Following a detailed review and consultation process, Cochrane amended its organizational governance in 2016, including changes to the Board and the way our elections are run.
What will change?
A new Board
Cochrane’s Steering Group has become the Cochrane Board, effective October 2016. The Board includes:
- 6 members elected from among all Cochrane members.
The Board will no longer include representatives of specific Cochrane roles or Groups. We will identify critical skills and experience such as editorial, methods, knowledge translation, and consumer advocacy in the call for nominations. Some Cochrane members will be able to vote and stand for election for the first time, such as editors and translators. Members of the Central Executive staff will also be able to vote for the first time, although they cannot stand for election.
- 5 external members appointed by the Board.
‘External’ is defined to mean having no current staff, editorial, or leadership role in any Cochrane Group. External members will always be a minority of the Board.
- 2 Co-Chairs appointed by the Board.
This process will not change. Eligible candidates must be Cochrane leaders. From 2018, external members who have completed a term on the Board will be considered leaders eligible to stand for the position of Co-Chair, but one of the Co-Chairs must always be internal to Cochrane.
Under the previous system, Cochrane’s Groups were its legal members. In Steering Group elections, individual votes counted on a per Group basis, and each Group received one vote. Each Group could also vote at the AGM, although this excludes smaller Groups such as Satellites and Branches.
Under the new system, individual people are members of Cochrane for the purposes of Board elections and General Meetings. Each person who is a member has one direct vote.
From 2016, the definition of membership includes anyone with an active role in Archie (excluding people who only have a role of Mailing List, Other, Super-User, Web Contributor, and Web Editor, but including everyone who has any other role). From 2017, the definition will be updated based on Cochrane’s new membership scheme, and this definition will be developed in consultation with the Cochrane community and decided by the Board.
A new Council
A Cochrane Council will be established with representatives drawn initially from the existing Group Executives and the Author Forum. The Council will provide a forum for Groups to meet and discuss high level matters with each other, and to make sure that the voice of Cochrane’s Groups is heard by the Board.
Under UK law, the activities of a charity are restricted to its stated ‘Objects’ in its Articles of Association. Cochrane’s Objects are currently limited to: “…the protection and preservation of public health through the preparation, maintenance and promotion of the accessibility of systematic reviews of the effects of health care, for the public benefit”. This definition no longer fits some of Cochrane’s activities, including new products based on review findings, linking data within reviews to other health and research data, crowd-sourcing the identification of trials and other exciting new projects. For this reason, the Objects will be expanded to add the words “or any other charitable activities”.
Why are we changing?
The Steering Group structure has been effective in leading Cochrane from its inception as a small group of volunteers 25 years ago, to its current position as the world leader in evidence-based health care, and a global movement of close to 40,000 volunteers. However, this structure is likely not the optimal governance configuration to continue to steer this large, global, multi-faceted organization in an environment that is rapidly evolving in terms of technologies, innovations, the field of medicine itself, and financial realities.
The Steering Group has carefully reflected on its own work and its responsibilities to provide strategic direction and ensure the viability of Cochrane as an organization. Changes to the governance structure draw on good governance practice internationally, while still incorporating Cochrane’s unique context and culture.
The changes aim to make sure that our Board:
- reflects Cochrane’s evolving community;
- considers the interests of the whole organization;
- is responsive to our environment;
- is open to external perspectives;
- is built on fair and equal voting rights for members; and
- follows good governance practice.
What was the process for deciding to make these changes?
A Working Group of Steering Group members initially developed the draft proposals. At their meeting in January 2016, the Steering Group approved the draft, and wide consultation was conducted during the year, including two open surveys of all active contributors and detailed discussions at the Mid-Year Meetings in London in April. The drafts were amended in response to the feedback received.
The Articles of Association were presented to the Cochrane Annual General Meeting at the Seoul Colloquium in October. All Cochrane’s member Groups had the opportunity to vote on the new Articles, and Groups present voted unanimously to accept them.
Also at the Seoul Colloquium, the Steering Group met and gave final approval to the amended Board policy and electoral procedures, and the Terms of Reference of the new Council, to be put into action following approval of the new Articles.