Rough consensus, or, hmmmm, is humming good for consensus?

rough-consensusI came across the notion of ‘rough consensus’ only recently. It is used by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a large, self-organised, international community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers. It is the principal body that develops new Internet standards, which are voluntary. It is open to any interested individual. It has no board of directors, no members, and no dues.ietf

The IETF mainly exists as a collection of events. It meets three times a year, with over 1,000 people on each occasion. Most of its activity is in Working Groups, of which there are over 100. These operate via mailing lists as well as by face to face meetings at the events.

Before explaining what rough consensus is, I should say why they use consensus at all. They found that voting was both difficult and undesirable. It was difficult because with no membership it was nearly impossible to work out who should get a vote for any given question. It was undesirable because it led to gaming of the system (such as ‘vote stuffing’ – recruiting lots of people to vote for you), important minority views being ignored and poor technical outcomes.
cyber-warrior1They call it ‘rough consensus’ because they don’t go for full consensus, on the basis that this allows “a single intransigent person who simply keeps saying ‘No!’ to stop the process cold.” What they mean by rough consensus is that strongly held objections are debated until most people are satisfied that these objections are wrong or should not be accommodated. So you can have rough consensus where such objections have been consciously dismissed, but not where they have been ignored.

To illustrate the point about accommodation, there might be an objection to a proposed solution that everyone acknowledges to be valid, but the vast majority of the working group believes that accommodating the objection is not worth the effort involved in fixing the problem.

If there is someone whose concern is not going to be accommodated, rough consensus also that they be given a reasoned explanation as to why.

They see dealing with these objections as more important than the level of agreement. A long discussion might lead a minority to feel that it isn’t going to get its way. As a result, it agrees to go along with the majority. There might then be 100% agreement to a proposal. But if there is an objection to that proposal that has not been addressed, it would be wrong to take even this level of agreement as consensus.

It is this lack of connection between rough consensus and the number of people for and against that those involved with the IETF find it hardest to get their heads around.

What this implies for the process

Successful rough consensus relies heavily on the good judgement of the consensus caller, usually the chair of the working group. What the chair must not do is to assert that rough consensus has been achieved simply because lots of people say, “The objection isn’t valid.” That would be equivalent to taking a vote. People need to justify their views, so that the objection can be understood and evaluated..

It follows that asking “Can anyone not live with choice A?” is a better question than “Is anyone not OK with choice A?” because it draws out objections that people feel strongly about. But, there is of course an essential follow up question: “Why do you object to choice A?”.

Humming

notesSometimes the chair of a working group wants to take the temperature of the room in a face-to-face meeting. They will ask people to hum on a particular question, either “for” or “against”. Sometimes the hum tells the chair that an issue isn’t that contentious after all, that apparent widespread objection during an initial discussion was just a few people being vociferous. Or, a smaller number of loud hums for choice A and a larger number of quieter hums for choice B might show that, although B is more popular in terms of numbers, some people believe that there are serious problems with it. The chair wants to find the option with the fewest objections as quickly as possible, and the humming helps.

The other reason for using humming is that it doesn’t feel like voting – which brings us back to where we started.

Based on https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc7282 accessed 24th October 2016

Grassroots campaigning skillshare portal

groupprocess_buttona_175x175If you’ve not come across the ‘Skillsharing Portal‘ before, it’s a way for training collectives to share their skills and experience across Europe, across languages and cultures. 

The website has resource guides and workshop modules that are made by and for activist groups across Europe in topics like consensus and facilitation, strategy, anti-oppression, group process and direct action. The aim has been to make accessible and share the amazing amount of knowledge and skills in activist networks around the world.

In summer 2016 there was a co-working session where people from around Europe (including our friends at Tripod in the UK, EYFA, Poland’s SPINA, the German Out of Action and Skills for Action) got together to further develop the site and materials.  Also, a easier collaborative framework was agreed and designed, and the site has just been migrated to a wiki with more people able to contribute.

The languages featured are English, Russian, Polish, German, French, Romanian, Spanish and Serbian, though not all resources are currently in all languages.

Take a look if you’ve not before, and if there’s anything you’d like to offer, get in touch with them.

Decision-making in Mandorla Co-housing group

cropped-mandorla-strip I am a member of Mandorla, which is a co-housing group in Herefordshire. The UK Co-housing Network defines co-housing as housing

“…created and run by their residents. Each household has a self-contained, personal and private home….residents come together to manage their community, share activities, eat together. Cohousing is a way of combating the isolation many experience today, recreating the neighbourly support of the past…”

We linked up with a local passivhaus architect called Architype. They in turn set up a development company called Archihaus. Archihaus secured planning permission for a development of 150 dwellings in a village called Kingstone, some six miles west of Hereford, on the way to the Golden Valley and to Hay on Wye. Mandorla hopes to occupy the first 21 of those dwellings, together with a common house which Archihaus will build for us, where we can have meals together, run activities and courses, supply guest accommodation, and so on.

chalice-wellWorking with Archihaus has many advantages – we didn’t have to apply for planning permission ourselves, for example. It also brings its frustrations. Three years on from that planning permission being granted, Archihaus are still negotiating the funding and no work has begun on the site. As a result, most people who might be interested in Mandorla find the situation too uncertain to sign up, and we remain a small, slightly beleaguered, group.

The rest of this blog describes one of our biggest decisions. Five of our dwellings will be for rent, with the rents at an affordable level. We had to decide how to manage these. Our first step came in August 2013, when a group of us visited Cwm Harry, which describes itself as “a successful provider of practical environmental services and an innovative ‘Do Think’ tank developing commercial solutions for sustainable livelihoods lived locally.” Quoting from the minutes of our next meeting: “Everyone who went to the community garden was extremely impressed – great permaculture emphasis, very sustainable, inclusive, and non capitalist . Very impressed too with Paul Taylor (our main contact) – positive, good principles & actions.” At that point, Cwm Harry was a community land trust charity, and a cooperative with eight offshoot groups including Robert Owen, a community bank. It was not at that stage a housing association, which we needed to work with in order to access the funding for the affordable rented units. However, Paul had alreay proposed to the Cwm Harry board that they became a registered housing provider – the current jargon for a housing association. Our housing consultant, Jimm Reed, thought that the benefits of partnership with Cwm Harry outweighed the risks. We agreed to explore it further.

circleswithincirclesHowever, in December 2013 we started to have doubts. We had originally had the clear impression that Cwm Harry would return the freeholds of the five properties to us once the mortgages were paid off, but in December we were told that that would not happen. We wondered if we could register as a housing provider ourselves, and get some help to manage the five units. We came across an organisation called Birmingham Co-operative Housing Services (BCHS), which offered to fulfil that role.

In February 2014 we discussed the services that we would want BCHS to do for us. In April, we first discussed the comparison between the two alternatives. The table below shows how opinion evolved between April and the point at which we came to a decision, in September. What is striking is how complete the turnaround is.

2014

April

June

August

September

Cwm Harry

4

4

0

0

Be our own housing provider with BCHS

1

3

7

7

50/50 or undecided

1

2

3

0

The reason for that turnaround was evident in July, when as an aid to our decision-making we discussed what our criteria were. The top three, listed below, all pointed away from Cwm Harry and towards going it alone, with help from BCHS:

  • 11 votes – We knew we would be in control of our own processes, procedures and rules without outside interference (Risk: if we work with an external body they might impose rules on us.).
  • 8 votes – Any organisation we choose to work with has a strong track record in housing management (Risk: otherwise we may have to put up with their steep learning curve – and what if they decide later it’s not their thing after all?) .
  • 8 votes – We have long term control over the tenancy agreements (Risk: without this the tenants may not have full security).

What strikes me now, looking back, is how thorough we were in terms both of the length of time we gave it, and also our preparation. At the September meeting we provided everyone with a four page briefing that included: the full set of criteria; a comparison between the two choices; FAQs e.g. the work involved in becoming a registered provider; and an evaluation by our project manager. Mind you, those whose projects are now complete tell us that as time goes by they had to make more decisions, in less time, with less information. That should be fun….

Perry

Forum Theatre

forum-theatreEarlier this month I attended my first forum theatre performance. It was the last in a week-long series of performances of The Great Austerity Debate taking place around the country done by the Menagerie Theatre Company. They’d been commissioned by two geography researchers, Prof. Susan Smith and Dr Mia Gray, from Cambridge University. Performances have been filmed, so no doubt a version of it will be available in due course.

Forum Theatre is both political and participative. The format for this one was:

  • An introduction that explained the format of the evening (and gave the audience the option of leaving if they wanted);
  • 50 minutes of 3 actors portraying half a dozen characters, focusing on a single parent’s experience of low paid, privately run care work and claiming Universal Credit;
  • A brief discussion in small groups of the audience of around 100 people;
  • A debrief of the audience by the director about key things they had seen in the play;
  • The opportunity for the audience to ask questions to the 3 main characters (with the actors staying in character) on anything they were curious about;
  • The opportunity for members of the audience to make different plot, dialogue, acting or character suggestions in a couple of scenes and see the actors portray how that might have played out, and then discuss what the changes might mean. A couple of members of the audience were invited to take part.

forum-theatre-imageI found myself today comparing it to training using role-plays. As a facilitator and trainer of activists and organisers I sometimes use a role-play so people can imagine and practice their responses to different scenarios. But role-plays can feel contrived or risky for participants, more so if they are done as fishbowls with some participants watching others, so these are often not done in large groups. Despite theatre being predominantly something to be watched, and maybe only talked about after over a drink with your mates, with this format most members of the audience were very engaged in the performance. This ranged from everyone taking part in both small and full group discussions through to a couple of people being invited on stage – in this performance one was one of the characters and another was an advisor to one of the characters. It’s likely that the people who joined in on stage had a level of confidence that saw them through without taking too much risk, and it was done with plenty of humour, but everyone seemed energised by the experience. Animated conversations carried on with the cast and director and between complete strangers at the end.

boal-transformative-theatre-quoteMy experience yesterday was that, as this started with a substantial and compelling dramatisation, it created an emotional reaction that provoked the engagement of audience members in ways that they felt very comfortable with. It’s likely that this audience (in the Unite trade union office in London) was sympathetic and ready to find the scenario and plot realistic, even if it wasn’t for the timing of it coinciding with the national release of I, Daniel Blake and all the clarity that that film has brought to people’s understanding of the nature and effects of austerity. I imagine in other settings or at a different time, this particular dramatisation might have gained very different reactions.

climate-changeIt’s clear that there is significant potential for this format, and that working with a professional theatre group can produce it to a very high standard. In terms of practicalities, though, it is no doubt both time consuming and would take some time and funding to execute well. It feels like a real privilege to have been involved in such a well directed piece of political theatre with well managed participative audience discussion and engagement on something I feel strongly about. Is anyone up for doing something similar about climate change?

Gill

Trump trumps, and what’s this got to do with me?

trump-simpsonsSo what can we make of the US election results, and what’s that got to do with us over here?

Is it a last hurrah of a beleaguered set of people feeling left behind in a changing world?  Is it simply another demonstration of the dangers of populist leaders stirring up the depths of racism, xenophobia and nationalism?

Well it may be too early to be sure of the mix that carried Trump (and the leaders of the Leave campaign in the UK) to power on a wave of dangerous rhetoric, and though we may not be certain enough to make sense of it all, we can start to think on possible responses to the world in which we live. That said, I remember and know from the Brexit vote that it’s not always so easy to move on to take action when you’re grieving or scared, when you can see the swirling forces of amongst other things, the enduring power of white supremacy and misogyny, the challenge to the neo-liberal economic dominant paradigm and the historical echoes of stirring up the pot such as also happened in the former Yugoslav countries or pre-Nazi Germany.

stormy-sky-seaBut rather than waiting on the Austrian elections, the Italian constitutional referendum, and later next year the French and German elections, to see if this global phenomenon continues, alongside the dark clouds and death in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the world that get even less attention, what can we as progressives do, what can we reflect on and plan for in our organisations, co-ops, communities and campaign groups?

  • Imagine and share the worlds we want.
  • Reflect on our shared and different values together with others.
  • Value difference and diversity.
  • Challenge the wrongs around us and further afield.
  • Build resilience.
  • Work constructively and creatively with conflict.
  • Strive for a better world for all.

Of course, there’s sure to be many more and different key issues for you and your group or organisation (that same diversity of views and positions goes for Rhizome too!).  Your strategy may already take the wider context into account, or may need reviewing. Rhizome will be coming together for a couple of days next month and for sure will discuss strategy and responses.  If you fancy it, like we try to, do share your journeys either direct or in the comments here on this blog.  Certainly, if you need help working on these challenges or others, do get in touch with us.

In solidarity, Rhizome Co-op

Between direct and representative democracy – ‘Liquid Democracy’

direct-vs-representative-democracy

 

 

Liquid democracy is one of the most interesting ideas that I’ve come across recently. It’s a cross between direct democracy and representative democracy that takes some effort to get one’s head around. This blog is partly to help me do that and partly to see what other people think.

 

 

 

The way Liquid Democracy works is that, on each issue, you have a choice. You can decide to be active yourself, take part and vote. Or, if you lack the time and/or interest to vote you can delegate your vote to a representative. In this case, delegation does not mean that your delegate does what you tell them. Rather it is about asking your delegate to participate in the full deliberative process on your behalf. Your delegate can and is expected to listen and engage in the debate, consider the information available, and make what she views as the best decision on that basis. This process can be seen as the mechanised equivalent of seeking advice from a friend and voting based on that advice.

If I dislike her decision, I can choose a different delegate before the next vote. Delegations can be withdrawn at any time.

Say you’re an expert on education. This system means that you could have your representatives vote for you on all health care issues, but cast your own vote when it came down to education issues.

Delegates can themselves delegate their votes onwards. In the diagram, the people to the right of the line vote. The people to the left of the line delegate their votes.

 

Liquid Democracy is the combination of networks and democracy. It is a term designed to capture a more fluid and responsive participation of citizens in the democratic process through the use of both online and offline networks. Votes flow through networks of trusted relationships and in this way a range of types of “delegation” can be created, from forms we are familiar with such as conventional representative democracy, to fluid parties and direct democracy.

Liquid democracy is not yet well known, but it is starting to be used:

  • the German Pirate Party uses it internally. In some parts of the party it is used to make binding decisions. In other parts, the results are only advisory.
  • A region of Germany called Friesland set up “Liquid Friesland.” This gives local community members a way to propose policy ideas and directions, which are then voted on by people using the software. Liquid Friesland is primarily a reference system: votes are not binding. Instead they inform the Council decision-making process.
  • the Italian Five-Star Movement has also applied Liquid Feedback. With 25% of the national vote, the Five-Star Movement is a significant political force for change.
  • Flux, a small party in Australia, promoted it when contesting the 2016 election for the Australian senate
  • There are two different software platforms for this: Liquid Feedback and Adhocracy.

To end with, one advantage and one disadvantage. The plus is that, under this system, a person can become a delegate for multiple members very quickly, as a result wielding the political power normally reserved for elected representatives. This is the “liquid” in Liquid Democracy. It makes every person a potential politician.

The minus was hilariously expressed in a blog by one godix. Here are some extracts:

Congratulations on your new high paying job at monolithic multinational corporation. Just a few forms to fill out… First off is the tax form, next is your health insurance, then we’ll be needing to you to proxy your vote to the CEO….”

Hi, I’m Monica from Friends. Sign your vote over to me. I don’t know shit about politics really, but I’m famous. Thank you for giving me political power along with fame and wealth, you mindless drones.”

Hi, you may know me, I’m Bill Gates. I’m getting sick of government investigations. The next one million people to sign their vote over to me gets a free copy of Windows 2045. This time we fixed the bugs. No, seriously, we did.”

I don’t think this is a killer. But it does say to me that there is design work still to do…

Cherán, an inspiring example of direct action, community democracy and autonomy

cheran-struggle-for-life-banner

In 2011, Cherán a town of nearly 20,000 people in Michoacán, Mexico, locals threw out not just the loggers that had been threatening their forests, but the politicians and police too. After years of corruption and violence, they said loudly ‘Enough is Enough’, following it through with effective action. What can we learn from their example?

 

Uprising

the-cheran-indigenous-communitys-remarkable-road-to-self-rule-in-mexicoThe women met in secret to make their plans. They were sickened by the killings, rape and kidnaps that had become routine and angered by the masked men who roamed their town demanding extortion payments from small businesses. And for more than three years they had watched, indignant, as lorry after lorry trundled past their homes piled high with freshly cut logs devastating 70% of the surrounding oak forests.

“Their cars and lorries would drive down all the main roads of the community. They would mock us as they passed and not just that, they would go into stores and ransack them and then leave. Nobody could say anything. Women, men, all of us, we felt powerless to yell or stop them. Our situation was critical, it was desperate, but nothing tangible could be done because we couldn’t agree, each of us belonged to a different political party.” (from this UN report)

By 2011, the loggers were getting close to one of Cherán’s water springs. A group of women took it upon them selves to act, and went into the forest to try and reason with the armed men. They were verbally abused and chased away at gunpoint. So their plan evolved. Now they knew it was too dangerous to confront the loggers in the forest at the spring, they determined to stop the lorries in town where they would have the support of their neighbours.

Early on Friday 15 April 2011, Cherán’s levantamiento, or uprising, began. On the road coming down from the forest outside Margarita’s home, the women blockaded the loggers’ pick-ups and took some of them hostage. The loggers tried to run the women over and fired at people. As the church bells of El Calvario rang out and fireworks exploded in the dawn sky alerting the community to danger, the people of Cherán came running to help.

“When we set out it was dawn and still dark, around 6:30 in the morning. The church bells were ringing calling people to mass […] I never really thought this would go far […] We were just five women from here, from this neighbourhood, a bunch of older women, there were no men, maybe a few men but mostly women […] We chased after the cars throwing stones” (from this documentary)

FILM-TORONTO/They set the lorries on fire once they had pulled the loggers out, and began detaining the loggers themselves (later to be handed over to federal police). It was tense – hotheads had to be persuaded by the women not to string up the hostages from an ancient tree outside the church.

It was at this point that the community recognised the complicity of the local police when it was police officers who guided organised crime thugs to the place where the loggers were being held, in an attempt to violently release them.

If the Purépechans thought this was the end of the matter, they were mistaken. On April 27, 2011, in what was undoubtedly an act of revenge, illegal loggers shot and killed two Cherán residents who were patrolling the town’s perimeter.

watch-pointThe community erected over 200 fogatas or bonfire barricades throughout town in order to prevent violence against community members. Within days the community decided that it no longer trusted any politicians from any political party or any of the local and state police, and the community evicted the town’s mayor, and the corrupt police force simply exiled themselves in fear from the community, warranting no need to run them out of town. Armed townspeople — from middle-age men to teenage girls — guard the barricades blocking all entrances into town. Their weapons are AR15 assault rifles, seized from the police when they expelled them. The local government office had its gates pushed down using a requisitioned timber lorry. More than ten burnt-out lorries were towed and placed along the main streets as a reminder of the cause and to warn illegal loggers and members of organised crime groups. No one was allowed to leave or enter Cherán without identifying themselves at the main barricade.

Townspeople began to organise for self-determination and self-defence and chose to return to their traditional Purépecha forms of self-governance.

Governance and decision-making

“We are part of the earth, the fight is for life. Men and women of our community, and the groups who offer us support, give us another page in the story of our community’s fight. We confirm our fight in defence of Mother Nature and life; to take oath as the second council is to confirm our task of recovering our world view that comes as an answer to the problems of our nation and the whole world.” – Pedro Chávez, new elder to council in 2015, reading the group’s declaration.

cheran-kidsIn Cherán today, there are no political campaigns, no ballots, no political parties, and no elections. They were inspired to push for autonomy by the example of the Zapatistas.

A general council of community elders was elected and commissions were formed in order to carry out the community’s logistical, social, economic, and political needs. Community members simply say that they referred to their indigenous Purépecha history and elders, in order to return to the way the community was organised before political parties, police, and organised crime existed.

The K’eris Council of 12 elders took the place of the mayor. Its members are chosen by their neighbours in a revolving manner. Council members know that what power they have is theirs only for a short period, and that their appointment can be revoked at any time.

“Everyone in the community participates instead of just having a few people making all the calls. From the campfire and street corners, entire families contribute their feelings on how things should be done. Those ideas reach the communal assemblies where general agreements are made. Each commission makes decisions to see what will be done in their own areas, but the overall general decisions are made in the communal assemblies. The communal assembly is the highest authority.” – Juan Jose Estrada Serafin, newspaper correspondent

“The election process involves everyone meeting in the square and standing behind their selected representative,” says a photographer. “It is extremely transparent. It is not without its flaws and potential for corruption, but compared to the typical election campaigns, it is a lot more honest.”

In November 2011 in a court appeal, Cherán acquired a degree of autonomy from the Mexican government; the town still receives federal and state money, and its people must pay taxes, but they are allowed to govern themselves under a legal framework called ‘uses and customs’ that has been granted to some indigenous communities. Cherán is the first community to be granted this right.

cheran-no-political-parties-bannerIn 2014 a group petitioned the town authorities to restore political parties, to be able to take part in national elections. After discussions around bonfires and throughout the four communities, the people decided to maintain their autonomous political status, in keeping with their history and traditions.

Autonomy and self-reliance

Cherán dispenses its own justice for minor offences. Many of those are alcohol-related; personal use of locally-grown weed but not outside dealers. Penalties include fines and community work – such as litter-picking. Serious law-breaking is referred to the attorney general. Since they took over, there have been no murders, kidnaps or disappearances, which for this area of Mexico is remarkable. There are checkpoints at all the entrances to town, checking for weapons, drugs and asking people their business if they’re not local. Originally the people who maintained the checkpoints and barricades were a mix of people, including many women and whole families; the volunteer community guard now has become armed and mostly male.

cheran_paraderehearsalHistorically, Cherán had traditionally been ‘policed’ or defended by members from the community. In a voluntary rotation members from each of the four barrios or neighbourhoods would patrol the community for self-defence in what is known as the ‘community ronda.’ After the uprising the general council made a call out for volunteers to participate in the community ronda, or community guard. Community members maintain that police are imposed by the government, but the ronda is a traditional way in which community members protect themselves and their community. Today the ronda is separated into two parts. The ronda comunitaria which is responsible for patrolling and protecting the community from within its borders and the guardabosques or forest defenders, which patrol the outskirts of town and deep into the forests in order to protect community members living in those more rural areas and in order to protect the forest itself.

cheran_guardiabosquehorseLand in Cherán is mostly held in common – families manage it but they don’t own it. With the criminals gone, rules are strictly enforced – anyone who wants to fell a tree must secure permission from the authorities. Some 3,500 hectares have so far been re-planted in the five years since the uprising, with 1.5 million pine saplings grown every year in greenhouses they’ve set up for that purpose. This is one example too where employment has been created, lessening migration to the cities.tree-nursery-cheran

The town is about to use the crater of a dormant volcano as the largest rainwater collection system in Latin America, channeled to a purification plant. Cherán’s autonomy is also expressed and strengthened through its use of alternative media

 

Background

Other communities have defended their forest against loggers; the difference in Cherán was that organised crime was involved. The criminal gangs were clearing land to sell wood and then have locals grow marijuana for them or set up drug laboratories.

When the residents of Cherán asked their municipal, state and federal authorities for help, they did nothing.

The first community members who began to defend their forest were simply and quickly assassinated. From 2008-2011 the situation only became worse. Criminals charged protection to run even a small business in the community of Cherán.

“They tell us we won’t last long, that they’re going to take our lands and that they’re even going to take our cattle, that they know us, that they have us on a list, that they’re going to bag us, that they’ll never find our bodies,” says the leader of the volunteer police. He’s one of the many rural inhabitants evicted from the forest and from his small farm plot. His 12 hectares (about 30 acres) were left in areas controlled by the timber cutters. He’s been prohibited from going in there.

Cherán is surrounded by communities where this has already taken place. Huitzaco, for example, is a town inhabited by dozens of ‘owners’ of working mines who are poor because they are simply fronts for the real owners. In San Juan Nuevo Parangaricutiro, the businesses there are being harassed into paying for ‘protection.’ The avocado growers in Uruapan, producers of the world famous ‘green gold’, transferred their orchards to armed men who force them into partnerships and make them sell their crops to certain packing plants.

The timber cutters of the town of Tanaco pay for lorries loaded with illegal lumber. The forests of El Cerecito are used to camouflage drug laboratories. In Paracho it is said they even control the water.

This is the face of the Mexican “ecomafia.” [It is] the diversification of the businesses of cartels such as Los Zetas, Los Caballeros Templarios and La Familia Michoacana who take over territories and their natural resources.

“Here, the climate, which is cold, is not good for growing avocados; that’s not what they want the land for. But our lands are good for growing beautiful marijuana plants, like there are in nearby communities, or to install drug laboratories in remote areas like those found in El Cerecito. Sand and gravel quarries are tempting. Our forests will produce lumber for them. What they want is more money. They even wanted to charge the community for the water we were drawing from the deep well,” explains a woman communal member, who asks that her name not be used.

The present and the future

In late July 2012, an army base was set up near Cherán after two residents were killed when they ventured into the forests. It’s not plain-sailing, and there have been assassinations and disappearances from outside the town.

barricades-cheranSome in Cherán say that they have begun to feel captive and desperate, confined to their town but still dependent on the forests, from which they take wood and wild mushrooms, a community staple. The forests also represents something more intangible but no less important to them — a source of wisdom and an integral part of the Cheránean identity.

Cherán is not the first community in Mexico to return to their traditional means of community self‑defence, nor is it the first place in the state of Michoacan, nor in the indigenous Purepecha region. Other communities have engaged in similar practices of self governance and self-defence, and little by little more and more communities are seeing traditional self governance and self-defence as a viable alternative to corrupt politics and submission to organised crime.

FILM-TORONTO/Recently council members from Nurio, Michoacan, a larger community and long time practitioner of self-governance and self-defence, suggested that the entire Purepecha region should begin to organise a regional ronda that could potentially coordinate self-defence patrols on a regional level for the indigenous Purepecha people living throughout the state of Michoacan.

“They thought they could bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” -Mexican Proverb

“Brothers and sisters, we have a great task at hand, to start to raise consciousness about what it really means to be a comunero or community member. Comunero is a very deep word. It is not a slogan or tag. It is a way of life and a cell to build a new society, a new humanity. This is how I see it, a grand responsibility. The result of consciousness raising is realising that we are universal beings and part of the universe, we are not owners of the universe, this according to the indigenous philosophy of our wise ancestors. We are not owners of the land. We are part of the land.” – Jose Merced, Cherán shaman and storyteller

“Now this is the work that we all have to do, all of the communities, not just the community of Cherán, all the communities of the world, to reverse the logic of neoliberalism, which makes us believe that processing raw materials is the only way to fulfil the necessities of our people, of our communities and ourselves as individuals.” – David Romero, Cherán lawyer

Cherán does not believe that anybody will ever be able to bring them justice for their dead, disappeared, and displaced as a result of the conflict, nor do they expect anyone in power to understand the justice they seek for the forest. Today Cherán knows that justice is something that they will have to take care of obtaining on their own from now on. When it comes to safety, the world is able to see what it looks like for a community to take responsibility for its own safety through traditional indigenous forms of self-governance and self-defence.

 
Edited together from various accounts including:

Borderland Beat, the NY Times, and El Enemigo Comun.

BBC radio programme

Documentaries: in Spanish, and two others with English subtitles here and here.

More photos.

From Burnout to Balance: Creating Cultures of Care

fireWhere?  Forest of Dean (just north of Bristol)

When?  6pm 28th October – 4pm 30th October 2016

FROM BURNOUT TO BALANCE: CO-CREATING CULTURES OF COLLECTIVE AND SELF CARE

SLIDING SCALE £25 – £150

When we think of our escalating refugee/hospitality crisis, mounting inequalities, eco-systemic collapse and runaway climate change – the challenges we face can seem insurmountable. No matter what we do, it never seems to be enough. Transition, it seems, requires such immense and relentless effort that the self-care necessary to sustain oneself long-term can feel like an unaffordable or self-indulgent luxury.

If this resonates with you, if you have felt or feel on the edge of burnout and want to develop insights and skills to avoid it, join us for a nourishing weekend reflecting on and exploring effective and regenerative activism and personal sustainability through the co-creation of cultures of collective- and self-care.

A SPACE TO REST, REFLECT AND REPLENISH
This introductory residential training draws on ecological/systems thinking, embodied holistic-participatory learning, nature connection, Process Work and the Work that Reconnects to explore the causes of, and tools for addressing and avoiding burnout and disillusionment within Transition and other movements for social/ecological justice and renewal. The workshop offers a space of reflection and rest as well as practical methods for engaging in the inner and interpersonal ‘work’ that underpins effective activism and social change. Content includes:

– Practices of of collective- and self-care

– Changing behavioural patterns that cause burnout

– Building group dynamics that support sustainable activism

– Avoiding disillusionment/staying inspired

– What is ‘enough’?

This two-day residential training was borne out of ‘Sustaining Resistance: Empowering Renewal’ a 10 day residential training developed and delivered at Ecodharma in the Catalunyan Pyrenees.

FACILITATION TEAM
Claire Milne and Peter Cow will co-facilitate this weekend workshop. Both Claire and Peter been working within the social and ecological justice and renewal movement for almost two decades. Amber Rose, an experienced and innovative yoga teacher will offer restorative body work.

CLAIRE is currently Inner Transition Coordinator for Transition Network’s international movement of autonomous groups with a passion for exploring issues around power and group dynamics. Claire recently spent a few years working and living at Ecodharma, a land-based education centre and community in the Catalunyan Pyrenees, delivering trainings to support activists around burnout and collaborative groups. Prior to all this Claire was very active in various local food activities across Bristol, including coordinating the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign and worked as a Campaigner in London for NGOs including Global Justice Now!

PETER is a social permaculture trainer, eco-community founder and 8 Shields geek, who has been involved in the road protest movement, and other campaigns in the 90s and 00s. “I am an experienced Permaculture trainer and facilitator, leading People Permaculture courses, Permaculture Design Courses and nature connection events around Europe and beyond. I am a founding member of the Thriving Ways social permaculture teaching and coaching collective.
I co-founded a permaculture eco-community in 2000 where I lived for 7 years in deep collaboration with the land and community of people, exploring and learning many ways to live with a positive impact on place and people.”

AMBER has been a dedicated Yoga practitioner since 2006 and has shared the practice through teaching since 2009. Initially attracted to the aliveness, the strength and the ease that Yoga created in her body, it is Yoga’s wider teachings that continues to ground her commitment to the practice. It is the framework she uses to engage in the ever evolving balance of living well with ourselves and with others.

Amber’s offerings are inspired by but not restricted a traditional Yoga practice. She has a light-hearted and inclusive approach, actively encouraging a space where each body can find its own ease, rhythm, truth. Amber has taught with Refugee Women of Bristol, in old people’s homes, with children, teenagers, families and she hopes…you!

INVESTMENT
Sliding scale from £25 – £150 including food and accommodation.

We do not want money to prevent anyone from attending so please give what you can afford. We have set the lowest donation at £25 because we feel this is an amount everyone, even those working almost exclusively for free, is able to generate between now and the course. We hope and trust that participants will contribute generously to enable this workshop to be financially viable and so that we are able to continue to make this important work available for the growing number of activists in need of it.

APPYING FOR A PLACE
Please email amberponton@transitionnetwork.org to request a (short) application form.

ORGANISING A WORKSHOP NEAR YOU
If you would like to explore us offering a workshop near you please email clairemilne@transitionnetwork.org

Dynamic Facilitation and Wisdom Councils

dynamic_facilitation_figure_1In my last couple of blogs, I’ve talked about Convergent Facilitation and how it panned out in Minnesota. In this one, I’m going to talk about an approach I’ve never met in person, called Dynamic Facilitation, devised by an American called Jim Rough. I missed my chance when Andrea Gewessler of Change That Matters brought Jim over to the UK a few years ago. I’d love to hear if anyone out there has tried, or even experienced, this method.

I’ll start with a description of Dynamic Facilitation, from a website called Wise Democracy. It “is a way of facilitating people to address and solve difficult issues, even those that seem impossible to solve. The DF’er [Dynamic Facilitator] helps people address issues they really care about and then helps them to be creative in addressing them. Rather than asking participants to be rational, hold back their emotions, stay on the agenda, abide by guidelines, or follow a step-by-step process, the DF’er encourages people to say what they think. At the same time he or she keeps everyone safe from judgment by reflecting what they are saying and holding a space where all comments fit together. Four basic charts are used: Solutions, Concerns, Data, and Problem-statements. These charts help the DF’er to frame the conversation as a creative quest to solve an issue that people care about. This context allows people to appreciate what they and others are saying.
Using the charts the DF’er establishes a “zone of thinking and talking” that is ‘choice-creating’, where shifts and breakthroughs are normal and where unanimous conclusions emerge. The process relies more on the skills and consciousness of the DF’er than on participant self-management. In this way, ordinary, untrained people can speak their minds and hearts yet shifts and breakthroughs build exceptional group conclusions.”

wcprocessThe Wisdom Council is an application of Dynamic Facilitation. Twelve to fifteen randomly selected persons from a community, town, region or other entity, work intensely together for one to two days. Usually, the issue is one they choose: it is not prescribed beforehand. At the end of a Wisdom Council the group produces a statement which is then presented to the community, perhaps using a World Café format.

Wisdom Councils have been taken up most in Vorarlberg, the westernmost state of Austria. An evaluation that I found covered five such councils over a six month period in 2010/2011. I understand that their use has now been embedded in the constitution of Vorarlberg, but I have no details.

My impression of Dynamic Facilitation and Wisdom Councils is this. I can imagine that the safe space created by the facilitator does encourage great creativity. It is notable that Jim Rough argues that, “Dynamic Facilitation orients people towards creating not deciding.” The flipside of that is the great demand made upon the facilitator. So it would not be easy for this approach to be spread wide.

I haven’t found a comprehensive case study of Dynamic facilitation, so I’ll end with this short but appealing vignette. With one group, Jim Rough offered to run a 30 minute session on any contentious issue that the group cared to choose. They chose abortion. First, the usual pro-life and pro-choice positions were asserted. Then there was silence, broken by someone asking, “How frequent are abortions anyway?” The group started to wonder if abortions could be eliminated. At the end of the half hour, they had all agreed on a question: “How can we achieve a society where all children are conceived and born into families that want and love them?”

Working Together: group exercise to bring out discussions around dynamics

DSCF4302.JPGA few months ago I dusted off an old group dynamics exercise that I’d almost forgotten about – the Tinkertoy game. I first came across it in the hallowed pages of the (now out of print) Resource Manual for a Living Revolution. Somewhere in the intervening 20 years it had slipped off my radar. I’m very happy it’s now firmly back on the radar again.

Not even knowing what Tinkertoys were, I immediately translated it into Lego (other plastic block-based construction toys are available).

The game works on lots of levels and is perfect to help groups and facilitators diagnose some of the core issues in a group. It focuses on roles, communication, and the tension between getting the job done and how it gets done….

I used it again the other week, and here’s how….

  • Make yourself a Lego model. The more complex you make it the longer the challenge will take. I kept mine relatively simple.
  • Give every small group (not teams – any  competition should be of their making, not yours) all the blocks they need to build the model, plus a few more for good measure.
  • Place the model where it can’t easily be seen by the group – inside a small cardboard box, or behind a screen, for example. Create an intermediary station (table and chairs?) between the groups and the model.
  • Introduce the roles and the rules of the game…. each group needs to build an exact replica of a small Lego model in the time given. However the people building the replica, the builders, aren’t ever going to see the original model themselves. They’ll be relying on the lookers to be the eyes of the group. But the lookers can’t communicate directly with the builders. They will meet with the messengers at the intermediary station, share their knowledge and impressions of the model, and the messengers will then talk to the builders. The lookers can come no closer than the intermediary station. These conversations can be just that – back and forth, structured or unstructured as people prefer. Then there’s the answerers. Answerers can go anywhere and interact with anyone, but on strict terms. They can only respond to direct questions, and then only with 2 possible responses “yes that’s right” and “no that’s not right”.
  • The minimum size for the group is therefore 4, but you can have multiple builders and can throw in an observer or two to help with debriefing later.
  • Give the group some time to meet and plan – I gave them 10 minutes.
  • Then get them building. I gave them just 20 minutes on this most recent occasion.
  • After 20 minutes I invited the groups to take another 10 minutes to meet. They were barred from talking about the model itself, but encouraged to talk about anything else that would help them improve the way they worked together.
  • I gave them 10 more minutes to finish the job, which both groups did, having used their 10 minute interval well.
  • Then debrief according to the issues that arose or the purpose of the training.

Try it sometime…..

 

Convergent Facilitation: a case study from Minnesota

Following on from our Convergent Facilitation blog post, here’s an illustrative case study.

lightning-fightChild custody is often a battleground in American legislatures, like abortion and gay marriage, with the additional ferocity provided by the divorce courts. In Minnesota, these struggles have gone on for more than a decade. In the end, some opponents just avoided each other. Brian Ulrich, a divorced father and activist with the Center for Parental Responsibility, remembers seeing an opposing legislator approach the lift that he was in. “The legislator turned around and took the stairs instead of getting on the elevator with us”.

In 2012, the Minnesota Senate passed a compromise bill that had a default split of 35/65 for the ration of time that a child spent with the father to that with the mother. But the governor refused to sign the legislation, saying that there were compelling arguments on both sides: those for a 50/50 split and those against. He called on the warring factions to break the impasse.

A former family court judge, Bruce Peterson, convened a facilitated meeting. He invited legislators representing both parties and opposing positions, lawyers, judges, domestic violence workers, and parent activists, and others. When Brian’s group was invited to meet their adversaries, he laughed: “I thought, you’re just wasting your time. We were so entirely opposed. I had seen the lobby­ing. I had seen the emotions of the presentations at the committee hearings, the unpleasant glances, the unwillingness to sit down and talk before that. It was just a recipe for failure.”

Other stakeholders shared his pessimism. Rep. Tim Mahoney later told a House committee:

“I really had no interest nor any belief that it would actually do anything. One of my opening statements was that I didn’t trust anybody in the room.”

Yet in 2015, a package of bills, developed by the group, supported by the whole group, passed the House of Representatives 121-0 and the Senate 61-3. How?

In the first meeting, a lawyer was blunt: “There’s a philosophical difference here, and there’s no point in dialogue. “Some of us think that a presumption of joint custody is just not a wise thing to do, and that’s all there is to it.” Miki Kashtan, the facilitator, looked for the ‘non-controversial essence’ behind this statement. (See my previous blog for an explanation of ‘non-controversial essence’.) This was that the lawyer wanted each family to be dealt with on the basis of its particular circumstances. When his opponents agreed with this principle, so it was indeed ‘non-controversial’, Miki knew she was getting somewhere.
After a day’s work, they had an agreed set of principles, which also included:

  • Reducing family conflict
  • Developing evidence-based solutions

That enabled them to agree some small changes to the legislation. Relationships between people on different sides improved enormously. But, said Brian Ulrich, “Despite the trust and the goodwill that clearly existed by that point, in December 2014 I thought it might all still collapse, because we still hadn’t gotten to the core issue of parenting time.”

consensus-definition

They started this phase of work by agreeing a definition of consensus. This would be when the group both agreed on a single proposal and when each member could honestly agree with four statements, such as “whether or not I prefer this decision, I support it because it attends to more needs and concerns than any other proposal we explored.”
They did indeed reach agreement on parenting time. The breakthrough came when a participant who had always resisted the prescription of 50/50 parenting-time suggested that a new factor be added to the list used by judges and custody evaluators to determine the “best interest of the child”. The addition was: “The benefit to the child in maximizing time with both parents and the detriment to the child in limiting time with either parent.”
I’ll give the last word to Brian Ulrich: “I went in thinking it was going to be a disaster and came out with hope.”

This is a summary of the full case study and a continuation of the previous blog post about Convergent Facilitation.

Have you reached a decision on which you all agree? – consensus and jury service

wordcloud (1)I’ve recently finished my second stint doing jury service. Jurors are cautioned not to talk about their experience of their time as jurors but trials are held in public so I am allowed to talk about information that’s in the public domain.

12_angry_men_lone_holdout.pngMy first time as a juror was around 35 years ago in the same court as now. Back then I had been involved in feminism for a few years. In discussions with friends, in women’s groups and at conferences I’d heard a number of accounts of childhood sex abuse from women of all ages and backgrounds. Almost all of them were living with not having been believed (if they’d ever had the confidence to tell anyone). It was the 1980s and it’s now common knowledge that this was widespread from the many recent celebrity sex abuse trials. At the time, I hadn’t realised my knowledge then was so unusual. I’d also had a friend who suspected she falsely remembered an occasion of familial sex abuse. She was struggling with the effects of this and we spent many hours talking about how to establish confidence in her memory.

AirFrance-managersdeshirtedAt that time I’d been involved in co-ops and collectives for around 5 years. Then, too, there was little information or training to be had about how to manage collective and collaborative decision-making. Co-ops and other non-hierarchical groups tended, in my experience, to try their best to make consensus decisions, but they just had to make up how as they went along. To say it could be stormy would be an understatement.

A Jury deliberation room in a USA Courthouse

But even with this knowledge and experience, I was unprepared for being in a jury tasked with coming to a unanimous decision on a case of alleged child sex abuse by the girl’s father. We were, in the end, instructed to return a majority verdict and I’ve had many regrets since. I’ve occasionally looked back at that jury experience and wondered if I could have done anything differently. So when I got this second call to do jury service I had very mixed feelings. Would it be as difficult as last time? How hard was it going to be to make consensus decisions? Was I more confident in my abilities to handle conflict?

In the years since I’ve been a witness in a successful prosecution at the same court, so the court itself and its processes were not a surprise. I’ve also had wide and varied work and life experiences including being a management trainer, learning a basic understanding of body language through NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), and I’ve met a huge variety of different people. And for the past 5 years I’ve worked in Rhizome and been privileged to learn and develop a better understanding of conflict and consensus decision-making. I’ve helped facilitate some complex consensus decisions with Matthew and Adam, I’ve co-produced a webinar on consensus decision-making with Perry and I’ve trained co-op members on making consensus and strategic decisions with Maria and Kat. I’ve also worked with Carl training co-operators on working with conflict and facilitated conflict resolution in a number of co-ops, as well as been involved in conflict resolution within our own co-op. But I know I am still learning and, whilst I may know more than some, I don’t think of myself as an expert.

There’s plenty of guidance on the law given to a jury. But there’s still scant guidance to jurors on the process of how to make decisions on which everyone agrees. There’s no indication on the difference between blocking or standing aside from a decision, no guidance on consenting to a decision as opposed to agreeing to it, nothing on how people may voice concerns or how to manage people’s different understandings of what’s been said and done. And there’s no guidance on managing conflict.

JuryUnsurprisingly (you may think), on the one case that I was involved in this time that went through to the end of the trial, I ended up as the jury foreperson. I’m really pleased to say that there was little conflict and we agreed unanimous decisions. But is justice really best served without there being any guidance to juries on the options for managing conflict and making unanimous, consensus decisions?

Difference and disagreement

Craig Freshley’s Good Group Tips pop into my inbox regularly and have done for several years. I have to admit I don’t always read every one. Some I skim, some I bin. A few even get the attention they deserve, like the most recent one on “Different views”. It’s well worth the few minutes it’ll take to read and digest it.

“Rather than spend energy arguing which view is correct, assume that all views are correct. Use all available perspectives to better understand what you are looking at.” Craig Freshley

Helpfully the tips, this one included,  are available as pdfs so there’s no excuse for not handing them out at that next meeting.

 

A new approach to deciding difficult issues: Convergent Facilitation

CF-logoLast month, I went to the idyllic Abbey, in Sutton Courtenay in Oxfordshire, to attend a training on Convergent Facilitation, led by the woman who devised this method, Miki Kashtan. Her background is in Non-Violent Communication (NVC), and many of the forty-plus people there also had an NVC background. They came from at least a dozen countries, including Japan, Nigeria and Brazil. Two-thirds were women.

I decided to go because the invitation included a terrific case study from Minnesota. I’ll describe what happened there in my next blog.

The method has three phases. I’ll illustrate each one from the example that we used for practice. This was about an activist network in the USA that had members on the East and West coasts. We had to decide where its next annual conference would be held.

Phase I: gathering people’s needs, principles and considerations

PIN-mediationThis is by far the hardest bit. It involves identifying what Miki calls the ‘Non-controversial essence’. It is a bit like the PIN diagram in mediation. People usually start with their positions (P), where there is often no overlap between people, but in a good dialogue will find their way deeper into their interests (I) and their needs (N), where there is increasing overlap, because we all have much the same needs. But it is not altogether like the PIN diagram. That is because if you go too deep, you will probably get to a need or value that is so universal that it is not useful in coming to a decision.

Here’s an example that came out on the day:

  • “Mum should go into a care home” is controversial
  • “Mum should be loved” is non-controversial but not useful in deciding what to do
  • “She should be treated with dignity” or “Any solution should be within the capacity of those who care for Mum” are both non-controversial and useful. Miki pointed out that what that capacity might be could well be controversial, but not the statement itself.

And here’s an example from the activists network case. Someone said that they thought the conference should be on the West Coast because it was their turn and that was fair. Miki said that in her experience it was almost impossible for ‘fair’ to be non-controversial. So various participants made suggestions to the person who made the remark, in order to try and elicit the ‘Non-controversial essence’:

  • “Is it about balance…?”. No, said the person, that wasn’t the essence of it.
  • “Is it about ease of travel?” No, that wasn’t it either.
  • “Is it about rotating the location to maximise attendance?” “Yes!” – though Miki said that “rotating…” should be omitted as that’s the ‘how’

So we added ‘maximising attendance’ to our list of considerations. We ended up with ten, which also included:

  • Make it possible for people with limited financial resources to come
  • Distribute power between the two coasts

cradlinghands

 

Phase 2: Developing proposals

We divided into small groups to do this. What we did was conventional, so I’ll say no more about it.

 

 

Phase 3: Reaching a decision

We were short of time, so Miki used a speeded-up approach, which worked like this:

  • She asked how many proposals there were – the answer was (I think) 7
  • She asked in how many cases were the group confident that all the criteria had been met – 5
  • She asked on a scale of 1 – 10, how confident were groups about that – two proposals had the highest score of 8

Miki asked someone to summarise each of these two proposals for where the conference should be, and then asked how many people had ‘medium to high’ concerns about each one. Here’s what happened (I’ve condensed the summaries to a single line):

  1. Half-way between East and West, with a strong on-line element – 14 people had concerns
  2. On the West coast, but using the experience of those on the East – 6

We concentrated on the second proposal, as the number of people with concerns was much fewer. We started with concerns that were troubling people, then moved on to concerns about things that were missing.

One troubling concern was that it appeared that speakers were not being paid. This dissolved when it was explained that that sessions whose leaders were not paid would be additional to the speaker sessions, and would involve a simple Q and A. Another concern about something missing was also cleared up by further explanation. What was missing, someone said, was a bursary fund for those from the East without much money. The proponents of the proposal said that the crowdfunding included in their proposal would cover this.

After dealing with the bursary point, there were no further concerns. Miki announced that the decision had been made. Because of a misunderstanding, there was half an hour for this final session, instead of the anticipated hour and a half. We made the decision in exactly half an hour!

The EU referendum – surprise, surprise

boxing-brexit_1In Rhizome’s occasional series sharing thoughts and perspectives following the EU Referendum, polarisation is a key issue that we need to learn from and deal with now, both in the wider Brexit world and in our social change groups.  What are your thoughts?

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised at the desperate polarisation that occurred in the EU referendum – it happens quite frequently in referendums. The EU referendum was bad enough, but the outcome can be more serious still. In the words of Sarajevo newspaper, Oslobodjenje, “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum”.

Here are a couple of examples. Note in particular the reference to ‘blind emotion’ leading to a rejection of the status quo in the second one.

polarisationA Canadian academic called Simone Chambers studied the run-up to the referendum on whether Quebec should become independent of Canada in 1995. She summarised what happened: “All in all, the referendum debate had an effect opposite to what deliberation is supposed to have: it moved participants further apart, heightened distrust, exacerbated misunderstandings and left Canadians in a worse place than when they started.”

In 1978, voters in California supported Proposition 13, which was a citizen initiative which reduced property taxes. Voters did this “in a surge of recklessness, a period of nearly blind emotion, surrounding the passage of Proposition 13, when anger at the government seemed to dominate the public’s thinking. The usual explanation for the voters’ choices still held sway, but this added hostility proved a potent weapon for the tax revolt. At this point, the tide of anti-government emotion eroded stable attitudes about what government should do. The public’s desire for maintaining the status quo of services plummeted, their perceptions of government inefficiency rose considerably, and their anger focused on the ‘bureaucrats.”

The Brexit referendum seems to have followed the same patterns as many other referendums. Does that help us in working out what should happen next, both on the issue and on its repercussions? And on what we might do next time (if there is a next time)?

Previous blog posts: The EU referendum: “I’m right and you’re an idiot”, Helping you make up your mind for the EU referendum

The Diamond of Participation is forever OR Get your diamonds into shape

diamondmoredetail

I think the diagram above, of the Diamond of Participation, is by far the most helpful diagram for anyone interested in running better meetings that come to better decisions. I’m very grateful to the “Facilitators Guide to Participatory Decision-making” i for providing it. I’m writing this blog both to explain it and also to take issue with a couple of the bits of it.

The diamond represents a good decision-making process. You start with a clear question on the left hand side. You open up the issue. Roughly half way through, you start to narrow it down, until you make your decision at the extreme right.

My first demur is with the ‘groan zone’. In my own experience, I have hardly, if ever, found this part of a meeting to be painful. A good process for this part of a meeting is usually a lot of fun. It needs to review the ideas generated in the divergent zone and collect them into a series of options and then draw out a solution based on some or all of them. So perhaps I’d change ‘groan zone’ to ‘collection section’.

Secondly, I’m not keen on the ‘Business as Usual’ part of the diagram. Since the horizontal dimension is time, it looks as if this only takes about ten minutes. In my experience, meetings that go wrong take at least as much time as meetings that go right, and often longer. There are two ways in which they can go wrong, shown in the two diagrams below. In the first case, the meeting is never opened up, perhaps because the chair has kept too tight a grip. It’s likely to be pretty boring, since all that is happening is the rehashing of the status quo. The second case is the opposite. There is only opening up, only divergence, and no closing down. There will either be no decision, or it will be arbitrary. In both cases, any decision that is made is unlikely to reflect the values, interests, knowledge and ideas of the participants.

diamond-images

This blog post is based on a guide to decision-making that Perry is writing, to be published by Rhizome later in the year. Email perry@rhizome.coop if you would like to be told when it comes out.

i Sam Kaner et al, Facilitators Guide to Participatory Decision-making, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, USA, 2007, page 20

Book your place on a co-op skills training course, delivered by experts

hive-co-op-skillsThe Hive runs a series of one-day co-op skills training sessions, delivered by experts, available to existing co-operatives looking to strengthen in key areas.

Many of these training sessions were co-designed and run by Rhizome in previous years.  Still to come this year, we are delivering the ‘Communication and Working with Conflict’ workshop in London in October.

Find out more and book your place at www.thehive.coop/apply

How to use conversation kits to get across info about complex topics

Democs-HEethicsIn a blog on May 27th, I described the Wee Play conversation kit that I helped develop and use for the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. In this blog, I’m going to explore how the Democs conversation kits, of which Wee Play was one example, get across information about complex topics.

Each kit supports a small groups of 4-8 people to have a discussion over 1 ½ to 2 hours. One person acts as the dealer. They introduce a question that playing Democs is intended to answer, and then introduce three sets of cards.

How the cards work

First, a pack of ‘story cards’ is dealt out, one per person. Their purpose is to tell stories of how individuals are affected by the issue. With something like nanotechnology, it is important to show it can or will affect our everyday lives if people are to be able to get stuck into the topic. They are usually written as dilemmas, to encourage people to think about them. The group as a whole chooses one card that will best help them discuss the question.


Example of a nanotechnology story card

S3 FRED SMITH

I’m a GP. A patient came to me with a persistent cough. I asked him for a blood sample to do a genetic test to find which antibiotic best matches his genetic profile. “Nanotechnology!” I explained, “With this lab-on-a-chip machine, we can now read all your genes in a minute.” The print-out told me which drug to prescribe. However, his genetic profile also showed a high risk of developing an incurable liver disorder. This man only came about his cough. Do I tell him? Does he want to know?


The personal stories in the cards often trigger personal stories from participants. Here is part of a report from the facilitator of an event HIV/AIDS held at a homeless shelter in Vienna. Participants consisted of homeless people and shelter staff members. The facilitator said:

The story cards were probably the most important. These people related to them very directly – not in a hypothetical sense, but by what they had experienced themselves. For example, a man had contracted Hepatitis C from sharing a needle with an infected person, fearing also for HIV transmission. A woman sleeps with her HIV+ partner unprotected “because she loves him and he does not like condoms”, knowingly risking transmission. Another man talked about this one-night stand with a woman who his friends later said was positive – and how he feared until he had the results of the test. And many more… They were extremely open in how they talked about their sexuality, alcohol and drug abuse and how this affects them in their choices.

Next, 40 or so ‘information cards’ are dealt out. Each player, individually, chooses the two cards which will best help them discuss the question. There are two go rounds in which the players take turns to read out a card and to explain why they chose it. This usually gets a little discussion going. Everyone contributes from the cards in their hand: everyone gets to ask basic questions without looking stupid.


Example of a nanotechnology information card

A2 What happens at the nano scale? 1

Nanoparticles have different properties to the bulk material. As particles become smaller their surface area becomes relatively greater. That is why icing sugar dissolves more quickly in water than granulated sugar.


[I liked it] “when we had the cards and we had to choose which was most important which made me feel like I could contribute…”

“The format of sorting through the cards, had a sort of awkwardness at first, passing [them] around to make sure everyone seen everything, but that soon ended as you began to pick things out that felt important to you and actually talk to the group about it.” – Male,33, museum exhibits director, UK

This is then repeated with the pack of ‘issue cards’. Whereas the information cards are factual, usually about the current situation, these expose players to a range of attitudes, opinions and ideas for changing the situation.


Example of a climate change issue card

B8 Jeremy Clarkson (UK TV presenter of motoring programmes)

“What’s wrong with global warming? We might lose Holland but there are other places to go on holiday.”


This phase, which takes 30 – 40 minutes, gives a group a shared stock of information. The second phase, which takes about the same time, is to make sense of that information.

using-democsThe effect of the cards

The statements below come from students in a school who were discussing MMR vaccination. MMR stands for Measles, Mumps and Rubella, and at the time a doctor called Andrew Wakefield had attracted a lot of attention with a claim that a triple vaccine that covered all three could cause autism. His paper in The Lancet was later declared to be fraudulent and he has been banned from practising as a doctor in the UK.
By half way through the discussion it was noticeable that the students appeared to be engaging with each other in a more focused way than hitherto, building on each other’s statements as they discussed an information card about parental choice:

— NHS has most of the information so they should be the ones who decide about vaccination

— No, they should give the information to us (said strongly)

— Yeah they haven’t told us

— If they tell us we can use it, making our own choices

At the end of the Democs game, students were asked if there were things that they found surprising, or things they learned in this activity. There responses offer further indications of the understandings that they had gained through taking part.

— I was surprised that doctors got paid more if they did single jabs

— I found the card that showed the increasing autism since 1997 surprising

— If you get MMR vaccine, get it after 15 months since before that we don’t know about autism.

Returning to adults, a striking illustration of how a single fact can change someone’s mind comes from Rachel Collinson, who took part in a focus group convened by the Science Museum in London to gather evidence on how effective Democs was. She said:

Before I started to play Democs all I knew about stem cell research was gleaned from snippets of news reports and pro-life propaganda. I was sure that I didn’t like the idea very much. However, playing Democs with people of varying viewpoints was a great eye-opener. It prevented our discussion from descending into histrionics. All parts of the debate became very clear and understandable, and I learnt things that I didn’t know before, which was a very pleasant surprise for me. My stand on the issue (and I am well known for taking stands on issues) clearly moved from where it was at the start of the game, to something quite different. Even now, four years later, I can still remember the exact argument that changed my mind. I came to the debate with a belief that the foetuses involved were generated just for research, and I didn’t like that. During Democs, I learned that in the UK most research is done on aborted foetuses. I felt that as they already existed, it was best to make use of them.”

In conclusion, a participant called Robert Whittle summarised the potential benefits of using the cards. I can’t claim that every event works as well as one that he describes, but when they do they are a joy to watch:

I was fascinated at how quickly (notably in the Facts and the Issue Card sections) all members of the group opened up and became confident at using new terminology and paraphrasing ideas and in making connections between issues – thus demonstrating their rapidly growing understanding or confidence or both. That does seem to be an astoundingly rapid progress using the game.”

Want to know more?

Democs background and download conversation kits on many different issues including GM Food, climate change & Community Empowerment

Human Enhancement Democs kit

More resources & inspiring stories with kits developed as part of PlayDecide

Buurtzorg – how to be radically different

ReinventingOrganizations-600A few months ago I read a wonderful book called ‘Reinventing Organisations’ by Frederic Laloux. It borrows a framework from Ken Wilber in describing the evolution of organisations towards ones that are freer of ego and control, ones that believe in abundance and in wholeness. What makes the book wonderful, though, is not the framework but the case studies of organisations that run this way. This is, in brief, the story of one of them.

This example comes from the Netherlands. In the nineteenth century, every neighbourhood had a nurse. Originally they were self-employed, but in the 1990s the health insurance system, which mostly paid for them, thought it would be more efficient to group them into organisations. Between 1990 and 1995, the number of organisations dropped from 295 to 86.

Alongside the rationalisation of organisations came the rationalisation of work. Time norms were established for different tasks: “wound dressing 10 minutes”, for instance. Treatments were rated: only the more experienced and expensive nurses could perform only the more difficult treatments. In order to keep track of how long visits were taking, a barcode was placed on every patient’s door: the nurse had to scan it on entry and exit.

Nurses hated the new system. Here are the sorts of things they said about it:

The whole day is making you crazy. Some day I had to go and see 19 patients.

The planning went wrong so many times that I could no longer explain why nobody would come.

The final straw came when (they) wanted us to sell stuff to our patients.

Buurtzorg was founded in 2006 by one Jos de Blok, as a reaction to all this control-freakery. Between 2006 and 2013, when the research for the book was done, it grew from 10 nurses to 7,000. By 2013 it employed two-thirds of all neighbourhood nurses in the Netherlands.

Here’s how it runs. Nurses work in teams of 10 – 12, serving 50 patients in a neighbourhood. They have no boss and they take all decisions. Decisions are not taken by consensus but on the basis of a lack of principled objection.

buurtzorgBuurtzorg has a tiny headquarters staff of 30 people. Another difference from traditional organisations is that, instead of having regional managers, who control, they have regional coaches, who support. Their role is mostly to ask the questions that help teams find their own solutions. The coach lets the team do that, even if she believes she knows a better way. Part of the job of the coach is to give the team the belief that they have what it takes to solve their problems.

One of the striking effects of the lack of official hierarchy is that it enables natural hierarchies to evolve. People get to do what their best at within their team. Some of them become known for their expertise in a particular area and are consulted by other teams across the country.

The results speak for themselves. Buurtzog’s nurses take as much time as they wish with patients, as opposed to being bound by ‘time norms’, but in fact Buurzorg’s patients require 40% less time than those of other organisations. Patients stay in care only half as long. A third of emergency hospital admissions are avoided. Among nurses, absenteeism for sickness is 60% lower. Just wonderful….

The EU referendum: “I’m right and you’re an idiot”

EU-inoutMy title is taken from the title of a recent book by a Canadian author called James Hoggan. It sums up neatly what the attitude seemed to be of many people involved in the EU referendum debate, whether that debate was face to face or on social media. By accident, I and my colleagues in Talk Shop found an antidote. This is the story of that accident.

In the run-up to the EU referendum, we organised ten events around the country, attracting a couple of hundred people in all. We began in Hackney, ended up in Huntingdon, and our journey also took us to Halifax and to Hereford.

EURef-eventOur original intent was to assist people who were undecided. In fact, based on the three events for which we have figures, only 9% of the people who came were undecided at the start. We certainly helped them, because only 1% were undecided at the end. But they were a small part of our audience.

We wanted roughly equal numbers to argue for each side, but had no idea if the ‘decideds’ who turned up would split equally between Leave and Remain. (The actual split was about 30:70.) We therefore introduced some role play: taking the side you didn’t believe in and arguing the case. This turned out to be what people valued most. It came up consistently in our evaluation , from the first event in Hackney…

“I found it helpful to have to put the other point of view, because it made me realise that I do have some things in common with people I disagree with.”
“Having to rehearse and be devil’s advocate – this is helpful when campaigning on the issues”

….although the point was most vividly made verbally by a participant in Liverpool called John (who, as it happened, was wearing a T shirt with a hammer and sickle on it):

“Arguing the case for leaving helped me realise that people who take that view, especially because of immigration, may have thought it through, rather than simply absorbing messages from the media.”

EURef-event-feetfirstBy accident, as I said, we created a format that did what no other referendum event I attended or read about did. It helped people do what the C18 German philosopher, Immanuel Kant ,said was the essence of reasoning publicly: to “think from the standpoint of everyone else.”