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This is a brief introduction to working in Finnish meetings, written to help international members of the Aalto University Student Union Representative Council work in the (mostly) Finnish meeting environment.

Why?

Needless to say, cultural sensitivity is always a good thing to keep in mind. In decision-making, you’ll be considered a representative of all Aalto University international students. Finns will expect you to honor the protocol and etiquette of Finnish meetings but don’t stress yourself too much – people will forgive most goofs as long as one learns from them. Of course, if one doesn’t take the time to understand the culture, it’ll be difficult to take part as a full member of the Council.

Finnish Etiquette

Finnish meeting culture isn’t that different from most other Western countries. However, some pointers of etiquette are in order (adapted from Window on the World):

  1. Shaking hands is a safe way to greet Finns. If you’re familiar with the person, hugging should be OK.
  2. Keep some physical distance. Respect others’ desire for privacy.
  3. Finns take punctuality very seriously: do not be late without advance notice.
  4. Brief (awkward) silences are common – don’t try to fill in the blanks all the time. This is considered arrogant.
  5. Finns rarely make small talk.
  6. Finns don’t like ostentation or arrogance: be yourself, but if you tend to talk a lot with your hands or you have a loud voice, try to be slightly more low-key in Finnish company.

Why learn about meeting techniques?

Formal Finnish meetings have a fairly strict protocol to follow. Without understanding this protocol, you might pass by opportunities to influence. There are, of course, also people who will try to use protocol to their advantage. If you understand protocol, you know when to object to these attempts.

Of course, meetings are above all human interaction. If you feel you’ve been mistreated, voice your opinion as soon as possible. The chairperson of the meeting should take your thoughts into account.

How a Meeting Runs

Meeting agendas are always sent in advance. Agenda items will be annotated with a brief introduction to the topic and the proposed motion (usually decided on by the Board). Items can be added to the agenda by sending a written proposal to the Chairperson 9 days before the meeting. Items can be added by the Board, the Financial Committee, a member of the Council or a committee set by the Council. If an individual Council member proposes an item, the Board has the privilege to decide on the proposed motion.

Items not listed on the agenda can be introduced at the beginning of the meeting but will only be considered by the meeting if the participants approve the addition by a 5/6 majority.

Items will usually proceed in the order they are written on the agenda. For a description of how an individual item is handled, see “Making Decisions”.

The Beginning

At the beginning of a meeting, the meeting

  1. Takes stock of the participants
    • The Secretary General calls out the names of each member of the Council by group. When you hear your name, reply “Present”.
    • All members of the Student Union may attend Council meetings. Only members of the Council, members of the Board, members of the Financial Committee and employees of the Student Union have the right to speak. The Chairperson may make exceptions to this rule.
    • If you cannot attend a meeting, inform the Secretary General beforehand by http://lomake.ayy.fi/hallinto/este and inform your vice member (the person next to you in your election alliance’s election results).
  2. Confirms the legality of the meeting
    • Meetings are legal if the agenda has been published 7 days before the meeting on the Council mailing list, the official notice board and on the Student Union website.
  3. Confirms quorum
    • The meeting has quorum (it can make decisions) if 25 members are present.
  4. Appoints officers
    • The meeting appoints two examiners of the minutes (and personal vice members for them) and two tellers.
    • These are proposed by fellow members of the Council. A proposed person may decline.
    • The Chairperson makes the decision on whether to appoint the officers.
  5. Adopts the agenda as the working order
    • The working order of the meeting will be the same as the agenda sent in advance unless altered by a 5/6 majority.
    • The order in which the items are handled in the meeting can be changed by a simple majority (½) vote.

Items of Information

The first item of business is usually Items of Information. These are usually short announcements which are noted in the minutes. Items of Information aren’t usually debated.

For example, a member of the Council might inform the other members that blood donation will be possible at Dipoli next Tuesday and that he/she wishes to see as many members as possible there.

Decision Items

Decision Items are where the Council uses its powers by making a decision on a topic. See “Making Decisions”.

For example, the Board might ask the Council to approve the budget for next year.

Discussion Items

Discussion Items are items proposed by a member of the Council or the Board for debate by the Council. These items do not usually result in decisions, but are rather used to prepare for later decisions.

For example, the Board might ask the Council to give it some guidelines for preparing the budget for next year.

Making Decisions

There is a certain, strict structure to how items are debated in Council.

Introduction

There is always someone responsible for introducing an item to the Council. The introducer is responsible for providing the Council sufficient grounds for making the decisions.

If the item has been entered on the agenda by the Board, a member of the Board will introduce it. The same applies to the Financial Committee. If an item has been proposed by an individual member of the Council, he/she will introduce it.

The introduction may be followed by questions from the Council, to which the introducer will respond.

General Debate

The introduction will be followed by the general debate. The Chairperson distributes turns to speak: if you wish to speak, raise your hand. The Chairperson will acknowledge your request by a nod or a gesture and will put you in the queue. Interjections are not allowed: only those authorized to do so by the Chairperson may speak.

The general debate concerns issues related to the item as a whole. For example, one might debate whether making a decision on this item is necessary at all or that the proposed motion as a whole discriminates against a certain group. You may not enter opposing motions during general debate.

Detailed Debate

The general debate is followed by the detailed debate.

The detailed debate concerns issues related to individual parts of the item. Here, you may address concerns e.g. with a single phrase or a single section of the proposed motion.
You may also pose opposing motions. An opposing motion might be motion to dismiss the item as a whole (e.g. the proposed motion “The Council approved the document.” should be opposed by a motion saying “The Council decided not to approve the document.”) or a specific correction to the proposed motion (e.g. “The Council decided that the membership fee for year 2012-13 is 55 euros.” could be opposed by “The Council decided that the membership fee for year 2012-13 is 50 euros.”).

Opposing motions must be announced on the floor and must be delivered in writing to the Chairperson as soon as possible. Motions not delivered in writing by the end of the detailed debate will not be considered by the Council.

Opposing motions must be seconded by another member of the Council. If an opposing motion has not been seconded by the end of the detailed debate, it will not be considered by the Council.

Voting

After the detailed debate, the Council proceeds to vote. Turns to speak (except Points of Order) will not be granted during voting.

Voting always places two motions against each other. For example, if there are three opposing motions to the proposed motion, the vote proceeds as follows:

  1. The Chairperson evaluates which opposing motions are furthest from the proposed motion.
  2. These two will be voted against each other.
  3. The winner of the previous vote will be placed against the remaining opposing motion.
  4. The winner of the previous vote will be placed against the proposed motion.
  5. The winner of the previous vote will be the decision of the Council.
  6. Minority opinions must be stated immediately after the last vote. (cf. “Minority opinions”)

There are three different ways to vote:

  1. Vote by Hands
    • This is the usual mode of vote.
    • The Chairperson describes the two alternatives (“Aye is for the proposed motion and Nay is for the opposing motion”) and then calls for a vote. When the Chairperson calls “Aye”, all members for the proposed motion raise their hands. The tellers will count the number of hands. The same is repeated for “Nay” (the opposing motion) and “Abstain” (no opinion).
  2. Vote by Ballot
    • If a member of the Council calls for a vote by secret ballot, it must be done. No debate is allowed after the beginning of the closed vote. This is usually done in very sensitive issues.
    • The Chairperson describes the two alternatives and then calls for a vote. The meeting hall is then emptied of all participants who are not members of the Council. The tellers distribute ballots to all members and then proceed to stand by the exit. The Secretary General calls out the names of all members of the Council. When a member hears his/her name, he/she stands up and proceeds out of the meeting hall, leaving his/her ballot with the tellers when exiting.
    • The tellers then count the votes and announce the result.
  3. Vote by Name
    • This can be done if the tellers do not agree on the result of a Vote by Hands or the number of votes given does not match the number of members present.
    • The Secretary General calls out the name of each member. When a member hears his/her name, he/she stands up and says out loud his/her opinion (“Aye”/”Nay”/”Abstain”). The number of votes is tallied by the tellers.

Elections

Elections are always performed by secret ballot. If there is an equal number of candidates and positions, the candidates may be elected without vote, unless there is an objection. If even a single member of Council disagrees, an election must be performed.

When there is a single position to fill, the vote goes as follows:

  1. All members of the Council write one name on their ballots.
  2. The ballots are collected and tallied in the same way as in a Vote by Ballot.
  3. If a single candidate has received a majority of votes, he/she is elected.
  4. If no single candidate has received a majority, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and the process is repeated for the remaining candidates.
  5. A tie will be resolved by a random draw.

When there are multiple positions (say, N) to fill, the vote goes as follows:

  1. All members of the Council write one to N names on their ballots. One may write fewer than N names on the ballot.
  2. The ballots are collected and tallied in the same way as in a Vote by Ballot.
  3. The candidate listed first on a ballot receives one (1) vote, the candidate listed second on a ballot receives half a vote (½), the third receives a one-third vote (1/3) etc.
  4. The first N candidates with the most votes are elected.
  5. A tie will be resolved by a random draw.

Public Powers

In some situations, the Council uses public powers (that is, the Council works as a Finnish government body). This means that the Council must follow certain aspects of Finnish governance legislation.

When Are Public Powers Used?

One should always assume that the Coucil is using public powers, but one should be especially careful when

  • deciding on the membership fee
    • paying the membership fee is a legal obligation
  • appointing student representatives to the university governing bodies
    • In AYY, the Council has delegated this responsibility to the Board

Formal Requirements for Decision-Making

Certain formal requirements must be filled before the Council can make a decision on a matter which results in use of its public powers.

    • All disqualified members must announce their disqualification
    • The introducers of the item must not be eligible for disqualification
  1. The decision must have been announced properly beforehand
    • The meeting where the decision takes place must have been called to session properly
  2. All persons involved must have had a right to hearing
  3. All persons involved must be notified of the decision

These are usually taken care of by the employees of AYY.

Publicity

Because the Council is a public body, all its documents are public to all citizens of Finland (and members of the Student Union who are not Finnish citizens). There are certain exceptions to this.

Disqualification

The use of public powers must not result in personal benefit or benefit to your close relatives or benefit to organizations you formally represent. If a decision (using public powers or not) will probably result in personal gain to you, you must announce at the beginning of the item that you’re disqualified to participate in the debate. You personally are responsible for determining and announcing your disqualification.
“Close relatives” mostly means people you live with and relatives up to first cousins. “Organizations you formally represent” means organizations you’re an executive board or council member of.

Tips & Tricks

Point of Order

Points of Order are used to set the meeting back on track. If you feel that the current debate doesn’t concern the item at hand or that you have a better procedural way to proceed, you may use a Point of Order by standing up and stating “Chairperson, Point of Order!” and then outlining your suggestion. For example, you might say “I feel that this discussion doesn’t concern the matter at hand, could we please proceed to the detailed discussion” or “I propose that Mr. Kivi’s proposal be placed against Ms. Ruusu’s and that we proceed to vote.”

The Chairperson will take stock of your suggestion and will decide on the way forward.

Opposing Motion

Opposing Motions are delivered in writing after being announced in the debate.

A good opposing motion is:

  1. Sufficiently short
    • Too long or complicated motions will simply be dismissed out of hand.
  2. Sufficiently argued
    • Don’t use too many arguments, but not too few either.
  3. Carefully worded
    • Pay close attention to wording. Involve other Council members in the writing process.

Dissenting Opinion

Dissenting opinions are a way to protect yourself from the legal repercussions of illegal decisions. If you feel that a decision is illegal, you may announce immediately after the Chairperson declares the result that you’re leaving a minority opinion. You must deliver your minority opinion to the Secretary General in writing within two weeks of the meeting so that it can be attached to the minutes.

Recess

You can ask for a recess (a break) by using a Point of Order if you feel that things are moving too quickly.

Tabling

Items proposed with insufficient advance warning can be tabled. Items can be tabled by five members of the Council but tabling can be reversed by a 5/6 majority. If an item is tabled, the meeting will move to the next item and the item will be taken up at the next meeting as-is. In the next meeting, the item can be tabled again by a simple majority.

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