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
Thanks for those thoughts, Thom and David.
We've been using informal consensus within the small Transition Victoria Initiating Committee quite happily and effectively for 2 years now. I think it works well in the right situations -- such as when there's a small enough group, all of whom are aware of the need to sometimes let go of our own ideas if they don't fit most other people's needs, and a basis of shared trust. Trying to use it in a larger group (such as our Common Table of 20 or so members), with less of a shared basis of common values/goals, where a few members joined with a distrusting and confrontational attitude and a willingness to make inflexible demands, has been a nightmare. We're not just inefficient, we're completely blocked from getting anything at all done in that scenario. Small and slow solutions are important, yes. One of the permaculture principles is also "get a yield," and this situation so far is yielding little beyond more conflict.
I hear what you're saying about compromise, David -- I guess it depends what's meant by the term. Certainly flexibility and some degree of non-attachment is needed, and then we also want to be able to benefit from solutions that are coherent and integrated, not just a mish-mash that meets everyone's needs a little bit and no one's really. Definitely something to keep in mind!
I'll have to check out the book recommendation sometime when I'm a bit less swamped. Thanks, I appreciate it!
What you are seeing is that contraversy is a part of human relationships. This is way our civil society has developed courts and handle law suits for non-criminal controversies.
A major concept in building human relationships is territoriality. I'll enclose some of my learning about this subject. This concept is also related to leadership and followership skills.
We also have people with brain chemical problems (mental illness). And we have people who are criminal. One example, AWOL Bush/Cheney et al. very self centered people lacking empathy.
Here is a comment that I got today from a anthropologist friend of mine regarding a women we know who acts in a hostle manner.
Back when we were tribal or hunter-gatherers, these kinds of people would eventually either be socially isolated or even accused of sorcery. But there's also the long historical thing in many, many cultures of post-menopausal women gaining power as they are no longer sexual threats to the younger women, in danger of being taken or impregnated by neighboring tribes (allowing them to move about more freely), and of no sexual interest to men who want fertile women. They especially had more power if they had sons around her. Of course in that scheme other women (especially younger women) would be a threat, in the "daughter-in-law" position as they would be a risk to her power. So I think we might have the sociobiological equivalent of a post-menopausal woman's power trip going on. At least that's how the anthropologist in me sees it.
How do we build a community that works together to survive the coming long emergency? Since I am a retired US Army guy and former cop, my focus is defense of my sustainable food and water, etc. from the predictable bad actors/ one percenters and working with the rest of the World for peace and justice. So in transitioning to a new culture/tribe we need to use the laws and work within the system until the time when the rule of law breaks down. As humans can plan and think about the future, I is the negative is highly likely. Therefore, any intentional community needs to elect members to attend the local political party meetings in our area of interest (a military concept) and our area of opperation (AO - where we own land).
That means we are a poitical group as well as a friendship group/tribe. Controversy is part of this process. We need to start with people with like minded beliefs in order to reduce as much as possible conflicts.
I am looking for a group of atheists. But I have discovered many atheists have very different views regarding for example, liberal vs. libertarian and Republican politics.
I am thinking of running for political office in 2012, in the Everett, WA, USA area and you can read where I stand on all the issues. If I missed one, let me know. How is this related to the discussion that YOU, Tamara, has started? I am not totally sure.
You can read my list of issues at my facebook page,
See "Dick McManus-san for State Representative 44th LD"
Here is the enclosure I promised. This website would not let me make a very long reply.
The Science of Assertiveness theory -- aka folk knowledge (trial and error science)
Assertive (Leadership) behavior of humans: Builds relationships
Will the long-term affects be worse than any short-term discomfort I may feel if I am assertive in the first place?
The word "NO", may have to be repeated over and over, as in a broken record.
An angry and loud communication can be assertive if one is expressing feelings (Using the word "I", ( I am really god damn anger at you ...)
vs. HOSTILE behavior-destroys a relationship: ... You dumb ass, didn't your mother teach you to report to work on time, etc. etc. Why, didn't you do such and such....
If someone has a habit of saying, "Why, don't you do such and such..." we all understand this to mean "I want you" to do such and such. There seems to be some kind of a minor taboo in our culture against people saying straight up, that they want.
On the use of the word YOU:
...the use of the word "you" is assertive when a person is acting in the role of boss, parent, or leader, for example, a law enforcer, a teacher, the chair of a meeting.
"You are expected to" (follow the rules, etc) , then every time the other person comes up with excuses, sob stories, etc, repeating this phase again and again ("You are expected to" (aka using the broken record shows the other person that you are not afraid to stand your ground and they need for them to rethink their poor behavior.
But remember being skeptically silent is assertive. Meaning if I try to get the last word.. will I get punched in the nose or some other bad result.
Speaking up in a group to speak is assertive because one is taking the "psychological space" of the whole group.
Hostile behavior: A person uses sarcasm and intimidation to get what they want. One may get what they want, but destroys the relationship afterwards.
It is easy to give up the benefits of hostile behavior when I value myself enough to avoid getting agitated over minor issues and when I am imperfect and incorrect.
Non-assertive behavior: (shy behavior) doing nothing about unpleasant situations and simply try to ignore ones feelings and desires. While it may prevent conflicts with others, one probably will wind up feeling helpless, exploited, angry, and disappointed with one’s self. Being “too shy” to do something.
For example, “I am sorry to bother you.” This is an example, of how being NICE sucks us into a non-assertive down-hill fall. vs. “I want to talk to you.” “ I need your help or I need or want to talk to you.”
or "It was nice talking to you." (when it wasn't and you didn't enjoy talking to them).
Basic Assertive Rights:
1. The right to act in ways that promote my dignity and self-respect as long as others’ rights are not violated in the process.
2. The right to be treated with respect.
3. The right to say no and not feel guilty.
4. The right to experience and express feelings.
5. The right to take time to slow down and think.
6. The right to change my mind.
7. The right to ask for what I want.
8. The right to do less than I are humanly capable of doing.
9. The right to ask for information.
10. The right to make mistakes.
11. The right to feel good about myself.
Must I always assert my rights?
No, I am always free to choose not to assert myself, assuming that I am also willing to take the responsibility for whatever consequences may then occur.
" I don't have to be assertive all the time". Or "I don't have to be perfect.. I have a right to make mistakes."
Source: The Assertive Option by Patricia Jakubowski and Arthur J. Lange
and NO TRESPASSING by Barker and Barker.
Also assertive behavior is associated with happiness.
I think all humans need a philosophy to understand if they are happy. Here is mine.
HAPPINESS IS GETTING WHAT YOU NEED.
EVERYONE NEEDS: Liberty, peace, health, sex, mind exercise, knowledge,
personal associations, art and creativity, character and a sense of
justice, and to be assertive (to be able to say "no" without feeling
NO ONE NEEDS ARBITRARY POWER OVER OTHER PEOPLE – but it is normal to want it.
This is Mortimer Adler's definition of happiness (he is a Christian) and my additions in bold type.
The presence of God was important to Rene Descartes (1596-1650) because God guaranteed the correctness of clear and distinct ideas (aka beliefs). Since God was not a deceiver, the ideas of God-given reason could not be false. He attempted to find certainty through the exploration of his own thinking processes.
Johannes Kepler (astronomer 1571-1630) said, “I am much occupied with the investigation of the physical causes. My aim in this is to show that the machine of the universe is not similar to a divine animated being, but similar to a clock.”
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) divided all philosophers into “men of experience and men of dogmas.”
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) traced all psychological processes to bare sensation and regarded all human motivations as egoistical, intended to increase pleasure and minimize pain. Unlike previous Christian and ancient philosophers, human beings exist for no higher spiritual ends or larger ethical purpose than those of meeting the needs of daily life. Human beings in their natural state are inclined to a “perpetual and restless desire” for power (and could not be trusted to keep their word. ) He did believe human beings were naturally sociable. Rather, they were self-centered creatures lacking a master. Human beings only entering into a political contract according to which they agree to live in a commonwealth tightly ruled by the law. Hobbes refused to recognize the authority of either God or the Church as standing beside or above the secular sovereign (law).
Tamara--I have just read through your original request for help and the 3 pages of thread. I have a really simple solution for you. It is a process of governance and organizational structure called "Dynamic Governance" (Sociocracy in the Netherlands where it was created about 25 years ago). I attempted to introduce it through something that appeared temporarily like an aurora borealis that we called Transition Seattle. We had similar struggles but it was just easier to dissolve TS and revert back to smaller initiating groups that inspired the movement then deal with the struggle over how to incorporate structure into a movement that was distrustful of hierarchy, among the new and older energies in the room. I had far more success among members of SCALLOPS (Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound) through a couple of trainings we put on in Seattle. I was trained as a chapter leader in the US Green Building Council and facilitated a number of highly successful strategic planning meetings and creative interventions using DG. DG uses consent, not consensus for reaching decisions with 100% buy in of the members, it is much easier to reach consent then consensus (no paramount objective, what you can live with vs. agreement). DG only works in groups that have a common defined Aim (something tangible you want to produce together). There are a few places in Canada where DG is used, Yukon College in White Horse, I visited it last summer for a conference. SEE www. governancealive.com / www.sociocracy.biz/ / centre.francais.sociocratie.over-blog.com/
Another process was used buy our group called Dynamic Facilitation. A very different process that can also bring people to unanimous agreement but it requires a skilled facilitator. It helped us to define our aims and goals but still frustrated those who were uncomfortable with structured processes (my opinion) SEE www.tobe.net/ & www.WiseDemocracy.org/
Your situation is complex because there is so much history now of distrust and frustration. No "system" is going to fix it, not even DG, which is all about self organization. I believe I could help you with strategy if we talked, and would be happy to spend the time exploring this initially, if you want to take the time to talk.
I would be happy to discuss this over the phone (206 619-4773). And I appreciate the energy and concern you and others have devoted to this in the effort to not give up and loose so much that is already in place. I don't think you experience is unusual, although it does seem extreme. All I can say is time for a creative intervention------===bruce hostetter
Thanks so much, Bruce and everyone else, for your many thoughtful comments. For now, I've decided to back away from the central governance issues for a bit and trust other people to deal with it. And indeed, at the last Common Table meeting (which I chose not to attend), the group managed to decide, with the help of an external NVC facilitator, that the purpose of the Common Table is just to be a place for working groups to get together and support each other, not a place for central decision making. For the moment, the IC continues to perform that function, so we're still stuck with the question of how to gradually pass it on to others in a way that allows us to be fair, inclusive and effective. Time will tell...
I looked up some of the sociocracy stuff and it looks quite interesting... the consent idea reminds me a bit of the Unitarians' "gradations of agreement" approach.
For now, I'm so busy with Food group activities and 4 part-time jobs that I don't really have any energy to spare for endless process discussions. That's where I get to trust others to keep working on it, I guess. We'll probably hold an open forum on leadership and decision making at some point, so if/when that happens, I'll be sure to share the results.
Moving groups of people to a shared leadership structure takes much energy and discussion. I have been working with three different groups to move them away from the traditional pyramid of leadership to shared leadership. Some folks cannot let go enough to trust that if everyone feels responsible, he or she will step up to do what needs to be done. Others recognize the need for a change and agree to communicate to make it work.
We have a couple thousand years of on the ground experimentation by groups of humans group relationships. It is called culture and civil society.
Sounds so familiar. One of the lessons I learned from Transition Seattle and reflections on all of the other governance experiences I have had is that the least amount of structure and facilitation necessary is the best, but usually structure and facilitation is necessary because we meet to do business before we figure out how to just be with each other. Someone in an earlier reply talked about how the social dimension is what we have to address if we want to be inclusive and the struggles we have with our core groups are a reflection of the struggles we will have as we gain that larger base. It reminds me of what my therapist once told me, "If you can't manage you own marriage, what makes you think you could manage an affair?"
We are so ready to just jump in because the sky is falling and then in our enthusiasm we all end up in the kitchen, fighting over who gets to do the dishes. It is a hard thing to bridge because there are always those in the room who want to process these things. And then there are also those in the room who just want to get things done. And then there are the ones in the room we keep letting in because we want to be inclusive. Garrison Keillor once said, "You can die of good posture", and I think we can die of good will, cloaked in self service.
The challenge is to allow the drive to be self to co-exist and co-create in the midst of the drive to make whole. Not easy. But worth the pursuit.
This is a very important topic. The problem of using full consensus, allowing newcomers and those with less commitment to an organization to be able to participate equally in decision making is a common one. As Vicki Robin said to our Initiating Group after our Great Unleashing, you need to limit decision making to those "with skin in the game." I don't think this line of thinking violates the Transition principle of inclusiveness.
The solution that I've found to be elegant, is to employ the idea of concentric rings of responsibility as described in the Acorn / 8 Shields model of organization. I have worked with Alan Seid of Cascadia Workshops, who teaches this. He explains it very concisely on his website.
Alan writes that allowing anyone who shows up to participate equally in decision making is a "big mistake." Instead he says, "Design your group's structure so that it can accommodate varying levels of participation, engagement, and commitment, so that people can contribute at a level that works for them. These levels of participation also equate to varying degrees of access to decision-making, according to people's energy to give, level of responsibility, commitment, investment and/or legal liability. Furthermore, clarify your "threshold of commitment" for each level, so that expectations and requirements are transparent. Always keep in mind that at the center is the group's vision, mission, and purpose."
These "thresholds of commitment" can be drawn or visualized as concentric rings. At the center is the vision/mission; the next ring out will be your initiating group or operating group. You can limit membership of this group and have a process for electing people to this ring (I can share the Transition Whatcom process if you'd like). This group, if kept to a manageable scale, can use full consensus decision making. Then each circle out from that has a little less responsibility and makes decisions appropriate for that level (these might be Transition working groups, etc.).
The process is fully explained here: