A Word on ICPSR Council Nominations

Originally posted February 2, 2009
By Linda Detterman

Over the next several weeks, members of the ICPSR community will receive requests to submit nominees for ICPSR's governing board—the ICPSR Council. Though I am gaining tenure at ICPSR quickly (time does fly), this is a process that because it happens every other year, still feels a bit new to me.

In the past, I'm told, there has been some confusion with the process. As someone who is adamant about resolving confusion (since it often leads to dissatisfaction) among our membership and after some analysis of the situation, my hope is to shed some light by sharing my last experience with the process. I must admit however, this wasn't my idea. At the 2007 OR Meeting, an OR approached me about his concerns with the process. After sharing my experience as part of the nominating committee earlier that year, this insightful OR, after hearing my story, advised that I somehow share the story, since his mild dissatisfaction was as he described it, more a misunderstanding of the process than anything else. He also now realized the value of his input into the nomination process. So, here we go!

If you want the official language on Council nominations, see our Bylaws. My goal here is to give you the more "friendly" and yes, informal version.

First, there are two primary events in the process. First is the nomination (gathering of nominees and development of a slate). Second is the election. In talking with several ORs, I believe the core catalyst of dissatisfaction with the process is that attention is primarily, or perhaps solely, on the second event—the election.

Like most boards of directors, the Council election event is largely an approval process. It's a time for the membership to give the thumbs up for the nominated individuals to serve. It's also a last chance for the membership to express concern over those individuals, if concern exists. From my experience with both boards of directors in industry and the ICPSR Council, it would perhaps be more appropriate and less confusing to refer to the second step as "approval" versus "election."

I sense this might help because the word "election" connotes that it is a runoff process and that it is the key point in the process to get involved. However, my experience in serving on the past nominating committee, mostly as an observer, enlightened me. What I realized was that it is the "nomination event" that is the key point in the process for the membership and the data community to get involved. Here's why.

There are currently 12 positions on the ICPSR Council. Across those 12 positions, the desire is to have a Council, which serves as an advisory team for ICPSR staff, that is representative of our membership and has expertise in data and data delivery issues that ICPSR faces as technology evolves. And let's face it, technology and therefore ICPSR are in constant evolution!

So below is a quick summary of some of the attributes that these 12 members should as a group, represent:

  • Various Social Sciences disciplines, instructional, and dataset representation (e.g., Political Science, Sociology, Economics, Public Health, Analysis Methods, etc.)
  • Wide array of institutional representation (BA, MA, Research Extensives, federations, teaching, geographical, etc.)
  • Operational and technical representation (library, computer systems and infrastructure)
  • Diversity of Council members representation (e.g., gender, race, OR/non-OR, etc.)
  • Special initiatives representation (for example, when ICPSR was making the move from distributing data on mailed media (tape/CD) to primary distribution over the Internet, expertise in online delivery was desired in Council members since they were to act in an advisory capacity on this initiative during this period)

The math here is simple! The number of attributes desired well outnumbers the number of seats available! What happens then, is that each nominee needs to represent several of these attributes.

So you draw from the individuals nominated by the membership community and find the perfect fit to cover the unrepresented attributes. For example, you find an individual who is an economist from a BA institution within a federation and who is also know for excellent teaching of quantitative methods. Perfect fit—but unavailable to serve. So, you start over. And so it goes.

The key then, to a successful nomination is an extensive pool of candidates - candidates that not only have a wide array of professional experiences and skills, but importantly, candidates that have the ability and desire to serve for four years. (Note that the Council position is not paid—it's more/less a volunteer position. Beyond the gratitude of the ICPSR membership and staff, the Council member's greatest payment is a nice dinner at an Ann Arbor restaurant three times per year!)

The last step then, is the election. After extended meetings to identify individuals who will provide prospective and advice from across our membership, and after getting agreement from those individuals that they will spend some part of the next four years advising ICPSR, they are placed on the ballot for "election" by the ORs.

As you can see, however, the most rigorous part of the process is the nomination. And this is where we implore our membership to provide names of individuals who are willing and able to serve and representative of the membership and the needs for the evolving consortium.

As we proceed into an election year, we reviewed the entire process once again. And, we discovered that we could do better on the communication front. As the nomination process begins this year, our Director plans to send information on the attributes that are "retiring" from our current Council and those advisory attributes that we believe are essential for ICPSR to continue to evolve over the next several years. We hope that the information he shares will help to stimulate nominee ideas. And we implore you to share those nominee names with us when the call comes.

So my purpose was to give you a glimpse into the nomination process from request for and submission/receipt of nominee names to the election event. I hope that this helps to clarify the process, to encourage your participation in the process (early and often!), and of course, to allay some of the dissatisfaction that we sometimes hear about towards the end of the process! Further questions or clarifications needed? Please contact me and I'll find answers!

Linda Detterman is Assistant Director, Collection Delivery, and Marketing & Membership Director at ICPSR.