Questions & answers for members at NZNO Central Regional Convention

At the NZNO Central Regional Convention in Palmerston North on 9 April, Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku, Chief Executive Memo Musa and I were invited to be part of a Q&A panel. We answered eight questions, sourced from NZNO members in the Region and provided to us the week before. 

Three of the questions were addressed to me. Here are the notes I prepared, for use in my answers. 

Question 1. Social media is a growing factor in communication and in influencing opinion. What is NZNO’s strategy and safeguards in relation to social media platforms?  

Firstly, thank you for the opportunity to participate in your Regional Convention in this way. When I received the invitation to be part of this panel from your Chairperson, Trisha Hurley, I wrote back and commended the Central Regional Council for building member responsiveness and leadership accountability into today’s programme. 

Turning now to the question, I would like to clarify what we mean when we talk about NZNO. What might pop into your head when you hear “NZNO” are the staff who work in our NZNO offices. But I’m really clear in my mind that “NZNO” means the 52,000 of us who are part of this organisation, each with with our own role to play in successfully delivering NZNO’s strategies. 

Social media is a topic I spoke on at the Southern Regional Convention in Dunedin, the week before last. The notes from that presentation are available on my blog. 

In that speech, I covered NZNO’s main safeguard for members – the new guideline, “Social media and the nursing profession: a guide to maintain professionalism online for nurses and nursing students 2019”, published in February. This guideline is available on the NZNO website. 

What about strategy? 

In my speech the week before last, I also mentioned the upcoming CTU Organising Conference, held in Auckland last week. 

As anticipated, social media strategy was a major theme running through the conference. It featured in the three keynote speeches from international guests. Carl Roper from the UK spoke about the work of the Trades Union Congress Digital Lab, which supports research, leadership and training in digital transformation. Melanie Gatt & Felicity Sowerbutts from Australia showcased recent successful social media strategies in Sydney and Melbourne. 

Much of the learning at the conference was focused on digital unionism, although NZEI Te Riu Roa (which is both a union and professional association, like us) presented on their new social media strategy for teachers in Early Childhood Education. And a values-based communication workshop run by the Post Primary Teachers Association Te Wehengarua – also a professional association – covered social media campaigns. 

A number of key points for came through all of this. Firstly, and most obviously, was the need for a strategy. The point was made repeatedly that if we don’t lead the debates about our issues on social media, then other people will. 

Secondly was the importance of using Facebook groups – either by joining large existing ones (like the 35,000-strong “NZ teachers” group), or by setting up new ones (like the “PPTA members – bringing out the best” group, created by the comms team at the secondary teachers union). 

Thirdly, it is essential to interact. The power of social media lies in its interactivity. Using social media like a noticeboard, simply posting messages and then walking away, won’t work. In fact, it may be worse than doing nothing. 

Fourthly, this social media interaction must be member-led. This is not only a practical necessity, given the 24/7 nature of interaction on these platforms, it’s also key to maintaining credibility. But equally, our volunteer digital activists need support from union staff, including training and mentoring. Private Messenger groups bringing together communications staff and member activists was highlighted as a good way to provide support, allowing debriefing and problem-solving in what can be a very challenging environment. 

If those were some of the learnings from the CTU conference, what then is NZNO’s strategy? 

The short answer is that unfortunately, we don’t yet have an overall strategy. A framework for developing an NZNO social media strategy does exist. It came out of a communications review commissioned by the Board and completed in 2017. But implementation of the review recommendations has been delayed, partly due to resource constraints. 

In the absence of an overall strategy, what we have at present are discrete social media campaigns, a range of practices by different actors within the “NZNO 52,000”, a range of views on how to approach social media, and a few decisions and actions regarding social media. These decisions tend to be reactive and ad-hoc. 

I will conclude by giving some examples from Board level. There, some decisions and a range of views are documented in the Board meeting minutes, which are available to members on the NZNO website

The minutes of the meeting held on 15 February 2017, for instance, record that: “The Board expressed concern that the President is still reporting personal blogs [and other social media activity] toward his key performance indicators (KPIs) which is not part of Presidential work. The President responded that the work plan approved by the Board contains reference to [social media] KPIs and these are what is being reported on, and that he sees this as part of member engagement.”

So there you can see clearly that there was a range of views, in this instance over whether member engagement on social media should be part of my work as President.

“Regarding social media”, the minutes continue, “a Board member has observed that there is an “NZNO” Facebook group which is not an official one. The communications review may inform the use of the unofficial and official Facebook pages.  A board member commented that on more than one occasion use of the unofficial Facebook group has caused problems.  A request is to be put in writing to the administrators of the unofficial Facebook group containing recommendations to remove the NZNO branding… 

The Vice President is to draft a letter to the administrators of the unofficial Facebook group to request removal of NZNO branding.  The letter, once approved, is to be sent on behalf of the Board to ensure the message is clearly received that this was a decision made by the Board.”

This decision reflects one approach to social media strategy, agreed by the Board.  

Incidentally, I had been an administrator of that unofficial “NZNO Members and Supporters” Facebook group at that time, supporting the team of NZNO delegates who moderated and led the debates, and part of their private Messenger group. After the meeting, I was obliged to give up that admin role. 

Decisions on social media activity were also made at the following Board meeting, on 19 April 2017.

The minutes record: “The Board observed that who makes the posts plays an important part in social media.  NZNO’s Employment Lawyer has advised that while NZNO may look to ensure that the right of freedom of expression does not override any specific legal duties and obligations by way of its formal moderation for official NZNO Facebook posts, it is not clear as to how much (if any) oversight might be extended to unofficial Facebook posts in the absence of formal NZNO moderation of same.

The Board discussed the President writing a second article for Kai Tiaki as a way to inform members.  The Board instructed the CE to request that Kai Tiaki journalists write a brief article covering the Employment Lawyer’s opinion for the next issue of Kai Tiaki.”

These two articles appeared in Kai Tiaki, as directed by the Board, as “To post or not to post? Social media and nursing” and “Notices to members: caution advised on Facebook”.

Again, on 15 August 2018, the Board minutes record: “A member of the Negotiating Team believes there needs to be moderation of sites with NZNO’s name attached. The President advised that he had looked in February and at that time there were 41 unofficial websites Facebook sites with NZNO’s name attached”. 

A resolution was passed: “That a letter from the Board be sent to unofficial NZNO Facebook site administrators requesting that they cease to use abbreviations NZNO and associated NZNO branding on the unofficial Facebook sites they administer.”

This resolution has not yet been implemented. 

Question 2. Do you believe NZNO is a membership driven organisation and how confident are you that the voice of the members is being heard? How valuable are Regional Councils in the NZNO structure and do they serve their intended purpose?

This is a two-part question. If it’s ok with you all, I will deal with the first part quickly. 

Do I believe NZNO is a membership driven organisation and is the voice of the members being heard? Yes, to an extent, but it needs to become more so. 

The second part is about Regional Councils. I’d like to take some time to look at why we have Regional Councils. What are they? Where do they come from? What is their purpose? Do they make the voice of members heard? 

Regional Councils are one of the five fundamental membership structures mandated by the NZNO Constitution. The other four structures are the workplace delegates, colleges and sections, the National Student Unit and a little-known body called Health Professionals NZ. You can find out more about these in Schedule Seven of the Constitution, on the NZNO website. 

The origin of Regional Councils is described on pages 209-10 of NZNO’s official centennial history, “Freed to Care, Proud to Nurse” by Mary Ellen O’Connor:

“By 1988, there were 54 branches of [the New Zealand Nurses Association]… In 1989 a major restructuring took place. Branches, which facilitated remits and conference voting, were abolished in favour of… individual membership of NZNA, with workplace groups being the first point of reference and the eleven regional councils being the next. All these regions would have representation on the new NZNA national council, bigger than the old national executive…

“This restructuring was seen by NZNA leadership as better representing the majority of members, who now worked across multiple workplaces. It was perceived by the membership, however, as the destruction of the organic channels that they had created. 

“In fact, the imposed structure was never to function in the comfortable, rhythmic way that the old branches had.”

So there you have it. In the opinion of the author of our official history, compared to the previous structures Regional Councils have never functioned to make the voice of members heard.   

This excerpt from our history also talks about some of the other purposes of regional councils. 

Each regional council decided on their “representation on the national council”, the governing body known today as the Board of Directors. That purpose was removed in 2012, when election of directors was transferred to an all-member ballot. 

And the regional councils “facilitated remits and conference voting”. Conference voting has also been removed, now replaced by the “one person, one vote” system

The remaining purposes of these structures are set out in the NZNO Regional Council Handbook. This document is currently under review. The new version will be out very soon. The current version is seven years old, and still refers to the functions now removed, but where it’s not outdated it says: 

“In general,  Regional Councils are critical for the information flow and promulgation of NZNO policy between the Board of Directors and general membership within the region. They also play an active role in the successful operation of Regional Conventions [and congratulations to Trisha and your council for organising today’s great event], management of any regional funds… management of consultation documents and submissions, regional activities such as International Nurses Day, projects and the operation of any sub-committees.”

Do Regional Councils serve these purposes? Given that they are heavily dependent on the precious time and effort of our wonderful volunteers, I think that by and large they do these things as well as they can.

But the questions remain. Is this what they were intended to do when they were created? And are they the best structure for ensuring that the voice of members is heard? 

Because Regional Councils are part of the interlocking, fundamental membership structures in Schedule Seven, if anyone ever decided they needed to change, it would probably require a full review of the Constitution. 

Question 3. Members have raised concerns about the amount of overseas travel undertaken by the leadership. Is the overseas travel justified and what benefits does it bring to the average member? 

My answer to this question will be in two parts. The first part is about something which can be measured precisely. The second thing is impossible to quantify. 

I have a handout to go with my answer. Here is an extract from a paper presented to the NZNO Board meeting on 12 February 2019 by David Woltman, our Manager, Corporate Services. 

David prepared the paper at the request of our Audit and Risk Committee, who had heard the member concerns about the amount of overseas travel undertaken by the leadership and responded. 

The figures in the table cover travel costs for all NZNO members and staff. As you can see, while costs go up and down from year to year, in 2018 the total gross amount spent on all international travel was $28,163, or roughly 0.1% of the NZNO budget. Twenty times that amount was spent on domestic airfares, supporting NZNO members to attend events like the AGM and Conference, college and section committee meetings, and so on.  

I think many would be surprised to see what a small amount goes on international travel. Some of the $28,163 gross spend was later recovered, by the way, through payments to NZNO from sponsoring organisations and individuals. 

In terms of the benefit to members from this travel, this is something that’s impossible to quantify, so I won’t even start. 

But I would like to read a couple of messages. 

“I am writing to you today on behalf of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) following the brutal and horrific attack on two mosques in Christchurch in which dozens of people were killed during Friday prayers.

“We offer our unconditional support to the New Zealand Nursing Organisation, Nurses and all healthcare workers in Christchurch and across New Zealand. The thoughts of Nurses from around the world will be with you, the victims and families of these attacks and we stand resolutely beside you in condemning all forms of violence, harassment, intimidation and discrimination against immigrants and minorities and indeed people anywhere.

“We are deeply saddened by this barbaric act, which goes against all human values and took the lives of innocent people while they were praying. We understand from news reports that 49 people have been killed and more injured including young children with gunshot wounds and that Christchurch hospital was a safe haven during the attack. We acknowledge both the compassion and bravery of the nurses, first responders and all the healthcare staff who provided care immediately after the incident and continue to do so during a time of great pain and grief. Nurses will always provide care for patients whenever and wherever it is needed.

“Our sincerest sympathy and complete solidarity is with NZNO and all the people of New Zealand at this time.

Yours sincerely,

Annette Kennedy, President & Howard Catton, Chief Executive Officer”

This letter was circulated. Its compassion is born of NZNO’s close connections to ICN. I think that members who read it in the days and weeks after the attack, felt better. And for me, that’s the benefit. 

One more:

“Nurse leaders around the world joined together in expressing shock and horror at the deadly slaughter in Christchurch, New Zealand and said it is a reminder of the deadly consequences of hate speech, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant policies that must be confronted and challenged by all.

“Global Nurses United, representing nurses and health care workers unions in 23 nations, said they stood in unity with the Muslim community targeted by the attack, and expressed support for New Zealand nurses, represented by the GNU affiliate, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), and other health care workers who are providing care for the victims and their families.

“No nation can be considered democratic when people must live in fear of violence because of their religion, ethnicity, immigration status, or race, said GNU. In addition to the loss of life and injury, there are also long-term consequences that can erode the mental and physical health of affected family members and entire communities and nations for years.

“New Zealand reminds us that this has become a global crisis and must be confronted as a global community.  

“It is incumbent on our world leaders to join together in not only condemning the violence, but in directly challenging the inflammatory rhetoric and policies that encourage them.”

I think this sums up why we engage internationally: “New Zealand reminds us that this has become a global crisis and must be confronted as a global community.”

The hate that caused so much grief to so many people – not least, to NZNO members at Christchurch Hospital – is international, and can only be confronted by us connecting internationally. 

And it’s not just in moments of tragedy. Global interconnections – involving governments, health authorities, health employers, nursing regulators, educators, nursing policy-makers and researchers and even our families – shape the lives of NZNO members, every minute of every day. This is why NZNO must be there on your behalf, too. 

You can read more about these reasons in the publication (produced through consultation with members), “Guideline: NZNO and its international relationships and affiliations, 2016”. 

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