Associates’ Forum: The Future of OPUS

Set out below is a consultation document on the future of OPUS. It sets out the principle dilemmas that, in the board’s view, need to be resolved in order to understand what OPUS is and should become. The board wishes OPUS to have a system of governance based on democracy, transparency and accountability and, accordingly, will attach great importance to the views of associates in any decisions taken as a result of this process.

Associates and members have also been sent a survey seeking to know their views on the issues raised in the document. Please participate in the survey so that future decisions about OPUS’s future governance and structure can be based on the most authoritative information, both qualitative and quantitative.

There will be a forum for members and associates on 14 April at 4pm-5.30pm at Herbert Smith Freehills LLP. All members and associates are encouraged to attend to find out details of the survey responses and contribute their views to the discussion about the future structure and direction of OPUS.  Places are free – please register by booking a place.

At least 20 people must register or the forum will not go ahead.


The challenges facing OPUS are posed as a series of dilemmas:

  1. Identity: what should the acronym OPUS stand for to best reflect what OPUS is?
  2.  Purpose: should OPUS primarily be a member organisation or a registered charity?
  3.  Mission: should OPUS have a purely psychosocial aim or seek to promote understanding of society on a broader basis?
  4. Affiliation: should associate members become full members of OPUS?
  5. Management: who should ‘run’ OPUS?
  6. Membership: should all full members be equal or differentiated by service/contribution?
  7. Eligibility: should full membership be available immediately on joining or after a qualification period?
  8. Governance: should the OPUS board be appointed or elected?
  9. Workload: amongst what size of board should all the workload of running OPUS be distributed?
  10. Payment: what work should be done on a volunteer basis, and what should be paid for?

Complex identity

Dilemma 1: what should the acronym OPUS stand for to best reflect what OPUS is?

OPUS was founded in 1975 by Sir Charles Goodeve as an unincorporated association and registered as a charity on 6th May 1976 (No. 271249) under the name ‘OPUS – An Organisation for Promoting the Understanding of Society’.

OPUS was initially supported by a grant of £10,000 from the Tavistock Institute’s conflict unit, as its original focus was on industrial relations ‘problems of conflict and cooperation’ in society. This was reflected in the choice of name when a company limited by guarantee was incorporated on 26th August 1980 (registered charity No. 282415) called ‘OPUS – An Organisation for Promoting Understanding in Society’.

Its name was then changed again on 17th August 1998 to ‘OPUS – an Organisation for Promoting Understanding of Society’.

There appears always to have been an element of confusion about what the acronym stands for. Some people apparently believe that OPUS stands for ‘Organisation for the Psychoanalytic Understanding of Society’. Other versions may also be in currency.

Conflicting Purpose

Dilemma 2: should OPUS primarily be a member organisation or a registered charity?

If OPUS is thought of as a charity, there is a legitimate expectation that its activities should raise funds that allow it to pursue its charitable aims; whereas, if it is a membership organisation, its activities (such as CPD and peer networking opportunities) would be its raison d’être, requiring no more profit than necessary to sustain and renew itself.

Second, if associate membership represents an identification with the charitable aim of public education, membership fees and volunteer involvement can legitimately be understood as a form of charitable donation (i.e. expecting nothing in return); if, on the other hand, it represents affiliation with a professional association (presumably, for those pursuing a psychosocial understanding of organisations or society), membership fees and volunteer involvement can legitimately be understood as conditional upon some expectation of personal benefit (in the form of networking, continuing education and professional advancement).

Third, if it is a charity, the associate members’ identification with its aims need only be loose and does not require any closer association than associate membership; whereas, if it is a member organisation, keeping the very people who support and fund it at arm’s length by virtue of their associate status denies them any encouragement to develop greater sentience for and sense of ownership in the organisation. For this reason, perhaps, OPUS seems to evoke ambivalence rather than strong affection among associates, and passive dependency rather than agency. The criticisms (largely fair) of the lack of transparency and accountability in its management voice the frustration of those who feel like outsiders but who would like to become insiders. Some of those who join never quite feel they belong, are never quite sure whether their contribution is wanted, never quite know what they are entitled to expect. Some drift away – perhaps because they feel associate status communicates ambivalence towards them on the part of OPUS, a reluctance to involve them in its decision-making or clarify its purpose to them.

The approach to this tension itself represents a dilemma for OPUS: those operating within the Tavistock paradigm would say that, at any given moment, OPUS has a primary task that must be determined before its future can be decided. It seems reasonably clear that, for the last 20 years at least, OPUS has been operating as if its primary task were that of a membership organisation.

Confused mission

Dilemma 3: should OPUS have a purely psychosocial aim or seek to promote understanding of society on a broader basis?

OPUS is effectively two organisations in one: a charity and a professional association, with a clear tension between these twin identities:

As a registered charity, its has no explicit psycho-social mission; its objects (as set out in its memorandum of association) are:

to educate the public in all matters concerning the economic and sociological structure and working of society”.

As a member organisation, it appears at some stage to have adopted ‘aims and objectives’, as follows:


OPUS is an organisation of people who believe that it is important that we and others develop a deeper understanding of organisational and societal processes and the way in which we relate to them; and that we use such understanding to act with authority and responsibility in our various roles. OPUS exists therefore to promote the development of the reflective citizen.


The objective of OPUS is to promote and develop the study of conscious and unconscious organisational and societal dynamics through educational activities, research, consultancy and training, and the publication and dissemination of these activities for the public benefit. OPUS will seek to achieve this objective in the following way:

  • By seeking opportunities and pursuing activities, using the specialised experience of OPUS members supported by staff management and other resources, to advance the knowledge of organisational and societal dynamics.
  • By influencing developments and issues relating to organisational and societal dynamics through effective representation of the views of OPUS.
  • By disseminating and exchanging information, experience and the results of research for the public benefit.
  • By developing and maintaining appropriate links with other bodies and organisations at local, national and international levels in order to influence positively decisions and thinking affecting organisational and societal dynamics.
  • By providing consultancy and related commercial activities that implement the primary task of OPUS.”

These two are not well aligned with one another: the former is broad while the latter is narrow. The board’s view is understood to be that OPUS should pursue its purpose of public education on a broader basis and should not simply promote understanding of society through a systemic or psychoanalytic lens. This remains difficult to achieve whilst the associate membership is drawn exclusively from a narrow base: those with a background or training in The Tavistock paradigm of Kleinian object relations, systems thinking and group relations methodology, plus a smattering of Group Analysts, Jungians, Lacanians and psychologists.

Degrees of affiliation

Dilemma 4: should associate members become full members of OPUS?

OPUS has fourteen members, comprising eight trustee-directors and six others:

Trustee members

Steve Oram (Chairman)
Nick Boothman
Will Ellsworth-Jones
Augustine Sagoe
Karen Johnson (Treasurer)
Olya Khaleelee
Simon Tucker
Sandy Henderson (also Company Secretary)

Non-trustee members

Jeremy Leathers (Hon. President)
Lionel Stapely
Tim Dartington
Miranda Feuchtwang
Sheila Ramsay
Tara Weeramanthri

The non-trustee members have no active role in the management of OPUS; as members, however, they have the right to attend and vote at the AGM and other general meetings, to approve the audited accounts, vote on the re-election of trustees (retiring by rotation) and agree to any changes in the constitution.

OPUS currently has 232 associate members, of whom 98 are international associate members and 134 are UK associate members. Associate membership has no formal status or rights under the OPUS constitution and operates from year to year (from 1 April to the next 31 March). For the year from 1 April 2018, it costs £80 for UK residents and £60 for non-UK residents. There are no conditions or restrictions on admission save for payment of the appropriate fee. Upon joining, OPUS associates receive an associate membership number and are automatically subscribed to the OPUS Journal, Organisational & Social Dynamics, published in June and December each year. They also become eligible to attend OPUS events at discounted rates.

The associate members contribute the bulk of OPUS’s funds, and comprise the bulk of the audience/participants for its events and activities. Although their status as associates gives them no direct say in the strategy or direction of OPUS, their wishes and preferences are tacitly reflected in the menu of activities organised. It is questionable, however, whether OPUS is remaining true to its charitable aims by limiting the scope of its educational mission in this way.

Opaque management

Dilemma 5: who should ‘run’ OPUS?

The charity is run by a board of trustee-directors to be known (according to its articles of association) as the ‘Council of Management’. All trustee-directors are required to be members of the company. These members, whose liabilities are limited to the sum of £1 each, currently number 14, eight of whom are trustee-directors.

The trustee-directors meet on average three or four times each year. Their main function is to ensure the proper stewardship of OPUS by the Director and maintain its financial and ethical integrity in accordance with the standards of governance expected by the UK Charities Commission. The OPUS Director has delegated authority for day-to-day operational decision-making subject to and in accordance with the terms of his job description. The trustee-directors are consulted by the Director on all decisions of consequence affecting OPUS, and receive regular reports on the progress of activities. They also attend OPUS events, especially the annual conference and Eric Miller memorial lecture, in a representative capacity.

The trustee-directors oversee OPUS finances via a subcommittee comprising the Chairman, Treasurer and Director. Day to day financial administration is carried out by a part-time finance manager, Jenny Dorey, in conjunction with the Director.

The use of the OPUS Director as the sole or main conduit between the trustees and the associates is perceived as the principal cause of an opacity and lack of accountability within OPUS. The Director is wrongly viewed by associates as having unfettered authority to run OPUS as he sees fit. It is not considered realistic to democratise OPUS in order to give associates a meaningful role in decision-making without making a significant reduction in the autonomy and authority of the Director role.

The member organisation

Despite their lack of status within OPUS, almost all OPUS events and activities are the result of voluntary effort contributed by OPUS associates, mainly those belonging to various committees overseen by the OPUS Director. Associates are recruited onto committees by invitation. Appointment and removal from committees is the responsibility of the Director, in consultation with the trustee-directors.

There is a Management Committee comprising the Director and the heads of the conference (Xavier Eloquin), events (Vacant), training (Chris Tanner and Xavier Eloquin) and Listening Post (vacant). There is a separate committee for each of these activity streams populated by a group of volunteers. The work done by the trustee-directors is largely invisible to the associate membership below; they are represented for the most part by the Director. The work done by the associates is largely invisible to the trustee-directors; they are represented for the most part by the Director.

Membership Reform

Dilemma 6: should all full members be equal or differentiated by service/contribution?

The simplest reform would be to ‘bump’ everyone up a category, so that associates became full members. The new category of full member would include both current UK and International associates. Full members would be eligible to stand for election to the executive functions on the board. In the case of international members, this would mean participating via video-/tele-conferencing as OPUS would not be able to afford to pay travel expenses for trustee-directors to attend board meetings in person.

The principal consequence of this change is a financial one, as members are not currently charged an annual membership fee. This would mean either creating a special category for the current members, including the current trustee-directors, or expecting them to pay a membership fee in the same way as associate members currently do. This ‘special category’ could be fellowship or honorary life membership or simply ‘trustee-membership’ (ie exempting trustees from paying a membership fee whilst they served on the board).

A further option arises in relation to fellowship. There are three current OPUS fellows (Paul Hoggett, Evelyn Cleavely and Lionel Stapely) but it would be possible to expand this category of membership to provide (over)due recognition for those who have (say):

  • completed at least 10 years’ membership or associate membership and/or
  • published one or more papers in OSD or an equivalent journal and/or
  • presented one or more papers at an OPUS Conference and/or
  • otherwise made a significant contribution, in the opinion of current OPUS fellows.

These selections would be made, in the first place, by the board of trustee-directors and, annually thereafter, by the fellows themselves. An extended body of fellows would allow for some recognition of the difference between relatively recent and those more longstanding associates. It could add due prestige and recognition for those whose contribution to OPUS and/or to the field has been significant over many years. It would also be possible, by giving them weighted voting rights at general meetings counting double or 1.5 times as much as the vote of a full member, to insulate OPUS against a profound change in its core purpose being sought by an influx of new members with a different agenda. Some will see this as a remote possibility but others see it as a plausible scenario. Creating a new membership category of Fellow thus gives rise to further dilemmas:

Dilemma 6(a): should fellows be charged a different membership fee than full members?
Dilemma 6(b): should fellows be given extra (weighted) voting rights at general meetings as a protective measure?
Dilemma 6(c): if an enlarged category of fellows were created, should the current fellows be made honorary life members instead?

Entry Criteria

Dilemma 7: should full membership be available immediately on joining or after a qualification period?

The purpose of introducing an entry threshold of (say) two years would be to create a stable body of members. Without it, full voting privileges would be available to those for whom, say, membership is only a convenient means of obtaining discounted conference tickets and would not be renewed the following year.

Introducing an entry threshold would mean retaining the category of associate member (ie non-voting membership with no right to stand for elected office). This would allow current associates the option to remain as associate members if they wished.

There might also be a student category of associate membership, available for a maximum of two years, for anyone in the process of undertaking a full-time or part-time course of study at undergraduate or postgraduate level. The aim of this category would be to provide low-cost membership for those whose studies make them unable to afford full or associate membership.

Neither associate members nor student members would have voting rights or be eligible to stand for office. They would, however, qualify for member discounts on events. It is envisaged that associate membership would cost c. 80% of full membership and student membership would cost c. 40% of full membership.

Dilemma 7(a): should associate members be able to remain as associates if they wish rather than automatically progress to full membership after a qualifying period?
Dilemma 7(b): should an additional category of student associate membership be created with a fixed term and reduced cost?


Dilemma 8: should the OPUS board be appointed or elected?

OPUS has faced persistent criticism from associates in recent years for having an opaque and unaccountable system of governance. The volunteer efforts of the trustee-directors are overlooked; there is suspicion about the way in which people have been ‘chosen’ for certain roles, and complaints from others that they have been overlooked.

An obvious solution would be to democratise OPUS so that, by enfranchising associates with full membership rights, they can choose the people who sit on the OPUS board. This has the advantages of transparency and accessibility; however, it cannot be taken for granted that sufficient people would stand in order to make the voting process meaningful or that those who stand for election would always be the best choices. Almost certainly, there will those who might be very effective officers who are deterred from standing – because they would not risk the disappointment of losing or because they prefer not to push themselves forward in such circumstances – but who might very well be willing to take on the role if invited to do so.

Another dilemma in this category is what the ideal term of office might be for an OPUS trustee-director before they stand down or stand again for re-election: one, two or three years? Given that the roles would be filled by volunteers, it is not unreasonable to expect that they will lose some of their initial energy, enthusiasm and ideas for the role after a while. Specifying too long a period as the expected term of office might operate as a deterrent to take on the role; specifying too short a period might create too much turnover in personnel and also require too many election/appointment processes to be undertaken.

Dilemma 8(a): for how long should OPUS trustees be expected to hold office?


Dilemma 9: Amongst what size of board should all the workload of running OPUS be distributed?

The workload of running OPUS currently falls mainly on the shoulders of the Director. This workload is felt to be intolerable for a volunteer such that no willing successor to the role is likely to be found whenever the current occupant wishes to step down. Since OPUS cannot afford to turn this into a paid role, the only viable solution would appear to be to share out the responsibilities of the role among a number of people. This in itself creates the need to reform the OPUS board of trustee-directors so that it has more directors with hands-on ‘executive’ involvement in the running of OPUS (and, if the board is to remain of a manageable size, fewer acting in a purely non-executive/oversight capacity). The change coincides with several current trustee-directors indicating an openness to step down.

A trustee board comprising more than 10 people is thought to be unwieldy. The ideal board would strike an appropriate balance between trustee-directors with an ‘executive’ portfolio and those with a ‘non-executive’ governance role – probably in or about the ratio 7:3. One possibility is for each of the seven ‘executive’ positions to have responsibility for a particular activity stream within OPUS, and for there to be three ‘non-executive’ positions, as follows:

Executive roles

  • Events Director
  • Conference Director
  • Journal Director
  • Listening Post Director
  • Training Director
  • Consultancy Director
  • CEO – responsible for external relations (outreach, fundraising, etc)

Non-executive roles

  • Chairman (responsible for policies/governance)
  • Treasurer (responsible for finance/audit)
  • Member/Fellow Representative (responsible for member liaison)

An alternative would be for the ‘executive’ trustee-directors to accept collective responsibility for all these functions and organise among themselves when, how and by whom they are to be discharged. Whilst OPUS is and should be open to experimentation with alternative leadership and management models, there is the necessity of ensuring an orderly and well-functioning charity that meets its responsibilities to both external and internal stakeholders alike. One possibility for experimentation is job-sharing by two or three people of any one or more of these executive positions. This might help to make it possible for more OPUS members to contribute what they can even when they are unable to take on the whole of an executive role.

Dilemma 9(a): should OPUS trustee-directors be elected/appointed to take on a specific portfolio?
Dilemma 9(b): will these roles attract sufficient applicants to keep OPUS alive?

Fee-paying and Volunteer roles

Dilemma 10: what work should be done on a volunteer basis, and what should be paid for?

Although OPUS is mainly staffed by unpaid volunteers, it currently pays for certain types of services to be provided:

  • bookkeeping and accounting: £2,400 pa
  • conference administration: £1,500 pa
  • journal administration: £2,500 pa
  • membership/bookings/website/marketing: £8,000 pa
  • GRC workshops (Making The Difference, Advanced Training etc): £300 per day

There is a legitimate question to be asked why these roles should attract payment while others don’t. For example, OPUS does not pay speakers at its events nor those who organise them. Neither does it remunerate the role of Director.

The services of looking after membership subscriptions, dealing with bookings, managing the website and marketing OPUS events and the activities of sister organisations have been taken on by the Director since the departure of Gill Dowden in November 2016. However, they are diverse in nature, more extensive than those carried out by Gill and not thought likely to be always capable of all being done by the same person. In the absence of volunteers willing to take them on unpaid, applications – ideally from within the OPUS membership – may be sought for them separately or together:

  • Membership Manager (c. £2,000)
  • Bookings Manager (c. £2,000)
  • Marketing Manager (c. £2,000)
  • Website Administrator (c. £2,000)


An indicative time table for introducing these reforms, in the absence of controversy about the form they should take, is set out below. The more differences and disagreements emerge, the more drawn-out the timetable will be.

February to April 2018

  •  consultation with associates
  • Associate forum

May to June 2018

  • Proposals finalised and approved by board
  • OPUS adopts modern constitution to facilitate reforms

July 2018

  • applications for membership sought
  • nominations/applications for board positions sought
  • applications for fee-based roles sought

August to September 2018 

  • Deadline for applications
  • interview/selection of candidates for fee-based roles
  • Notice of AGM

November 2018

  • AGM held during conference
  • results of elections announced

December 2018

  • first meeting of new board