Making your mind up at BiCon

With BiCon under a month away, it’s worth being pre-warned about one of the events at BiCon that often takes newcomers, and sometimes seasoned BiCon attendees, a little aback.  In amongst the partying, the celebration, the activism, the awareness-raising, and the fun and games, is a session in which strong views are aired, vigorous debate takes place and tempers sometimes flare: the Decision-Making Plenary or DMP.

The DMP
BiCon is sometimes thought of as the AGM of the bisexual community in the UK. Within BiCon itself, though, the item that most resembles an AGM is the Decision-Making Plenary itself.  This, as its name implies, is the session where everyone at BiCon gets together and decides … stuff. For example, it’s where people trying to start up a bi-related project will sometimes come to ask for funding, and it’s where we decide who’s going to run BiCon for the following couple of years. Admittedly, when it comes to running BiCon, this has tended to be one set of people standing up and saying ‘oh, go on then, we’ll do it’, but if there ever were two or more groups wanting to run BiCon in a particular year, the DMP would be where it got voted on.
It’s worth mentioning that some years the DMP passes calmly, in under half an hour, with no disagreements at all.  It’s not mandatory to have anything to discuss at all; it’s just that if the bi community does have something related to BiCon to discuss, here’s the place where it will be listened to by people who can do something about it.

The BiCon Guidelines
The DMP is also where we get to amend the BiCon Guidelines. If the DMP is the closest thing that the bi community has to an AGM,  the BiCon Guidelines are the closest thing BiCon has to a constitution. That’s somewhat misleading, though.  It’s a bit like saying that the Shetland Isles are the closest thing the UK has to the Arctic; it’s technically correct, but doesn’t mean you’ll find polar bears there. The BiCon Guidelines are a lot less structured and formal than most constitutions.
They’re also less well-known than they should be. I can think of one very good recent BiCon where I’m pretty sure most (if not all) team members had no idea that the BiCon Guidelines even existed. Many people on BiCon teams have never read them.  It’s a measure of how much they enshrine common sense and existing practice that most BiCons follow most of them anyway.

The Guidelines are listed here:
www.bicon.org.uk/guidelines.html

They’re well worth a look even if you’re not planning on running a BiCon, because they provide as clear a statement as any of what BiCon is and what happens at it. BiCons vary in the details, but the fundamentals of what happens at a BiCon are all there.
As the name suggests, they’re guidelines.  They’re not meant as a straitjacket to tell BiCon organisers what they can and cannot do. However, no organiser should ignore any of them without a reason.  Their authority comes from the simple fact that ten years ago a BiCon passed them unanimously; anyone who’s tried to get a decision in the bi community about anything will realise what an amazing feat that was. They were written by people with Clue, basically, and are not to be ignored lightly.
They’ve been amended twice, in 2003 and 2004. The amendments were not huge.  It’s always tempting to tinker with the guidelines and add extra detail, but it’s generally a temptation that should be resisted; the Guidelines work as well as they do because they give a broad description of what a BiCon should be, with plenty of scope for the organising team to improvise and fill in the details themselves.
One guideline change that will definitely be coming to the 2008 DMP is the change that was proposed and passed last year. In order that the Guidelines can’t be amended in haste, and to provide a ‘cooling off’ period for any changes, amendments have to be passed by two successive BiCons.  Therefore, this year the following amendment gets its second reading: ‘The intent is not that the Equality Fund be how unwaged people generally attend BiCon’.  If it’s passed at this year’s BiCon, it will be added to the Guidelines.  If you’re looking at that and wondering what it means and why anyone would care … read my article in the next BCN available at BiCon, when I’ll be discussing it in more detail.

The pre-DMP session
In recent years, it’s been the practice to hold a session the day before the DMP where anyone with something to raise can come to discuss the idea with a smaller group. One aim of the session is to help to knock the ideas into a good enough shape to get them to the DMP with a reasonable chance of getting passed. This session is a good one at which to float ideas and see what other people think of them.
That’s not the only purpose, though. The session always has experienced people at it, but there’s no need to follow their advice if you don’t want to – and sometimes proposals come to the session fully-formed and have no need of any changes. The second purpose of the session is that proposals brought to it can be typed up and displayed on a notice board for the day leading up to the DMP. This stops them coming as a complete surprise to the DMP, and gives everyone at BiCon time to consider and discuss them before the DMP itself.
At the very least, any Guideline change must be brought to the pre-DMP session, because people at BiCon need more than a few minutes’ notice to read them.
So, if you’re thinking of running a BiCon – 2009 and 2010 are already spoken for, though, I’m afraid – want some money off BiCon, want to propose a guideline change or just want to raise an important issue about BiCon itself, come to the pre-DMP session. If you can’t make it to the session, let me know beforehand and I’ll mention it for you.
And if you take an interest in how BiCon’s run, and want to have a say in its future, come to the Decision-Making Plenary itself.
David Matthewman