Backroom Decisions

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Backroom Decisions
Author: Fleet Admiral Tristan Wolf

Backroom decisions are those which occur in private, between a small group of people. These decisions occur daily in our RPG (and will likely to continue to).

Why They Occur

UFOP: SB118 is a group which runs in a hierarchical format. As opposed to a Wiki, where everyone is (almost) the same (some people have privilege to protect or delete pages, but besides that everyone has access to edit), our group is based on a system where one gains rank through effort and determination, coupled with length of service. No matter how good someone is, they're going to move slowly up through the ranks as time served is always a factor.

This system is facilitated by a few different features of our community:

  • First, precedent. Most RPGs are run in this type of system, and as such we were crafted in this way originally.
  • Second, success of this system in some forms. We see hierarchies all over the world, in corporations and military structures.
  • Third, necessity. For rank promotion to work in any logical manner, there must be one person, or a group of people, who decide who can be promoted. This creates a hierarchy.
  • Fourth, this system arises naturally due to OOC bleed. Because we're working in character during the game, there ultimately arises a situation whereby someone must play the captain of the vessel. That person is given, by the collective a natural facilitator position. Not everyone wants to be a leader, so someone must be.

Making Decisions

So, we have a hierarchy. Within a hierarchy, decisions must be made. Voting is one way, and indeed that can happen even within a backroom. But often, voting within those making decisions (especially as a group gets smaller) is simply a formality. Consensus is usually reached by Group Think. The hierarchy facilitates a situation where those in power feel (and sometimes are) more knowledgeable than the collective. As such, they feel charged with conducting business as they see fit, with the intention of doing what's best for the community. In many situation, this directly results in backroom decisions, as those in power consult each other and decide what is to be done without debate or discussion from the collective.

Here's an example: As UFOP began to grow larger, a steering committee called the "High Rankers" was created which included everyone over the rank of captain. This worked for a few years because this group was relatively small and FltAdml. Wolf tended to do much of the directing. But as the group grew from just a few ships to almost a dozen ships suddenly there were too many voices. Too many cooks, so to speak. So this upper group was split into the Captains Council and the UFOP Executive Committee (which evolved into the Executive Council). This effectively allowed more low-level decisions to occur within the group of captains, while more "important" decisions were relegated to the EC. The EC began to conduct more backroom decisions, however, as they tended to deal with issues of discipline and promotion, both of which they felt should be kept behind closed doors.

Our Current System

Is it all bad? Maybe, maybe not. One thing to consider is that the EC does indeed deal with some issues that we want behind closed doors. For example, you wouldn't want to have everyone vote on the promotion of someone to the rank of FltCaptain, because it would spoil the surprise!

The discipline issue is different, however. We have operated in a manner that has an unwritten rule dictating that all discipline should be handled in secrecy to avoid embarrassment for anyone. But is this really the best way? It may be more beneficial for the group to conduct discipline in the open, as a means of showing everyone what is "right" and what is "wrong." It would also be fairer to the individuals involved, as it ensures that the collective sees how they were treated.

What about everything else? In general, it's probably a pretty good idea to keep some decisions somewhat behind closed doors. For example, in a situation where there may be a concern that a ship is floundering, the EC might decide to draft a letter to that ship's captain to address the issue. But conducting that process out in the open might be more damaging than good. If the ship isn't really doing as poorly as was thought, an open declaration may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's also important to revisit the "too many cooks" issue. Even if we do move more conversation into the open, you're still going to see people trying to put in their opinion when they're not entirely aware of the circumstances. (One of the problems with opening the process for UFOP is that most people are not intimately aware of what occurs on other ships. The EC keeps more of a god's eye view, allowing them to be effective. But a larger group with no information of another vessel's operations puts people in a situation to comment with little, or no relevant information on the subject.)

Fleet Admiral Tristan Wolf
Founder of UFOP: StarBase 118
3 Dec 2004

Department of Veterans Affairs