Without an effective means to govern ourselves, we tend to descend into complete and total chaos. I remember watching such chaos develop among some boys stranded on a desert island in the movie “Lord of the Flies”. As disturbing as it was, it wasn’t difficult to believe such chaos was possible even among supposedly rational educated adults. The terrible events in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina showed how a people filled with despair can take matters into their own hands and disregard the greater good. It became everyone for themselves for some and absolute surrender and failure to survive for others.
Our current method of governance in America has many wondering if we, the people, are even being represented fairly or if only a small group of super wealthy people control our country. (Plutocracy) Most folks who pay attention to what is going on in our country are not happy with how things are being handled. Both political parties conspire to make us believe they have our best interests at heart and the other guys hate us. The media seems to have lost their way in being neutral reporters of the news, instead they try and let us know what they think we should know by running the news through their own biased filters.
There is a relatively new method of governance called Dynamic Governance, also referred to as Sociocracy. It is not one of the old tired methods that seem to always allow for only a few to rise to the top and seize control of our lives. There is no top down or bottom up to this method. There is no single leader or group of leaders who decide for themselves what their power should be for the greater good. Dynamic Governance relies completely on all individuals of a group coming together with a common purpose and to provide everyone a voice in the decision process. It is structured in a way that allows for rational dissent yet keeps the agenda moving forward without any one person causing things to derail or become bogged down in minutiae. The elements of dynamic governance take some time to learn and facilitate so this is just an overview. Training will be provided to those interested in learning this better way to govern, but in the mean time, here are some brief points to ponder as well as a great summary by Governance Alive. (www.governancealive.com) See the attached sheets following from Governance alive at the end of this paper.
Four principles of Dynamic Governance:
1. Organization with a circle structure breaks up the work
Circles are the primary governance unit and are made up of individuals with the same interests.
Circles are semi-autonomous and self-organizing and elect their own leaders.
Within their domain, they make policy decisions; set goals; delegate functions to their own members; and maintain their own records (i.e., log books, minutes) and program of ongoing developments. Records must be accessible to members of the entire group organization at all times.
Group structure in Dynamic Governance reflects different levels of work… not control, representing a true Heterarchy (non-hierarchical). Some circles of Heterarchy reflect a broader more inclusive scope of work while other circles reflect more specific domains.
This principle is implemented first as it is the most familiar and easier to set up and get working right away. It more efficiently matches talent and passion with work.
Participants focus on their interests and are more willing to allow a more appropriate representative to coordinate areas that are of less interest. Those who feel they must contribute to every discussion in the entire group may need to decide to focus on just a few and trust others to do their work.
2. Consent governs policy decision-making.
Consent means there are no argued and paramount objections to a proposed decision. If a reasoned and paramount objection can’t be resolved the proposal doesn’t go forward.
Not every decision requires consent.
In reality, all power is given by the governed to the governing through consent. Not all governed perceive this, nor consciously claim their power.
Decisions by consent are made when there are no remaining “paramount objections.”
Objections must be reasoned and argued and based on the ability of the objector to work productively toward the goals of the organization. Alignment focuses on the objective, while being unattached to the method of attaining the objective.
Consent usually has two definitions. One is giving permission and the other provides an understanding or agreement. We will use the second definition only as we cannot give our permission to anyone who does not seek it. Dynamic governance differs from main governance methods used by many groups as described below.
One man, one vote seems fair to many, but in reality, an up or down vote causes there to be “winners” and “losers”. A simple majority (51 to 49) can lead to almost half of the group feeling left out and unhappy with the results. There seems to be much more politicking and maneuvering to secure the necessary votes that sometimes the greater good takes a back seat to the good of the majority.
Consensus (with Veto)
With consensus all participants, usually everyone in the group, are involved in the decision making and are “for” a decision or “against” a decision. The group will strive for unanimous agreement, but it is not always possible. If a veto is presented, arguments are not necessarily given and the proposal may die or linger for a while, taking up valuable time and efforts.
Consent / Alignment
With consent, all participants within their own circle are involved in the decision making and are “not against” a decision but may have a reasoned objection.
With consent, a reasoned argument for an objection must always be given, as well as an indication as to whether the objection is paramount and may lead to a breakdown of the group.
Efficiency: One of the defining principles behind consent is the idea of “doing more with less.” Rather than spend lots of time crafting a proposal that anticipates every imaginable possibility and every objection, consent strives to come up with the fastest and most effective way to achieve a group’s aims.
Decisions are made based on everyone’s range of tolerance rather than their preferences.
The decision reached is then implemented for a specific span of time. (Time Limit)
Implementation is followed by measuring how well it is working and reviewed after the agreed upon time frame. (Review)
The solution is refined as needed based on what is really happening rather than what might have been imagined beforehand. (Adaptability)
3. Double Linking
Every circle is connected to the next larger circle with a double link. This means that at least two persons, one being the functional leader of the smaller circle and at least one representative from the smaller circle, are full members of the next larger circle.
The two members of the smaller circle provides communication between the larger circle and their own circle. This allows full reporting back to the members of the smaller circle.
It seems that a break down in communications usually accounts for most of the misunderstanding, mistrust and feelings of betrayal that arise in the most congenial of groups. Double linking insures that all communications are shared in both directions with all the circles without anyone feeling they have to attend every meeting or they might miss something. As each circle must keep complete records of their decisions and those records are available to all members of every circle at all times, it follows that total and complete communications will help our group thrive.
4. Election of Leaders
Selecting leaders follows the same principals as decision making. Everyone has an opportunity to arrive at a consent for the best candidate rather than accepting a majority vote for the lesser of two evils. The beauty of this process is someone who doesn’t think themselves qualified, may find out the circle thinks they are.
Review Role: Describe responsibilities, qualifications, and term.
Nomination form: Fill out nomination form giving your name and the name of the person you nominate.
Explanations round: Each person says why they made their nomination.
Change round: Election leader asks each person if they want to change their nomination based on the arguments they heard in the previous round.
Consent round: Election leader proposes the candidate with the strongest arguments and asks each person if he or she has a paramount objection to the proposed candidate, asking the proposed candidate last. If there is an objection, the election leader leads the group in resolving the objection and initiates another consent round. Remember, alignment with the goals of the group take precedent and sometimes folks just need a chance to show what they can do.
Term Limit: Every position should have a specific time frame in which to serve. Re-election could be a simple consent to continue after a review, but in no case shall an elected position become a permanent one.
A dynamically governed meeting is highly organized and structured to insure all items that need to be discussed are given their proper time and there is no time wasted. It is the goal to get a meeting done efficiently yet completely so we can get on with our work. If the smaller groups have done their work, there should be no surprises or debate. The smaller groups present their reports, findings or if unable to resolve an item in their circle brings that item to the larger group for resolution.
It should fall to a few trained and experienced facilitators to run the meetings. New facilitators can gain experience running smaller circle meetings before taking on a bigger circle meeting. A recording secretary should be found that can take careful, thorough notes and not overly summarize.
All circle meetings should adopt an agenda similar to the one following.
Opening round – This is a time to gather and prepare for the meeting. The members present get attuned to the meeting and reflect on why we are here while leaving other concerns aside. If the members focus on what needs to be done and generates the enthusiasm to get it done, the meetings will be f un and constructive. This time should allow for late comers and stragglers, but the meeting must start on time.
Administrative concerns such as announcements, time frame for the meeting, consent to minutes of last meeting, date of next meeting, acceptance of the agenda and introduction of guests.
Content – Each agenda item should be given a set amount of time.
00:00 – 00:15 1st agenda item
00:15 – 00:45 2nd agenda item
Closing round – This is a time to measure the meeting process – e.g., use of time, did the facilitator maintain equivalence, how could the decision-making have been more efficient, did everyone arrive prepared. Also, this is a time to mention items that should be on the agenda for the next meeting and upcoming calendar items.
It is imperative that a well seasoned facilitator stick to the agenda and not allow any one item to take over or allow anyone to monopolize any of the discussions. This should not be a problem if all the participants are prepared and know they will get their turn at bat. A strong facilitator will keep the necessary control without appearing heavy handed or biased. However, do not hesitate to cut off someone who obviously has more to say then time will allow. Remind all participants to stay involved in the process and reserve catching up or private discussions for after the meeting as come to a close. Guests and observers should not be allowed to comment until the closing round if there is time to do so.
This may seem harsh and overly controlled for some, but a good facilitator will keep things fun and not boring so all the agenda items may be addressed in an efficient and timely manner.
Figure 1 – An Example of a Groups Organization