I was once part of an informal think tank run by Dom Tursi. After that experience, alongside my association experiences, I can help design something that will make a positive impact on court reporting. I thought very long and hard about this, and at the present time, I do not believe I have the bandwidth to orchestrate such an organization. But the idea is developed enough that it could be adopted by any of the thousands of leaders in our field or augmented to serve some other purpose.
Below are the lightly-edited notes I wrote prior to deciding that I can’t do this right now. So if you see references to starting the organization, please know that this will not happen without people like you stepping up to the plate.
Proposed Starting Organizational Structure
A. I propose that we start with a not-for-profit unincorporated club where members would be expected to participate at least 1 hour per month and leaders would be expected to participate at least 2 hours per month. There is no upward limit. The general idea would be a federation of teams all working independently on producing ideas and actionable items for things beneficial to the court reporting and captioning communities (see starter concepts below for examples.) The idea revolves around leaders that would organize teams, members that would participate regularly in creating new content or concepts with their team, and contributors that would be a list of people kept by leaders of people willing to contribute to teams on an irregular basis. Intellectual property rights under this structure would be owned by its creator, a team, leader, or member, rather than the think tank.
B. Each leader would head up a team of at least 2 members. Teams would operate independently from the think tank to intake ideas and produce content, materials, etc. Team governance could be authoritarian where the leader is calling the shots, democratic where the team is voting on action items, or anything in between. The think tank will interfere with individual team governance as little as possible. Leaders could enter a contractual agreement with each other to direct their teams in accordance with the votes taken by the think tank, as well as settle contractually any fundraising done prior to the incorporation of the entity.
C. Before the 10th of each month, each leader would prepare a very brief report including the team name, leader name, team members, date of the report, and at least one sentence about the team’s activities. Reports would be archived and made available to all present and future leaders. On this report, a team may also place requested agenda items for the next leader meeting, a request for support, or anything else relevant to the leader meeting and overall think tank structure. Leaders may share reports with their team.
D. Before the 16th of each month, a preliminary agenda would be sent to each leader for the upcoming leader meeting. The agenda shall incorporate all items and requests received from leaders.
E. Each month, after the 15th but before the 28th, the leaders would hold a leader meeting (30 mins preferred.) If time allowed, each leader would be allowed a short period of time to comment on each action item before a vote would be taken. In situations where this is time prohibitive, leaders would be asked to form solution-oriented factions and have a single faction speaker. Teams would also be registered or dissolved at leader meetings. Simple summary minutes of the date, attendees, and vote outcomes would be kept. A brief statement as to the rationale for the vote being held and its outcome in the minutes could be used to reduce infighting. Leaders would be allowed to send a proxy or proxy instructions to meetings. Upon 3 meetings with no leader in attendance, no proxy in attendance, and no proxy instructions, the remaining leaders are entitled to call for the “dissolution” of the team in the same way they make any request for support (paragraph C). This is not meant to punish, it is simply meant to create a process by which the think tank can let go of teams that may have formed with good intentions but are not participating. Teams that reform or team members that wish to transfer to another team should be welcomed.
F. A primary function of the leader meetings shall be to decide the rules that participating teams agree to follow and determine how the think tank as a whole can support/distribute/highlight the various teams’ work. For example, Team “StenoMasters” produces a document on how to be an effective speaker and submits a request for the think tank to broadcast it over social media. The leaders vote yes. Now everybody goes back to their teams and lets them know to post the document on social media.
G. Under this structure, teams that suffer from infighting or personality conflicts can simply splinter into a new team with a new leader without disrupting the overall direction or operation of the think tank.
H. The one immutable characteristic of this group is that it must follow the law. For example, designing a computer program that helps independent contractors conspire to set rates in violation of antitrust law would be a problem. Another important thing to remember is that participation is largely voluntary, so holding votes to have people donate money is unenforceable, but holding votes to attempt fundraising together is fair game.
I. With enough participation, incorporation is possible, and with it, all the rights and responsibilities. The possibility of hiring part time or full-time staff to carry out the will of leaders comes into view.
Subject to change, addition, revision. Some ideas that I’ve had that could be folded into a think tank structure, in addition to whatever ideas the actual think tank can come up with:
-Law ideas (price transparency bill).
-Advocacy / grassroots campaign designs.
-Bylaws/organizational suggestions and frameworks (guarding against institutional inertia).
-Company designs and ideas (stenographic gaming, media, skill league).
-Fundraising ideas for stenographic ventures and initiatives, including endowments.
-Mentoring program rewrites.
-Testing program designs.
-Price/data reports to the extent permitted by law.
-Designs for realtime courts and/or court reporter involvement in promoting access to justice.
-Production of awards for industry notables.
-Literary works or ad campaign ideas that raise public awareness about court reporting.
-White papers, marketing plans.
-Promoting people, places, things, and organizations important to the profession.
-create materials explaining incorporation and other business/nonprofit rights and responsibilities in various states.
-differentiating independent contractors from common law employees and identifying employee misclassification.
-Having a group operating independently from other organizations in the field will help ensure that ideas are not killed based on political, social, or economic reasons unrelated to the merit of the idea. Those organizations could send teams to the think tank.
-Creating a group that is dynamic allows for greater participation. If three friends can get together and form a team under the think tank, it creates the capability to acknowledge and appreciate everyone’s work. The organizational structure may need modifications as more teams are added, but it’d be a great problem to have.
-Creating a group committed to growth will enable crowdfunding of particularly promising ideas. For example, if the think tank designed a skill league for court reporters, it could choose to actually fund and run that league if we had enough members willing to do so, and potentially feed whatever profits back to its crowdfund supporters / shareholders. Even where crowdfunding is impossible, the possibility of using the think tank as a platform to seek out investors within the field is there.
-Members of the think tank could also build collaborative and leadership skills through the think tank and then take it back to their own organizations or states.
-The think tank could eventually incorporate and eventually become relatively self-sustaining (for example, having enough in investments to pay staff with the money from those investments) .
-This creates an incredibly low-cost grassroots structure. Our associations, by comparison, are often high-cost structures that require a lot of grassroots action to accomplish anything.
-There is a significant time commitment to running such a thing, keeping lists, archiving minutes, and holding meetings. If any money gets involved, only someone of the highest morals could be trusted to act out the group’s will, and to the extent there are tax issues arising from that, things could get messy.
-A dynamic membership where teams are allowed to form or disband monthly runs a big risk of becoming chaotic and having teams withdraw support from the think tank when they don’t get their way, but I still believe that with the right contractual obligations (paragraph B) it would be possible to create a structure where everyone feels heard and the members in the think tank have ready access to minutes that explain why something has not been supported by the think tank (paragraph E) and give them constant opportunities to redefine and design implementation for their idea.
-The dynamic membership makes it easy-ish to infiltrate the group, which again, is something that can only really be dealt with through contractual obligation or understanding. Perhaps joining as a leader should require an oath or contract with the other leaders in terms of mission statement.
-Bad leadership could hurt the implementation of such an idea. For example, abusing the structure by holding unenforceable or rude votes. I leave it to your imagination what that might mean.
For those seeking a productive alternative to association service, your right to association may be the winning ticket. So ubiquitous is the power of incorporation that we forget that power does not come from the state-controlled recognition of an entity, but from the people and powers backing that entity. I could run such a thing if there was great interest, but it is not necessary for it to be me.