Decoupling the Hugos

In amongst all of the discussion as to what to do about the Chengdu Hugo issue has been one suggestion that can actually be implemented, albeit over a number of years. That is decoupling Hugo Award Administration from the host Worldcon, so that the laws of the host country cannot interfere with the voting process.

I explained my ideas to Kevin, and he kindly drafted a resolution that could be put before the Business Meeting in Glasgow. You can see that here, but it is long and legalistic so I’ll describe the basic idea. (If you want a DOCX or RTF version, ask me.)

WSFS already has an organization called the Mark Protection Committee (MPC), which is responsible for maintaining the service marks that WSFS owns (in particular “Hugo Award” and the logo). I suggest renaming this the Independent Hugo Award Administration Committee (IHAAC) and giving it, rather than Worldcon, the job of administering the voting process. The IHAAC would recruit experienced administrators in much the same way that Worldcon does, but there would be a lot more consistency from year to year.

Worldcon would still have the option of staging a Hugo Award ceremony, and creating a distinctive trophy base, but equally it could decline to do that and pass the job back to the IHAAC.

Kevin and I cannot take this proposal forward ourselves. Kevin is a member of the MPC, and I effectively work for them in maintaining the WSFS websites, so we both have a vested interest. Our involvement could easily be portrayed as a power grab. But we are happy to provide help and advice to anyone who does want to take this forward at Glasgow.

It would also benefit from input from people who have good experience of Worldcon budgets. I don’t know how much running Hugo Administration costs, and the IHAAC would need a share of WSFS membership fees to cover that. Some of that should probably be paid well in advance, just in case the Worldcon later goes bankrupt. Input from people who understand international data sharing laws would also be useful.

There are also changes that might be needed to ensure broad support for the idea. For example, people might want the current MPC members to resign and stand for re-election because their role has changed. They might want IHAAC members to be elected by online ballot of the WSFS membership rather than at the Business Meeting. It might be easier for Worldcons if the IHAAC administered Site Selection as well, and so on. The current motion represents what we think are the minimum number of changes required.

Neither Kevin nor I are wedded to any particular version of this. We are simply putting it out there to help people get started on a change that at least some people appear to want.

Of course there will also be people who think that this will inevitably lead to WSFS being incorporated and having a board of directors. That is entirely possible, and I expect such people to oppose any change of this type. But I also think it is incumbent upon them to propose a better idea, or to explain to fandom why the current chaos is preferable to WSFS Inc..

26 thoughts on “Decoupling the Hugos

  1. While I think that this idea is worth exploring in more detail, the potential failure mode that I see is the proposed IHAAC becoming a closed, self-perpetuating, unaccountable oligarchy. It (i.e., the people involved) wouldn’t even need to have ill intent for that to happen. All it would need would be a sense that “we know what’s best and need to ensure that the committee is populated by people who understand the best and correct way to do things–i.e., people who think just like us.” I’ve seen too many examples of volunteer-run organizations where that sort of thing happened. So: not a reason not to explore the idea, but a reason to take seriously what the possible failure modes are.

    1. Totally agreed. Which is why the members of the IHAAC need to be on limited terms, and ideally elected by the entire WSFS membership, not the BM. Other safeguards may exist.

      1. WE’ve had similar disucssions on the subject in the (unofficial) WSFS BM discord.

        The other major check on a expanded MPC (by whatever name) that had real administrative duties and power would be making sure it was subject to the WSFS constitution rather than self-governing, and that the constitution remained only modifiable by Worldcon members rather than being able to enter a closed loop.

        That said, WSFS (which is to say the WSFS BM) is the other major point of vulnerability in Worldcon (the institution) to a rogue Worldcon or two, and there’s something to be said for having the expanded MPC be the org that has the power to add new rules that govern to a given year’s BM, rather than the hosting Worldcon.

        1. I do think that the proposal covers this, in that IHAAC (the current MPC) is responsible to the WSFS Business Meeting in a way that Worldcon Committees are not. However, unless you want an ongoing central WSFS entity that would step in and take over mid-game, what you see in the proposal is about that best that I can think of.

          If you read the details, you’ll note that the plan would be for IHAAC to create a Hugo Award Administration Subcommittee as Worldcons currently do, but that IHAAC would retain oversight, rather than it being an irrevocable delegation. This does mean that IHAAC members would be forfeiting their eligibility for the Hugo Awards, but it also means that IHAAC could step in and take action if necessary. It would very much mean that IHAAC would have to stay actively involved in monitoring the Hugo Subcommittee, rather than taking the hand-off approach mandated by the current WSFS Constitution.

          BTW, you probably know this, but not everyone reading it does: the reason that the current rules say that every member of the Worldcon committee — no matter what their position — has be be declared ineligible unless you irrevocably delegate Hugo authority to a subcommittee . There are people, including well known SF authors, who were facing the choice between volunteering to help on a Worldcon and retaining their eligibility. It might be awfully difficult to get a SFWA liaison on your committee without the current rule.

          1. I think the intent of having to declare Worldcon committees ineligible is that you don’t want somebody who could benefit from an election counting the ballots. In my proposal, since the actual counting of votes would be done by a third party, you don’t have that problem. Also, by having a committee made or approve any decisions on ineligability, anybody with a conflict could recuse themselves from that particular vote.

  2. I had a similar thought about decoupling the Hugo awards from the con. I don’t think repurposing the Marks Committee would work and I also think we need to hire a 3rd party to do the actual administration. I’ve posted a link to my idea below.

    1. Chris, how much do you know about the “actual” administration of the Hugos? There’s a lot more to it than just counting ballots, anyone saying we need to hire a 3rd party really needs to understand how vastly expensive that would be, and how much insider knowledge is required to do it well. There could be a role for a 3rd party auditor, but paying the labor to do what the Hugo Admin team does would take a not-insignificant portion of a Worldcon’s budget.

      1. Tammy: I expect that the committee would have to be heavily involved in the nomination phase as we try to deduplicate nominations. I also expect that either the committee or the seated con will have to contact nominees, etc.

        Having said that, part of the problem with the most recent results is that they were released very late and and people are reporting questionable math in those results. Part of re-establishing trust is to provide trustworthy numbers. The only way to get trustworthy numbers is to have a third party look at those numbers.

  3. I like this idea a lot & I’m happy to support it, but I can’t take it to Glasgow because I’m not in a position to go to Glasgow.

    I also agree that such a committee needs to be elected and done so by the entire membership online, rather than at a BM. The BM-as-only-place-to-formally-decide is outdated and too easily used as gatekeeping.

    p.s. I don’t see it as a power grab – we need solutions from people who are involved and know the most about this arcane process – though some could definitely portray it that way, sure.

    1. You don’t need to include the word “online” there, unless you actually want to prohibit people who don’t have computers from participating. We already have two elections where all of the WSFS members are eligible to vote: Hugo Awards and Site Selection. While much voting is done electronically, paper ballots are still valid.

      I do thank you for not considering this a “power grab.” People like you need to respond to those who want to “burn it all to the ground” and ask them “And who do you propose will make it work once you’ve burned everyone with any institutional knowledge?”

  4. An addition to 1.6.2:

    If the Worldcon elects to hold a Hugo ceremony, it shall present all of the awards at the ceremony, and publish the complete list of shortlisted candidates. If local law, regulation or custom makes this impossible or inadvisable, it shall not hold a Hugo ceremony.

    1. The publication of the shortlists, etc. would be part of the responsibility of the Hugo Award Administration Subcommittee, which would be not be part of the current Worldcon. (And implicitly, it would be governed under the law of the locality where the service mark owner is registered, e.g. California, USA, which probably is relatively safe.) But the part about “present all the awards” makes sense, and was implicit in how I originally composed it. I’ll see if I can incorporate your wording.

      I hope that you and anyone who thinks that taking the administrative responsibility away from individual Worldcons is a good idea would show up to support such a proposal. Of course, that presupposes at least two attending WSFS members of 2024 Glasgow being willing to sponsor it in the first place!

      1. If you have a Hugo ceremony locally, you need to publish the shortlists locally. They’re normally displayed on-screen as part of each award being presented, for example. And conventions should not be permitted to edit items that are unacceptable locally out of the shortlists that are presented to attendees at the ceremony.

        1. > If you have a Hugo ceremony locally, you need to publish the shortlists locally.

          Says who? And where does is say that in our rules?

          > They’re normally displayed on-screen as part of each award being presented, for example.

          Sure. But the the Hugo Award Ceremony is not a WSFS-regulated function. All that you’re seeing is custom. Nothing is required. Worldcons have decided to present the awards in a different order than they are listed in the Constitution (or reverse order, which is most common). This year in Chengdu, the presenters did not read the names of the finalists; they were displayed on screen behind them. (Thank goodness for me, as I would have hated to mangle the pronunciation of the finalists.)

          People like me have been pointing out for years that the Ceremony is unregulated. Has nobody been listening?

          1. Perhaps, then, add a requirement that if the finalists are listed and/or read, that all of them must be listed and/or read, with no finalists removed; and, similarly, if awards are presented, that all of them must be presented at the same ceremony, with none removed.

  5. In the interests of readability, I think Kevin’s motion could usefully be split into two: the first motion assigns the Hugo admin &c to the MPC, and the second, which is withdrawn if the first fails, makes the name changes.

    I suspect that would be more immediately comprehensible.

    1. My personal preference is to not change the name of the committee at all, but just to assign it new duties explicitly. I think that there’s a decent case to be made IMO that administering the society’s awards is part of maintaining and protecting the society’s service marks in those awards.

  6. I am wholeheartedly in support of this. As a long time Worldcon attendee since 1978 I’m distressed by what has happened but impressed by the speed with which WSFS responds. There needs to be greater insurance that the process isn’t effected by bad acts from within or outside. Separating Hugo Administration from WorldCon and establishing consistency year to year would be a wise step. I will be at Glasgow if this is on the agenda.

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