Facilitating occupation

In another recent post Chris Corrigan (see our previous post) has also collated a few links to support Occupy protests in facilitation.

Plan to Win have done the same in their #Occupy 101 post, with some specific tools for general assemblies of the kind being used at Occupy Wall Street.

The resources include a fantastic 8 minute video about consensus at Occupy Wall Street, which gives a passionate introduction to the process. I’m sure it’s not all perfect there (where is it?) but it’s a great reminder of the energy and joy that consensus can bring to a movement. I’ve embedded it below. Watch it!. 8 minutes well spent. But that’s not an excuse for not visiting Plan to Win’s site. The other resources are well worth checking out.

In the spirit of signposting resources, here are more links taken from our resources page (many more where these came from). All of these sites have invaluable materials on them on topics like facilitation, but also nonviolent action and strategy:

And of course there’s our own materials.

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11 thoughts on “Facilitating occupation

  1. Erm, grumpy old man here, but the bit (1;40ish) where one guy says “there is no hierarchy” and that is then repeated and repeated. Shouldn’t that be spliced/mashed up with that bit in the Life of Brian when he goes “you’re all individuals” and everyone shouts back “yes, we’re all individuals”? That would be a youtube sensation, methinks.
    What I am trying to say:
    While it’s great to see this stuff going down, esp in the States (which has always had lots going on, just not in the MSM), I distinctly remember the same fervour to ‘be heard’ and ‘now they have to listen to us’ after Seattle 1999.

    It’s NOT that everyone’s voice is heard, or can be heard in ‘consensus’. That’s a ridiculous statement, patently false (and self-serving?) Surely what’s crucial to keeping newbies (yes, yes, dreadful term) is that they get to find some outlet for their energy and skills, that they get mentored to increase their skills, within the broader context of a set of ‘winnable’ but radical/worthwhile demands – what Michael Albert calls “non-reformist reforms”. The idea that the key to getting and keeping new folks is that their voice is heard is dangerously delusional. In my ever so humble opinion.

    • “It’s NOT that everyone’s voice is heard, or can be heard in ‘consensus’. That’s a ridiculous statement, patently false (and self-serving?)”

      OK, so some clarification needed. Can everyone’s individual voice be heard, especially in the context of a general assembly of hundreds? Of course not. It’s unlikely to be possible even in your average meeting of 6-12 people. So in that sense I agree with you, and also agree that creating that expectation is dangerous.

      But does good consensus leave people feeling heard? Yep.

      So, what’s the difference?
      (1) In good consensus there needs to be an acceptance that I may not personally get to raise a point, but that that’s OK because I’m not that unique and others will say it if I don’t.
      (2) There also needs to be some discipline (sorry – I know that word isn’t always popular) about the contributions we make. I can’t expect to be heard if my comments aren’t useful. There’s a saying – “say what needs to be heard not what you want to say”
      (3) Effective consensus hears the concerns of the group – both those on the surface and the less obvious ones, and those of the margins of the group as well as those of the mainstream. And it’s not having concerns dealt with that leaves people feeling ‘unheard’

      Whether the consensus you and I are likely to encounter lives up to this is another matter……
      This comment was first posted on dwight towers’ site

  2. Pingback: Occupy Jerusalem with the People’s Front of Judea «

    • Thanks for the comment. I think we’d agree that many activist communities get stuck in a rut in terms of the way they meet and discuss. If it’s any consolation we’re getting asked to facilitate more and more open space, but the other techniques are lagging behind

      It seems that there’s not that much understanding that the approaches that you reference in your article are entirely compatible with non-hierarchical organising, and consensus decision making in particular. At the moment people seem to see them as either/or rather than both.

    • Thanks for this helpful article, I like how wide you’ve cast the net.
      I’ve been talking with ppl about clarifying purpose for meetings, and choosing the right process to fit that. There’s definitely a need for more free-wheeling dialogue and deeper consideration of issues than is possible in a General Assembly. I’ve started talking with folks about offering an Open Space workshop for Occupy Melbourne. The fun part is coming up with the right ‘compelling question’ to frame the gathering.
      I’ll likely write about what we end up doing, and keep you good folks in the loop.

  3. Hi rhizome & holly
    rhizome – great to hear that u are being asked to facilitate OST more. It is still a little unknown process as are the other processes. Hopefully if enough people introduce it through the Occupy network it might get more recognition. One movement in the past few years has helped OST become a little more known is the transition town movement which uses OST.
    Holly – love to hear how the OST workshop at OM works out…

    • I’d echo that – let us know how it goes Holly. The interesting thing I’m observing with Open Space is how quickly groups go from being new to it to modifying and adapting it. Worryingly though quite a lot of those adaptations seem to be about shutting down the openness of the space – for example running other “important” sessions on specific topics in parallel because there isn’t the trust that the group will necessarily name those topics as conversations for the Open Space and they’re too “important” not to be discussed.

      Letting go of control is tough, but so, so interesting.

  4. Oh yes, the creeping control that can come into Open Space – one facilitator I know called it ‘space invaders’. ‘We’ll do the first session all together because it’s so important everyone needs to be part of it’; ‘I’ll set up the projector in the main space so everyone can see this super-important movie’; ‘That topic sounds similar to mine – let’s combine so there’s more ppl’.
    Which comes back to the value of a skilled facilitator, or someone who’s well-grounded in OST principles. Because OST is apparently so ‘hands-off’ in terms of facilitation ppl can underestimate the importance of opening intentionally and laying out the guidelines for ppl to self-organise within. When lots of ppl in the group have experienced Open Space done properly they are more likely to resist space invaders, but lots of ppl I come across who have experience with Open Space have actually experienced a shonky modified version, so have different expectations. Tricky!

  5. I like the aspect of OS that would encourage autonomy and a variety of initiatives and solutions. However, it might not be so good for taking decisions as a large group, which is what the assemblies are partly for (never mind moving on to taking action)! AND it is certainly not a cure all and in my experience has some big dangers.

    In terms of OS being known, it’s something we’ve borrowed from in British eco-activist circles for donkeys years, to varying degrees. I’m not so sure about generalising that Transition Towns use it, per se.

    Anyway, on to the more interesting points about the dangers…
    When a number of people with lots of experience in facilitation and consensus went from the UK to a week-long German OST official training, one of the aims of some of us was to explore how to facilitate less, to let go of control and be more hands-off. What we found in this respect was that the means that a facilitator usually employs were placed instead in a tightly-constructed model that could not be challenged. The ‘creeping control’ was not symbolised by a person in a role, so could not be critiqued or altered, but in the rules. If these rules were not adhered to, then you could be accused of being a ‘space invader’ and/or destroying the whole process. At one point there actually was a ‘rebellion’ against the process by everyone, when we didn’t want to do it like the at which point the facilitator stormed out.

    Perhaps most importantly, OS also had no way of dealing with the power inequalities that people bring into the room with them, the different levels of self-esteem, confidence and privilege. It thus seemed to be very bound into a North American ideology of individualistic freedom.

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