Hi folks... could really use some help from others' experiences on this one.
I've been a member of Transition Victoria' Initiating Committee since we started about two years ago. During that time, we've held a number of orientations to Transition, a few Open space events, lots of awareness raising events including film screenings and public discussions, formed working groups (through an Open Space event about a year ago), participated in local government consultations on a variety of levels, created a ning website which has over 400 members, maybe 1/4 of which are actually active... in short, we've put in a hell of a lot of time trying to grow a movement locally.
After we formed working groups a year ago, we decided to form a core group as seems to be recommended in the Transition model; we called it the Common Table (CT), and it was supposed to be made up of working group (WG) representatives. The idea was that it would gradually take over the work that was being done by the IC (Initiating Committee). The CT met once a month, and spent the first few months sharing what was going on in our WGs as well as starting to look at some bigger picture issues... then WG sharing got relegated to the website, over one member's objections. At a meeting that I missed in late summer, the group decided to use full consensus for all major decisions (which in my opinion is insane with a group of 20 people...) We had a few new people start coming to the CT this fall, some as rotating WG reps (three from one group were there at one point), one as a facilitator though he wasn't representing a WG (though we later decided to rotate facilitation), one other who just wanted to be there... a few of these newer members have been immediately extremely critical of what they see as undemocratic, oligarchic processes within Transition Victoria. This is a shock to those of us who've been involved all along, because we're not aware of having told anyone else what to do about anything at any point, except recently to suggest that maybe the Common Table should just be for WG reps because it's getting unmanageable. The critics within the group would like to see policy documents outlining exactly how representation of all members takes place, exact specified procedures for all decision making, for introducing new members, a paper trail for reports of WG reps to the Common Table and vice versa, a specified and formalized conflict resolution process... in short, what feels to me like the creation of a hierarchized bureaucracy, all in the name of "process" and democracy. Our last several months of meetings have been so conflictual and unproductive that action has come to a standstill, except for what the Initiating Committee and a few working groups continue to do independently, and those who are concerned about peak oil and climate change (which don't seem to be big priorities for the newer members) and just want to do something are on the verge of quitting. Unfortunately these are also the members who have been most active in actually putting in work to get things done. We've also recently received a substantial grant, which was applied for by an IC member almost a year ago, and now of course there threatens to be controversy of how democratic processes will be applied in administering the grant. This from the same members who are criticizing everything else, of course.
Sorry that background was so long. Here's the question: how have other Transition groups dealt with issues like these? Do you have formal procedures for making decisions within working groups? (Most of our working groups haven't done this though we did offer the suggestion and information about various decision making procedures when the WGs formed.) Do you have core groups that are different from your initiating groups? Are your meetings open to all? Do you keep a paper trail for representation? (So far we leave it up to WGs to decide whether to take meeting notes and post them etc., though we create and post minutes for all IC and CT meetings -- actually I do.) Do your working groups have formalized decision making processes? Do you have formalized procedures for introducing new members?
Sorry, I realize that's a lot, but we're being forced to address all of these issues at once, so any kind of suggestions are welcome. For me, it's bringing out my anarchist side, and making me want to actually de-formalize all of our processes, instead doing what we can to seek out and offer training on communication skills and power sharing, and letting individuals and groups basically do what they want without any claim that anyone is representing anyone else.
Thanks fellow Transitioners!
Tamara in Victoria
Your discussion becomes very useful because motivations drive or reverse things like Climate Change. Plus, whether or not our motivations are thoroughly examined by eventual and original Divine arrangements. Something about motivation in respect to your discussion on governance and decision making processes within your group, comes from a personal challenge, that gets me quizzed from time to time from a reading of what two basic motivational drives can be: Power or Love ( Maxwell's Leadership Bible page 1225). This summary (Maxwell's Leadership Bible page 1225) even gives the outcomes of either pursuing power first, which is losing it and pursuing love first, which leads to gaining power that can only be sustained with Love. Jesus Christ (as indicated in the Maxwell's Leadership Bible page 1225; Summary on the book of Luke) is the prime example of the Love-Power-Love Motivational Model.
I am new here and my Community Market project is not currently affiliated with any group or movement. So please forgive me if I unknowingly encroach on somebody's hallowed ground. It seems to me that the views of an outsider might be helpful here.
The first thing I would suggest is that you (and as many other leaders as you can influence) take a some long deep breaths and reconnect with the mission of your community. Clubs have problems like you are describing. Survival camps do not. You are literally in a life and death struggle to build a fully functional micro-economy that can provide all the basics of life to its participants. And you have to get that done BEFORE the macro-economy ceases to function effectively. Your time is running out.
I'll tell you how we deal with disruption of any kind in my community. We are working our butts off doing hard physical labor to get this thing built. When any person shows up with another agenda, we tell them as politely as possible that we're building the equivalent of an Ark. Here's a shovel if you want to help. If not, that's fine -- just don't stop somebody else from working. If they choose to leave instead of take the shovel, they were dead weight anyway.
It's a harsh reality, but we are not all going to survive this. None of us can succeed until we accept this.
When our Founding Fathers founded the United States of America, they created a democratic republic in which every landowner had a vote. Not every resident, every landowner. What separates the stakeholders in your transition community from everyone else? That is for your IC or CT to decide. My suggestion would be to make every member demonstrate their value to the community before they are recognized as a stakeholder. Perhaps the mechanism for recognizing a new stakeholder should be a vote by existing stakeholders.
That's my dollar's worth (2 '1913 cents' adjusted for inflation). Hope I haven't stepped on too many toes. ;)
Tamara, you asked:
do others define themselves as organizations? as a "movement"? Do you use consensus decision making, or have formal decision making processes at all? Do you have core groups that are made up of working group representatives? How do you do governance within your own groups?
I want to share my own experience because it is an ongoing experiment that evolved out of an experience very similar to your own. In my experience, we had a Council of Trustees and some excellent discussions about how we could serve to link diverse transformational efforts to combined effect. We would operate as a network of networks. The council insisted on conscensus decision making (over my objection) but, things went along ok until we got a grant for $12,000. As soon as money was involved the needs of one council member became paramount and 3 years later we have not agreed on how to use the money. (I have told them to send the money back but I am told that it is still sitting in a bank account.)
Since that time I have thought of my own work as being a catalyst to new connections. As soon as one thinks of themselves as something separate from those around us, we create an us out of those who are a part of the organization/movement and a them out of all those who are not. In the larger view, we are, already, a part of a set of transactions/interactions/connections (bridges) that make up our "community". It is that set of bridges that will have to change in response to increasing energy prices, climate change and economic crisis. How elegantly or brutally the change occurs will affect everyone in that community . . . it will affect us the same as it affects them.
Resilience is the ability to get what you need when there is disruption in the usual supply. That means developing the local capacity to produce what we need for ourselves. There are lots of existing organizations, already operating within your community, working on different aspects of community need, from all different points of view. Another organization is just another competitor for limited public attention and donor funds (assuming you can even decide what to do).
I am promoting an approach, not unlike that in a permaculture design, where we observe how the existing organizations interact with an eye toward better use of existing resources. I am focused currently on how neighborhoods can add food production for themselves. I am on the Board of Directors of the local Balle Chapter and I am talking to the business members about how the flip side of support for local business is local business support for community projects . . .
Anyway, to answer your questions, the organization in which I am interested, is defined by the interactions of the people, plants and creatures that reside in my locality. That organization does not have a decision making process. It organizes from the bottom up based on the decisions of each of its members. We can't form a board and make decision for it, but we can be an advocate for it in the decisions of its members.
this idea of connecting individuals and existing organizations -- being bridges (we also conceived of it as mycelium) -- being a major part of our function is a big part of how we've talked about defining ourselves, and why we've chosen not to become a legal entity.... hoping to avoid becoming one more non-profit competing for grants. And yet it seems so easy to fall into the trap of trying to define organizational structures for ourselves, by doing things like establishing formal decision making processes. Yet it says something to me that none of our working groups have chosen formal decision making processes (consensus or otherwise), even though they were initially encouraged to.
I like this: "Anyway, to answer your questions, the organization in which I am interested, is defined by the interactions of the people, plants and creatures that reside in my locality. That organization does not have a decision making process. It organizes from the bottom up based on the decisions of each of its members. We can't form a board and make decision for it, but we can be an advocate for it in the decisions of its members. "
It seems riskier, at least on a surface level, to have no formalized process. But having one hasn't in any way prevented our descent into chaos and personal power struggles, so maybe the new way (or a new way) involves letting go of that deceiving security blanket... essentially an anarchist approach? Or maybe the label conjures up too many preconceptions. But then what do we do about things like grants? Just let the people who applied for them administer them? I think it's lucky for us that the $10,000 grant we just got is already formally committed to be run through the organization one of our most active members works for (the member who applied for it).
Thanks again, this is all definitely helping my personal understanding of the situation, though it's also helping me realize how complex and challenging it can be to somehow simultaneously promote equality, inclusion, and freedom to act effectively.
But then what do we do about things like grants?
I'm not the best one to ask about that, although, for a given project, I would bet that there is an existing non-profit that would be happy to administer a grant for it.
I come from a business background and I think in terms of what value a project will produce. The value does not have to be something marketable it just has to make it worthwhile for people to particiapte. I have yet to figure out a way that my approach fits with applying for a grant. Helping people to provide for themselves does not seem to fit within the term charity, at least for those funders with whom I have had contact.
I am about to run off topic . . . I am interested is comparing notes with others who are actively working at making these new kinds of connections . . . if that is something that interests you, perhaps we could desgin a discussion for that.
There have been some interesting discussion along that line in David Eggleton's Leadership Becomes a Choice Group (I hate chopping things up into interest groups when the real issues are about how we fit things together). But David did not design this format and his group takes this starting point:
It is that "development of synergies", making new connections, identifying with the whole set of connections within a locality . . . those are the skills we will need from our leaders in these times of transition.
You may suggest another forum if you know one that would work better, if my suggestion is acceptable, join David's group and I will try to frame an introduction to the discussion.
I must admit that I'm not excited about full consensus approaches to democracy. In theory, they sound ideal with everyone coming to a compromise and agreeing on how to proceed. In practice, the approach allows a small minority to dominate and stagnate the decision-making process by holding on strongly to their minority views. I don't have any experience with facilitating a Transition group (yet), but it isn't much different than any other non-governmental organization, I would think. My suggestion is to have the start-up committee form a board of directors. The board acts as an oversight committee and elects those people who will be running the show and making day-to-day decisions, including budgets, activities, and assignments. The board can also reassign people if their original choices do not perform their roles to the board's satisfaction. Board membership can be limited to a few years to ensure an oligarchy isn't established (I would not recommend replacing the entire board at the same time, stagger the replacing efforts). To make the process more democratic, the membership can be given the right to vote for the members of the board of directors as new openings come available when current directors are finished with their tenure. However, to put every decision in front of the entire membership for a vote will bog your processes down until you want to pull out all your hair. Communication is a key element toward keeping members informed and involved. Though formal processes of Robert's Rules of Order seem old-fashion and uncool, they do provide a structure within which communication can prosper (meeting minutes, proposed actions, discussions before votes, allowances for members to pipe-in when they have something to contribute about a proposed action to be voted upon, etc.). Newsletters, blogs, and e-mails that explain the thinking behind the decisions the board will take also dispel the impression that the board is working in secret without concern for the membership. You could also use social networking to open discussion about certain topics--taking the approach that membership comments are solicited to help the board with important decisions. Now that you are receiving funding, you will also be wise to use these same processes to document how you are administering and being good stewards of these gifts. You might consult a lawyer about how the board or WG is liable for its actions with funds and activities. Formality can be a drag sometimes, but we don't live in a world where everyone thinks and believes alike (thank goodness), so these types of processes can be used to facilitate information exchange within the organization's membership and inform the decision-makers on the board.
To address the concern about people joining a Transition group and wanting to alter its purpose, goals, and direction: Establish a mission, vision, and goals statement. Publish it on your website. Make it part of the operating rules of your organization that only a large majority on the board can alter the purpose of the organization. If someone wants to join a T-group and doesn't like the mission, vision, and goals statement, then they should probably find another group that matches their ideals. On the other hand, if circumstances and increased knowledge of Transition issues necessitates a re-direction for the organization, then enough of the board will recognize this to make changes to its mission, vision, and goals statement and make future decisions accordingly. Good luck with your efforts.
Thom said: "I'm not excited about full consensus approaches to democracy. In theory, they sound ideal with everyone coming to a compromise and agreeing on how to proceed. In practice, the approach allows a small minority to dominate and stagnate the decision-making process by holding on strongly to their minority views."
In theory, compromise is a minor aspect of decision by consensus. In practice, compromise is a failure of recognition, imagination and expression, often associated with desire(s) and provisions for control and efficiency.
Consensus is achieved when the best ideas emerge in the process of abandoning positions and occupying common ground. In consensus, all participants invest attention, time and energy for yields, not losses. I'm convinced that it's true to the spirit of relocalization.
In many cases, efficiency and resilience/sustainability are mutually exclusive.