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IEEE as "Bottom Up" or "Top Down" Management—
The Choice Is Yours

Rabab Ward
President, IEEE Signal Processing Society

The constitutional change amendment currently proposed by the IEEE is a matter of deep concern for so many of us. It affects some key factors that are critical to the future of the IEEE as we know it, and for which we have respect, devoting endless hours volunteering to its betterment.

The IEEE, as a nonprofit association run by volunteers, has very successfully operated for many years as a "bottom-up" confederation of technical Societies and geographic units, collaborating together in the spirit of our scientific and engineering culture. Where uniform direction is needed, or highest-level resource allocation is required, decisions have been escalated up to higher-level boards, such as the Technical Activities Board (TAB), with representation from every IEEE Society and Council, or the Member and Geographic Activities (MGA) Board, with representation from every IEEE geographic Region. If needed, further escalation then occurs to the level of the IEEE Board of Directors (BoD).

Contrast this with most for-profit commercial companies, which operate from the "top down." That is, corporate executives, under guidance from their BoD, direct strategy and operations. Their employees, under various tiers of management, are responsible for executing these operations and policies. Increasingly, there have been signs that the IEEE BoD, for whatever reasons, wants to become more of a top-down organization, concentrating greater power at the top, and diminishing the role of its technical and geographic units. As evidence, resources generated by Societies are increasingly redirected without Society control for use elsewhere in the IEEE, including for overhead purposes. As a result, remaining Society resources have either become stagnant or decreased, limiting what Societies can do for their members.

The latest move to more top-down control is occurring with this year’s ballot, where members are asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that will abandon dedicated seats for technical Societies and geographic units on the BoD in favor of a smaller number of board members meeting "diversity" requirements that have not been defined and which can be changed at any time according to whomever happens to be serving on the BoD then.

Proponents of the change claim that a smaller board will be more nimble. Opponents claim that the checks and balances of the widely represented board that we have today are more important and have served us well. Proponents argue that the current board takes too much time to run the IEEE. Opponents argue that more decisions should be delegated to existing boards, like TAB and MGA, and empowered to make resolutions independently.

Many of us joined the IEEE due to the strength of its many diverse Societies. The combined effort of 45 technical Societies and Councils is responsible for 75–80% of IEEE revenues. To diminish the various Societies’ visibility and role in running the IEEE is unwise and shortsighted. If volunteers find that their ability to control the destiny of their Society is greatly reduced, many volunteers will no longer feel that they truly belong to a self-empowered Society, and it will adversely affect the morale, motivation, and enterprising spirit of the volunteers.

The recent intense effort to change the IEEE’s fundamental constitution is distracting us from solving our immediate, high-priority challenges. Further, it is hard to believe that we are asked to vote on this constitutional change before we know what the final new structure would be, and without knowing the new bylaws that will govern the IEEE in the future. The new bylaws are to be written later by the BoD, however, none of the new bylaws will require member vote, or even prior notification. The proposed amendment gives power to the BoD to implement any changes they wish to make, without requiring approval from us, the IEEE Members.

More than half of the governing boards of the IEEE’s Societies and Councils have already spoken against the amendment, including the Computer; Communications; Power and Energy; Circuits and Systems; Electron Devices; Robotics and Automation; Solid-State Circuits; and, of course, our own Signal Processing Society. But, their decisions do not matter—only yours does, as a voting member of the IEEE.

I urge you to become more familiar with the pros and cons of the amendment, and exercise your right to vote in this critically important juncture for the IEEE. You can learn more about the amendment at The rationale for opposition to the constitutional amendment and proposed restructuring can be found at

For background, the IEEE governing documents, including the Constitution and Bylaws, are available at

TAB has formed a TABin2030 Committee to consider the amendment’s implications. Additional materials to the pros and cons and the TABin2030 webinars and analyses can be found by visiting You may need to log in with your IEEE account to access the materials.

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