and fandoms are of different sizes. Each country is now represented by two delegates, disproportionately favouring smaller fandoms. Note that I do mean fandoms rather than countries, as their relative sizes vary significantly. In other words, fixed-size delegations aren’t fair.
Instead, we should provide a mechanism for a country to enlarge its delegation past a fixed minimum (e.g. one), up to a fixed maximum (e.g. five). For example, we could require 100 native fans’ signatures for each delegate past the first one.
Variably-sized delegations, depending on active outreach by the delegates, the bids, and the award nominees, would provide a structure for the networked promotion of Eurocons, and of European fandom. ESFS could even facilitate the delegate selection, turning it into and popular vote and implicitly authenticating the delegates.
… and that’s it for me, for now at least, on how-to-fix-ESFS. I may have more later, though, and I heartily invite counterproposals and counterarguments to my points. But I do think we should talk about all this well before Shamrokon, and get all this sorted, finally.