Membership & modernisation
At the heart of UGLE’s membership system is the new Director of Member Services. Prity Lad takes us on a tour of Freemasons’ Hall and reveals UGLE’s forward-thinking support programme for current and future members
Prity Lad has just finished her photoshoot for FMT, which saw her leading the photographer around Freemasons’ Hall looking for the perfect location to sum up the welcoming nature of her new position, while being careful not to lose us in its labyrinthine interior. She’s worked in the building since 2007, but notes, ‘It’s rare that I have time to look around this amazing place. It’s vast.’
Prity’s time has been particularly precious recently, having taken up her new position as Director for Member Services. The role was created as part of the internal restructure of UGLE under Grand Secretary and Chief Executive Officer Dr David Staples.
‘There’s been a shift in the way we operate here at UGLE,’ explains Prity. ‘Departments originally reported directly into the Grand Secretary. Dr Staples has brought in a new level of senior management to develop a professional, fit-for-purpose headquarters for the benefit of our members and staff. I work closely with the Director of Masonic Services with whom I share an office. It works well, as there is a need for cooperation internally and communication externally to look after our members’ interests.’
Before taking up her new position, Prity had worked for UGLE as a software training consultant, focused on ADelphi, UGLE’s internal membership system. She had read law at university, after which there was a period of working in education and training, during which time she obtained a post-graduate certificate in education. In 2000, she changed tack and moved into the IT sector. Her role as a training manager for a software house involved implementing training and managing change for the Ministry of Defence, NHS and cruise sectors, both in the in the UK and overseas. She started working at Freemasons’ Hall in 2007, but left after a year to raise her family, before returning in 2012.
‘I had no prior knowledge of the world of Freemasonry,’ Prity says. ‘The attraction for me was working in IT in a unique business setting,’ she says. ‘I’ve learnt a lot about the Craft since then and I find it fascinating – the traditions, the values, things that don’t feature prominently in most working environments, and things that I have come to respect – I’m happy to be part of it.’
Prity’s role allows her to draw on her admiration for Freemasonry as she helps to develop new ideas and methods. Her department oversees three primary components: Registration, External Relations and District support. Part of this involves reaching out to people interested in Freemasonry. ‘Areas we want to focus on include attracting new members, but also finding better ways to engage with our existing membership. In order to do this, we want to identify and promote what Freemasonry represents and the values the organisation has,’ says Prity. ‘Respect, integrity and charity are core to Freemasonry and are the reasons many people join in the first place. We want to emphasise that, and show the inclusive nature of the organisation.’
That is only one element of Prity’s job. An overarching goal across the three departments is to streamline, simplify and modernise processes without making them inaccessible to Freemasons who might be less comfortable with technology. The registration team deal with all aspects of membership, enabling them to build a complete picture of somebody’s masonic record, ensuring it remains updated with the relevant degrees, offices and certificates. ‘The intention is to modernise the process,’ says Prity. ‘We want to eliminate paper and repetition, reduce delays and make it easier for the lodge Secretaries and, ultimately, the members themselves.’
When it comes to Districts, part of the focus recently has been on improving the administrative support supplied by UGLE. The Districts are experiencing annual growth of 10 per cent, and UGLE wants to support and amplify the work they do within their communities. As regards external relations, process and protocols must be followed to ensure UGLE’s polices are adhered to correctly. And this is one area where Prity’s IT background comes in handy.
‘We receive a lot of enquires from people around the world interested in Freemasonry, and the external relations team is looking at modernising that interface so people can get the information they need online,’ she says. ‘We are always here to support potential members, and want to make information accessible, such as automating some processes in a secure environment. That way, if somebody is interested in becoming a Freemason, they can visit the website, put in their information and we can advise them which Grand Lodge to contact depending on where they are located. We want to make the website more informative and easier to use. We don’t just want to modernise, we want to enhance what we offer without excluding any of our existing membership.’
Prity then turns to two initiatives that Grand Lodge would like to roll out to the Districts to help with learning and development. Solomon is a collection of online material facilitating the members’ learning – it contains presentations, essays and ‘nuggets’ of knowledge and information from a variety of sources that will help in any stage of a masonic career. ‘This has already been rolled out across our Provinces. It is our intention to introduce Solomon and The Members’ Pathway to the Districts,’ she says.
‘The Members’ Pathway was launched in 2017 and provides a series of steps that lodges and chapters can follow to attract, encourage and introduce new members. An important element of both initiatives is keeping current members engaged and adding value to help with their journey, to keep it relevant to them as they continue. It’s a different way of working and can help in the way they liaise with their members.’
That commitment to the members is central to everything Prity is doing, just as it is at the heart of what Dr David Staples and UGLE are working towards. ‘There’s a refreshing change taking place,’ she says. ‘There are so many ways to move forward and the senior team is bringing together a skill set with fresh ideas from which the members will ultimately benefit. That’s the long-term goal. It’s about our current members, what we can do for them to improve our services, but also for those who want to learn more about Freemasonry. There’s a vast amount of good work done in the Provinces that benefits the communities around them and we want to make potential members aware of that when they visit the website and read our literature. We want to raise the profile of the incredible work that members are engaged in – at all levels.’
‘We want to eliminate paper and repetition, reduce delays and make it easier for the lodge Secretaries and, ultimately, the members themselves’
Here to serve
From continuing modernisation to clearer communication, Grand Secretary Dr David Staples reveals some of the major improvements being made to the United Grand Lodge of England
You spoke in the Winter 2018 issue about the ongoing modernisation of UGLE. What improvements were made in 2018?
The biggest change has been bringing together masonic and commercial staff at Freemasons’ Hall, which started with the Board’s appointment of a CEO. This meant that for the first time in a number of years a single person would be in charge of and responsible for delivering for the organisation as a whole.
Staff have taken part in a number of workshops to understand what we stand for and why; what our values are as the ‘headquarters’ – a distinct organisation separate from UGLE or Supreme Grand Chapter. They have agreed a set of organisational values and goals which have resulted in the introduction of new appraisal processes, mandatory training, pay scales and benefits. Alongside this, regular communication with our staff through ‘Town Hall’ and departmental meetings has ensured people know what is going on and how this fits in to the bigger picture, all of which will help us attract and retain the best possible staff. A restructuring of the organisation and of the various business functions held within the building has allowed me to establish clear lines of accountability and allowed the new directors to facilitate change and improvement in their respective areas. This work has resulted in us being awarded Investors in People accreditation – a ‘kitemark’ not only of excellent people management, but also of normality for how a professional organisation is expected to run.
All of this may sound like management speak, but what it means in reality is that we have ensured the ‘Centre’ is up to the task of both serving our members and representing them effectively in the modern world.
In addition to these changes affecting staff, there have been many other smaller projects aimed at improving how professional we are, and enhancing what we can do and how we deliver. These have touched virtually every aspect of our operations. For example, an archiving project has examined the kilometres of shelving and paperwork stored in Freemasons’ Hall and helped us to develop a document retention policy. Clearing shelving from the main office has allowed us to consider exciting new options for the space that has been created.
A web-based booking and payment system has gone live for those attending Supreme Grand Chapter and Quarterly Communications, drastically reducing the number of cheques we need to process and bringing us in line with the modern-day expectations of our members.
In preparation for an increased focus on communications, we have brought FMT in-house and appointed a new editorial team, while the Directory of Lodges and the Masonic Yearbook are now online living documents. We have trained a number of members as media ambassadors to represent us at events and in the press. We have commissioned a communications capability assessment and have undertaken polling of the general public to find out what people really think of us, and what opportunities might present themselves to improve their understanding of who we are and what we’re about.
We now have new phone systems and video conferencing suites to improve communications across our worldwide organisation, and these are saving both time and money while improving engagement with our members. The new Events Management Team has been tasked with engaging with our members and encouraging them to use and visit Freemasons’ Hall – a home for all English Freemasons, and we are starting a programme of community engagement projects to broaden our public footprint.
We have converted disused flats into three new lodge rooms in response to an ever-increasing demand for temples, and supported the Improvement Delivery Group in the creation of Operational Membership Dashboards, the Solomon online learning resource and the Members’ Pathway. All of these will directly inform our drive to improve our attraction to potential members and our retention of existing ones.
We have anticipated changes in the legal framework and have issued guidance on transgender members and data protection. We have blended the Grand Ranks system into ADelphi, thereby saving both our Provinces and Districts days of back-and-forth letter writing.
A huge amount happened in 2018 and has continued to do so in 2019 to ensure that we are a professional, fit-for-purpose and efficient central organisation which is held in high esteem by the membership and the public and which communicates an appealing, confident, relevant and consistent message to the outside world.
What are the key objectives of this process of modernisation?
Simply put, to better serve the members of both UGLE and Supreme Grand Chapter. UGLE needs to be ready for the challenges set by the Rulers and the Board, but also needs to meet the expectations of our members. When I was a lodge Secretary a few years ago, I wanted my Grand Lodge membership fees to be wisely spent, and I wanted to see some tangible benefit for what I pay for in terms of a confident organisation ready to represent itself on the public stage and to stand up for its members. I also wanted to interact with it in a modern and accessible way. That principle still holds true now that I am the CEO.
You also spoke about making the headquarters more ‘transparent’. How is this being done and why?
More open communication between the Provinces, our members and UGLE allows us to ensure an aligned approach to our common challenges – how people perceive us; how we represent ourselves to the outside world; how we normalise Freemasonry in the eyes of the public; how we attract and retain members. We are developing a new communications strategy with an appropriately resourced department to deliver it. We have a new Member Services Department to help streamline the relationship between our members and their organisation, and to implement the various initiatives being carried out by those groups with a care for Freemasonry.
What methods will the organisation be using to put a greater focus on attracting new members?
I see this very much in terms of normalising the environment from which our members are drawn in terms of public opinion. I’m a scientist by training and I like to see the evidence for something before we invest resources in it. We know that 87 per cent of the public know of our organisation, and 49 per cent of the public have a firm opinion of us. We also know that the majority of those do not necessarily hold an opinion that we might like! That is despite all the good works we do, despite all the money we raise for charity and despite everything else we are doing to rehabilitate ourselves in the public eye. We recognise that the majority of new members join after personal conversations with those who already enjoy Freemasonry, but we must make sure that those to whom we speak already have a fair opinion of us. To these ends we will be embarking on a focused series of interventions to bring about just that – an understanding of what Freemasonry is, what its values are, what we stand for and why we are relevant in today’s society. In conjunction with the newly rolled-out Members’ Pathway, we hope to ensure that no opportunity is wasted.
What are some of the more important changes planned for 2019?
We want to find new ways to open up our headquarters to as many people as we can, and to ensure that every one of those contact moments affords those individuals a greater understanding of Freemasonry. Staff will be moving out of the old central office space, which we hope to develop into a public area containing a temporary exhibition space, a café and a very public-facing office for Metropolitan Grand Lodge.
The introduction of an expenses policy, travel policy and purchase order system will improve our financial controls, but the most important change will be our ability to deliver an overarching communications strategy aimed at taking back control of the public narrative on Freemasonry.
In terms of day-to-day processes, you will have already read about our ambition to revolutionise how we administer the organisation. Changes being planned through Project Hermes aim to replace paper forms with web-based systems, removing the need for endless form-filling and drastically reducing turnaround times. In short, we want to make the lives of lodge, Provincial and District Secretaries much easier. We want to streamline our ability to collect dues and improve our ability to analyse and spot trends in membership data, which will help us to identify and propagate best practice wherever it arises. I truly believe we have exciting times ahead.
‘Simply put, to better serve the members of both UGLE and Supreme Grand Chapter, UGLE needs to be ready for the challenges set by the Rulers and the Board, but also needs to meet the expectations of our members’
A new computer system called ADelphi that will eventually involve the whole Craft is unveiled by Roger Carter
ADelphi is the computer program that runs the membership system for all English Freemasonry at Freemasons’ Hall. It is a very significant program developed upon Oracle, the world’s leading database software. The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) system was called ADelphi after the Greek word for Brother and also, because it is a process to obtain information, it is a play on words of the Greek consultation of the Oracle at Delphi.
A programme of development funded by UGLE is now currently underway in conjunction with the Provinces, to extend the basic ADelphi program, which started primarily as a project just for the needs of Freemasons’ Hall, into a system for the benefit of all the Provinces and the membership as a whole. This exciting new system is to be called Provincial ADelphi.
Provincial ADelphi will be of major benefit, as it is likely in time to become the main system by which most Provinces communicate with Masons in their Provincial area, and by which these Provincial offices connect with the Freemasons’ Hall database.
As Masons become increasingly contactable through their use of the internet, their Provincial offices will be able to arrange membership renewal, subscriptions, meetings, Visiting officers and even seating plans through Provincial ADelphi.
The Annual and Installation Returns will be processed through this route, as will letters to Masons about Provincial matters. Soon the Masonic Year Book for each Province will be produced electronically, and then it may be possible for any Mason to quickly access the up-to-date information directly on the internet.
The potential for saving a great amount of time, especially in Provincial offices, and the consequent likely cost-saving is a significant benefit of introducing the system countrywide.
This whole process has been designed to be a collaborative programme in conjunction with the Provinces. Before any development work took place, the Director of Operations at UGLE and key members of the IT Team visited Provinces across the country to explain what was happening and ask them what features they wanted.
A series of workshops with many more Provinces then took place at Freemasons’ Hall to identify precisely the type of specification that was required for the system.
A Project Plan was created and approved by the Board of General Purposes. A set of three specially selected Provinces: Hertfordshire, Surrey and Somerset, were contacted and agreed to be ‘Pilot Provinces’ to test out the developments as they were created, and agree a standard approach on behalf of every Province.
A Project Team made up of the Head of IT, Stephen Fryer, supported by a small team of skilled Oracle developers commenced a programme of work in accordance with the Project Plan. Monthly meetings with the Pilot Provinces were scheduled to take place to ensure that the project progressed at a steady rate.
A module for submitting Annual Returns has now been tried and tested in the Province of Surrey, and subsequently is being tested in Hertfordshire and Somerset. A different module, a process for considering Provincial honours, has been tried in Hertfordshire, and is now being trialled in all three Provinces.
It is anticipated that the modules identified above will be completed, tested and ready by early 2007. A number of further Provinces have already volunteered to be the next to try and test the system.
A project programme is therefore being developed which will identify the next Provinces to join the system, starting with those who have already heard about the benefits of Provincial ADelphi and wish to volunteer.
It is anticipated that as more Provinces see how the system helps them, they will also wish to join. This process is designed to ensure that when the system is fully operational, there are not the same sorts of problems that have occurred in some other national IT systems when they have been introduced!
Keith Gilbert, Provincial Grand Secretary of Hertfordshire, following use of the first modules, commented: “Although we already had an effective database, the introduction of ADelphi has proved to be a first-class tool in enabling us to speed up communication with the Brethren and with Grand Lodge.”
Bryan Craddock, Provincial Grand Secretary of Surrey, said: “It is clear that Provincial ADelphi is the way ahead and it is good to be working together with UGLE on such a scheme”.
Graham Bowerman, Provincial Grand Secretary of Somerset added: “I am pleased to report that the ADelphi system is providing us with a firm basis for the administration of the Province with easy access to up-to-date and accurate details of all our members.”
In addition, Harry Barnes, Provincial Grand Master of Dorset, who has started to look at the way it works, commented: “I found the system very intuitive, flexible and comprehensive.” All responses to date have been very positive.
As well as work on Provincial Adelphi, the IT team have been carrying out associated work on a festivals and donations module for the Grand Charity on behalf of all the other Masonic charities. In addition, there are plans afoot to develop a system to allow payment of subscriptions and other monies by direct debit through ADelphi.
This would enable charity donations to be made directly to the Relief Chest and create a comprehensive system for the collection of charitable donations from brethren.
The Provincial ADelphi system could, in time, be used increasingly as a means of communication between individual Lodges and their Provincial office or direct with Grand Lodge. As the system develops and expands, the possibilities are huge.
With the prospect of individual brethren communicating direct with their Provincial leadership, and even Masonic message boards etc., only time will tell where this will go!
Roger Carter is Director of Operations at Freemasons’ Hall