Cumulative Decisions Survey

March 21, 2012
Summary of Broad Survey of Interested Parties Relative to the Content of the Music Association
Cumulative Decisions Document

During its conference call of March 14, 2012, the Working Group requested that all individuals interested in the work that has been done to date in the formation of a National Association be surveyed regarding their opinions of the Cumulative Decisions of the Group.  The survey was opened on March 17th and the following summarizes the result of that survey.

There were 39 respondents to the survey:  respondents included diverse organizations and individuals.  When asked their overall satisfaction with the Cumulative Decisions enumerated in the Cumulative Decisions document, the overall average response of the entire group was a 2 (satisfied) out of a scale of 1-5 where 1= extremely satisfied and 5=extremely dissatisfied.  (The actual results were 15 (#1), 10 (#2), 11(#3), 2(#4), and 1(#5)).

Of those respondents that were community-based music programs for youth “with the greatest need and fewest resources”, the overall satisfaction rating was 1.75 (very satisfied).

Respondents were asked to share their concerns about, recommendations for changes in, and questions about, the cumulative decisions contained in the document.  The responses were very rich and extensive.  Although it is impossible to include them all in this summary, many comments were shared by two or more respondents:


Dynamic Tension- Inclusivity/Exclusivity
While some respondents reflected that there was something inherently “un El Sistema” and “undemocratic” about defining core membership or membership in general in a way that excluded some organizations, others reflected that the lines should not only be drawn but should be drawn more narrowly (more required performances, more required hours) in order to reflect the true nature of El Sistema and also to be sure that the core membership would ensure program quality.

This tension was also reiterated in discussions on both sides of the same issue but with regard to the need to “bring others into the fold”  through allowing open access to Association resources as a way of developing the field.  However others said, on the opposite side of the issue, that if access were allowed to all then there would be no way to assure quality or verify whether an organization were just giving “lip service” to being organized around El Sistema values.

Dynamic Tension- Strategic Focus on the Movement/the Programs/the Child
Many respondents spoke passionately about concerns that because the Association would likely be governed/controlled by core programs, these core programs might not have a real priority to foster the national presence, inspiration, vision of a widespread movement to make El Sistema a powerful force in the US, akin to Venezuela.  There was concern that the work of the association would be focused on capacity building of programs to the exclusion of these national priorities.

Similarly, there was much concern expressed that the programs clearly expected the Association to fulfill significant capacity-building needs and that the Association might fall short on those expectations because they might be too high or unrealistic.

There were also concerns that focus on the national movement and/or programs might take the focus off the “true priority” that is the children themselves and how their needs are met.

Strategy- Timing, Thoughtfulness, and Partnership with Existing Resources
Several respondents spoke to feeling as if the process of developing the Association had been going “too fast” without enough time being spent to reflect on the work to date, prior documents that had been developed by earlier iterations at national organizing.  There were also concerns whether the Working Group had thought enough about other partners in the field that might be currently focusing on some of the priorities listed for the Association and whether partnership strategies had been delineated to avoid duplication of work/priorities and foster solid growth of a national movement.

Strategy- Input from Venezuela and other Leaders in the Field
Some respondents expressed concerns that leaders in Venezuela and current leaders in the field such as Maestro Dudamel did not appear to have been consulted about the Working Group process.  Comments were made that the USA needed a figurehead such as Maestro Abreu to lead the national organization and concerns that the Working Group had not undertaken this process.

Board Composition
Several respondents questioned whether a board made up exclusively of core member organizations would best serve the Association; they suggested that the Association might be better served by a board that was “primarily” core members but open to others as well so that diverse talents could be recruited to the board.  A suggestion was also made that it might be wise to allow non-voting board members from ranks outside the core membership in order to accomplish this same purpose.

Quality/Hours of Programming
Many respondents spoke about the need to increase the number of required hours of programming for core membership to 8 (and even to 15) to ensure the real quality of the programs.  A couple of respondents suggested that there should be no hours requirement in order to encourage membership and bring organizations into the fold where they might be inspired to do more.

Mission Statement
Some respondents stated that the mission needs to be “inspiring” and “compelling”.

Wording and Definitions

Clarification of Terms
There was widespread commentary on the need to further define and clarify the meanings to the Association of the following terms/phrases:
Program Quality
Music Quality
El Sistema values
Inspired by El Sistema

Name- El Sistema USA
There were concerns expressed about the “baggage” associated with this name and the need to exercise caution before adopting it.  There were also concerns about whether leadership in Venezuela would permit and/or approve of the use of the name.

Underprivileged and At Risk- Descriptions of Youth in Need
There was much commentary on the need to be careful when using such terms.  Most of the comments said they thought that “at risk” should not be used; some also said this about “underprivileged”; while others preferred the use of the word “underprivileged”.  Respondents said that they preferred the use of the terms “youth with access barriers” and also “youth with the fewest resources and greatest need.”  It was consistently reiterated that care must be used in adopting descriptors of youth in need so that they are not pejorative.

Absent Wording
A couple of respondents suggested use of the word “rigorous” to define programming and quality.  It was also suggested that introducing the concept of “joy” when describing programs would be useful.

Most of the questions raised are articulate above in the Concerns section of this document.  Questions largely related to processes taken to date, how future decisions would be made, and where information could be found within the WordPress Website.

Almost all of the respondents expressed awareness of the magnitude and complexity of work/process required to organize disparate organizations to share their ideas and to determine their will and interest to form a national organization.  Great appreciation was universally expressed for the transparency of process to date.  Significant numbers of responders also wrote about high satisfaction with the process and outcomes to date.


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