Policy approved by the Board on 8 August 2005.
Policy amended on 7 September 2005.
Purpose and Scope
The purpose of this document is to provide guidelines and restrictions where necessary to keep all communications between SAGE and the outside world 1) authorized, 2) appropriate, 3) recognizable, and 4) consistent. When we communicate as a Board or as an organization to any group of people, we must first and foremost represent the membership and the Board of SAGE in a responsible manner. We must also be responsive to the needs and requests of our members, and the public at large where appropriate.
Communications should provide the membership with timely, accurate, clear, objective and complete information about SAGE policies, programs, services and initiatives. The Board has a duty to explain its policies and decisions, and to inform the membership of its priorities. Communications therefore should be complete, clear and swiftly follow any changes or major initiatives.
Programs should plan for communication from the beginning. SAGE programs should address communication needs in the development stage of policies and programs. Policies and programs should never surprise the membership or happen by accident. SAGE should proudly promote each and every service and program it provides. Programs that the membership is ignorant of are bound to fail. The Board must further ensure that changes in policy that significantly affect the rights and privileges of membership are both proposed to the membership for comment well in advance of a vote, and clearly and widely communicated if they are adopted. The Communication Committee is there to assist programs in planning for communication needs.
Collective communications must be authorized. No communication that claims to represent the policy, positions, or other stance of either the Board or SAGE as a whole shall be made public until and unless it is approved by the Board. No communication that claims to represent the policy, positions, or other stance of a committee or subcommittee of SAGE shall be made public until and unless they are approved by that committee. Committees must be authorized by the Board to contact the membership or general public before doing so, and they must also abide by the Board-defined limits for their communications. All official communications shall go through official channels maintained by the Board, either by a membership email list, a list of all members generated from the membership database, or by whatever public relations channels are maintained by the Board.
Individual officials of SAGE are encouraged to communicate directly with the membership. Openness in governance helps members fairly judge our performance, and helps enable membership participation. To build an open organization, all officials (staff, committee members, and above all the Board) should take a role in communicating with the membership. At the same time, officials must respect the policies and intent of the SAGE Board, as well as confidential information. Officials serve SAGE best by communicating openly and frequently about programs they are charged with, while treating sensitive information with the discretion it requires.
Officials who communicate as individuals to the membership should maintain consistency in look and feel with other SAGE communications, including letterhead and logos following the Branding Guide in appropriate media. Communications from individuals must be signed by that individual and clearly indicate through tone, person, and/or disclaimer that they are the personal words and beliefs of the individual, not the Board or SAGE. Officials of SAGE should be given sage.org email addresses, and should use them in individual communication wherever possible to promote the visibility of SAGE.
Any Board member or other (non-staff) official should be very careful and respectful about expressing public dissent with an action of the Board. Board members have a right to have their dissent in votes explicity recorded in the minutes, which are ordinarily made public to the membership. However, current officials of SAGE may not attempt to undermine the actions or intent of SAGE, the SAGE Board, or its committees in the public expression of these rights. Individual officials expressing dissent within these guidelines should nonetheless not use their sage.org email addresses, or channels of communication not open to general members, but should strive to speak as regular members. All officials of SAGE have the right of resignation if they cannot support the activities or decisions of the Board, and are freed of the duty of obedience, but not the requirements of confidentiality, upon their resignation.
Under no circumstances should staff express dissent or a message inconsistent with the Board's.
Individual officials of SAGE are not to communicate directly with the general public or media unless authorized. As opposed to membership, relations with the public, especially the press, are sensitive. Public communications are open to misinterpretation and laden with pitfalls. An unusual level of care and restraint is required before engaging the general public and the media, as even officials claiming to speak only for themselves are nevertheless taken to be the voice of SAGE. Coaching and planning is often required before engaging with the general public or the media. Therefore, officials of SAGE must not engage the public or the media about SAGE issues unless authorized by the Board.
SAGE officials and members who are addressing sysadmin issues not directly related to SAGE, including authoring books or being asked to speak in their own right about issues related to systems administration, are encouraged to include their affiliation with SAGE in their byline, biography, or attribution to promote SAGE's visibility. Affiliates must be clear they are not speaking for SAGE if they include such an affiliation, and may not list SAGE as their primary affiliation. For example: Mary Jones, a system administrator at Example.com and member of the SAGE Board of Directors is acceptable, but SAGE Board member Mary Jones is not.
The President, the Communications Committee chair or other spokesperson designated by the Board, and the Executive Director are by default authorized by the Board to engage with the general public and membership on SAGE issues on behalf of SAGE, but must at all times communicate to the public in line with the established wishes and policy expressions of the Board. They must also report on any such communications back to the full Board at the next Board meeting after the fact.
All parts of SAGE should work together to give a coherent message and picture of the organization. Coordinated communication is essential; otherwise we confuse our membership and ourselves. Any SAGE official making individual communications should consult first with the current messages of SAGE, maintained by the Communications Committee and approved by the Board, and strive to incorporate those messages into their communication where possible and appropriate.
Official communications should be preserved, and open to all. Any communication that is sent to the membership or made available for general release must in all cases be preserved in an easily accessible portion of the website, once the website is under the direct control of SAGE. Communications should also be sent to the widest reach of membership to whom they apply; for instance, an email intended for all members should not only be sent to email@example.com, as not all members are on that list.
SAGE defaults to transparency. Transparency is essential to good governance. Therefore, by default, any action or policy of SAGE is public at the moment it is authorized by the Board, and repeatable by anyone to any member of SAGE. If the Board requires actions at meetings or other information to be private and confidential, it must specify that when the action is taken. By default, any action taken in executive session is private.
Communications should be openly two-way. SAGE does not engage solely in top-down communication with its membership or the general public. All public communications should include clear mention of a method the readership can use to contact the Board or the committee releasing the communication. Non-personal email addresses used to send out official communications should be deliverable and also should be monitored by someone so any replies from members can be forwarded on to the Board or committee.
The Board should never be, or seem, inaccessible and aloof to the membership. SAGE's board and committees should frequently call attention to Board/membership communication. Such attention will help demonstrate to non-communicative members that the Board is open and responsive. To encourage that, inquiries sent to SAGE official channels should be responded to promptly, and where possible, completely.
Communications should be clear and engaging. Communications must use plain language, be clearly formatted and expressed, and be accessible to all our members. Communications should also engage the reader; official communications need not be overly formal and lacking in interest, but should engage the reader and encourage further reading.
Official communications should follow the Branding Guide. The SAGE Branding Guide shall be made available to all staff, directors, and other participants in SAGE who are authorized to make communications to the membership or general public. Its guidelines must be followed in print and web media, and where possible should also be followed in text email. Text emails at the very least must prominently include the SAGE name and byline, and make clear that they are official communications of SAGE.
Official communications should be consistent. Any periodic form of communication, such as the monthly memo to members or any other type of regular memo, should stay consisitent in format and structure, with infrequent redesigns or alterations. Individual entries in a series of related email communications should all be sent from the same, easily identified, and non-personal email address, preferably at sage.org.