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Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to build constructive assemblies

Posted by athena on October 11, 2011 in ASSEMBLIES · 

This  text is a synthesis of documents of methodology we analysed but it is also inspired by  our experience built along the assemblies we collaborated from Barcelona to Brussels, passing by Lisbon or Athens.
We  made the observation that most of the time the assemblies are very long  and not really productive, with a lake of participation and sometime  becoming really anti-democratic, at the end the people see them heavy,  bit attractive and pain to come back.
Some problems are more recurrent:
• Debating too much time of the same point
• Creation of bands and personal rivalries with a lake of trust
• Vote under pressure with a lake of understanding
• Entrance in polemics who require more assemblies
• Problem of access and circulation of the information
In  this page we will detail the basic knowledges to acquire to prevent the  problems, resolve the conflicts and develop constructive assemblies.
1 Preparation of the meeting
It is important to reach the meeting with preconceived ideas on the issues  to be addressed. But preparing the issues not only consist to ensure  that attendees aware of issues to be treated, but that this knowledge is contrasted as possible to encourage that decisions taken will be  successful.
1.1 Prior Work
 • Prepare background documents and send them to participants thinking to  translate complicated informations to a language understood by everyone
 • Organize consultations and interviews with experts in the topics
 • Make working groups prior to the meeting to discuss the problems and alternatives with more time
1.2 Agenda
The  call will be made well in advance, including the agenda, and everyone  should be clear when will be the meeting, which points will be treated,  in what order and what tasks are necessary to do before the meeting.
 •  Ideally, at each point on the agenda for each issue specifying its  objective and the procedure to be used, along with the estimated time of  duration. Sometime it’s useful to divide in groups if in a same topic  different solutions are needed for each aspect.
 •  It must be open to including other proposed topics: one option is  always an end point to spend “several”, another is to open a small  window of time at first to be proposed topics for inclusion in the  agenda and then decide whether you can tackle that day or be passed to  the next meeting.
 • Start with something  easy to fix, continue with the more difficult issues, extensive or  important, and end up with something simple and short.
•  In the call itself has to record the start time and the scheduled  completion, not to be exceeded over assumable error margins,  approximately 2 hours.
2 Types of meetings
 There  are various types of meetings according to the objectives, though  usually in a same meeting there may be several of these objectives, what  it would be divided into different phases, each with a different type  with a specific technique. Here we will focus only the most important.
2.1 Brainstorming meetings
The  goal is to find ideas or new solutions to a problem, so the purpose of  the meeting must be clearly defined and will be real and open (there is  no single solution). If the problem is complex, you have to break it  down into simple elements.
Prohibits  censorship and self-censorship, the critical assessment of ideas will be  made later,  under the formula of discussion meeting, possibly after a  break, to  emphasize that we are in a different phase.
 •  A person can act as moderator, with a list of suggestions and  stimulating questions to intervene if others do not, another possibility  is that the debate arising from the comments of a document, book,  films, etc… related to the topic and that everyone knows.
 •  Another person writes down the ideas that emerge trying to be as  faithful as possible to the original statement. It accepts everything,  do not reject anything, however absurd it may seem.
 •  Each person writes down the ideas that occur to him, both those that  occur to him directly, such as those arising by association, after  hearing the ideas of others, raises his hand and presents only one at a  time in his turn. State ideas quickly and clearly, without explanation  or reasoning.
2.2 Discussion meetings
The  goal is to deepen in the analysis of the different positions, their  benefits and disadvantages and to highlight the arguments that support  them.
a) If what we want is not to reach  agreements, but to promote the production and contrasting arguments, we  use the dynamics of confrontation:
 1. Formation of groups: opinion poll (5-10 min.)
 2. Production of arguments within each group (20 min.)
 3. Talk in mixed groups, with representatives from each group of opinion trying to know the arguments of the other (20 min.)
 4. Back to the original group to produce the sophisticated and final arguments (20 min.)
 5. Discussion among the spokesmen of the groups (20 min.)
b) If we want to encourage the exchange of views, we use a orderly discussion dynamics:
 •  Emphasize common ground.
 •   Very important figure of the moderator, who must provide a climate of  cordial discussion and not a space of coercion, arguments of authority  and all dialectical strategies that put people to the defence (see item  “Personal Attitudes during the assembly”)
 •   Active listening attitude of other attendees, listening and  understanding the positions of others, making  the exercise of put  themselves in place of the other.
 •  Do  not confuse our perception of reality with reality itself, taking our  own view as subjective and keeping open the possibility that we are  wrong.
2.3 Decision-making meetings
The  goal is to reach a consensual decision taken collectively, trying to  integrate the views of all the members in an agreement that is  satisfactory and effective. Reaching consensus will bring us several  advantages: it avoids conflict, better decisions, integration of the   group to avoid a game of winners (mostly) and losers (the minority), and  encourages the involvement of all the collective in the tasks derived  from the decision.
Only in case of failing to reach a consensual agreement can be valid to submit the decision to a vote.
 •  The first step is to define well what is the question on which has to  make a decision. It is assumed that there is already information on the  situation and the different alternatives and arguments for and against  each. We presume that there is agreement on the structure of the  process.
 • It is advisable to make a  decision that involves the work of the people, make a preliminary survey  on the individual availability to undertake this work. It is also  important to share how the issue affects the feelings of each.
 •  The creative participation of everyone is essential. This is the time  that leaders and experts can be more  harmful to provoke the passivity  of others if they don’t act in the collective process. Efforts should be  made to incorporate the views of all and it’s advisable to work in  small groups and have someone writing the synthesis in which we all go.
 •  Set out all ideas trying to adjust, integrate, combine … to achieve  one or more proposals worked and achievable. If at the end there are  several proposals to choose it is necessary to make a first proof of the  degree of agreement they raise. There are four levels of  Agree/Disagree:
1. “I agree with all or almost all”
2. “I don’t think it’s the best option, but it’s acceptable”
3. “I do not object, but I do not feel concerned by the decision”
4. “I object to you bear it out.” In this case there is a veto.
Only  a veto can block the consensus and requires to start again or to quit.  Rather than vote, take a hasty decision or abandon, it is always best to  start over in the postponing which will leave a time for reflection.
If we can not reach a consensus or do not have the time required for this, we can opt for the vote.
This  process can also be complicated and is susceptible to manipulation  (intended or not) so it is necessary to follow a clear procedure:
 • Consider what kind of majority is required (more than half, 2/3, etc …)
 •  Clarify very well what are the alternatives to be voted, taking care  the wording of them. Avoid linking proposals with the people who defend  them.
 • As far as possible reduce the  number of options which are voted. The criteria for cover or reduce  statements must have the group agreement.
 • Make it clear what is the procedure to be followed. Any doubt should be resolved before voting.
 • Making votes count carefully and reflect it, if possible, in some support to the view of everybody.
 •  Normally votes can not be repeated, and the results take on the  character of irrevocable decision from the time the votes are counted.  But personally we think that it is always best to leave the door open to  any revocation of a decision taken by vote with more time and reasoned  requests.
3 The roles
3.1 The moderation
It  will be the person who pay the most attention to the technical and  organizational elements and remind it to the group who has to reach the  goals set in a limited time.
He also have to take a proactive role by suggesting questions, methods, etc …
He must have a constant intervention on the form and not the content.
Moderate  is not leading or directing, but being responsible for helping the  group to meet its objectives. A person who has much interest in the  issues raised will have difficulty to moderate.
 •  At the beginning of the meeting invite the people who advocate an  approach to expose it, then those who advocate the opposite approach.
 •  Encourage each and everyone to express their views, asking to speak for  themselves and where it refers someone to state it explicitly.
 • Cleanly break the repeated discussions between two individuals, the monopolization of speech and the repetition of arguments.
 • Find areas of agreement, list them and return them to the group. Synthesize.
 • He can also divide tasks delegated to another person (i.e. speech turn) which is always subject to what the moderator says.
 • Be aware of time left and let it know to others. If there is little, limit the interventions.
3.2 Taking minutes
The  main reasons for taking minutes are: Honour commitments, know and  remember the issues raised and assume old decisions to make new ones.
The  secretary will be democratically elected for this role. It should not  be doing simultaneously other functions such as moderate. You can also  leave the door open to the rotation.
It may  take only minutes of the decisions taken, while represent commitments  to be assumed and legitimate actions to be carried out by the members.  Care should be taken in writing to be faithful to the decision and not  be misinterpreted. You can also indicate the degree of agreement  recording the number of votes if there was no consensus. The minutes can  collect more data: the order of the day, alternatives and arguments  presented, the names of people defending these or other positions,  incidents, etc…
The record books should  be available to all members of the group to consult at all times. For  safety it is also advisable to make copies and store them in a different  place than the original.
4 Personal attitudes during the assembly
Assemblies  are a collective act, not a gathering of friends. That is, we must  strive to have a proper attitude, avoiding a passive attitude such as  going to be the star of the meeting. And be aware that the assembly is  to
 solve a common issue, not to solve our issues or personal grudges.
 In  order to this it’s useful to know some of the attitudes occurring more  frequently in the assemblies, both positive and negative and try to make  an effort to have the first and avoid the second.
4.1 Positive attitudes
 • Moving from our positions. Admit mistakes and change views bringing them closer to those of other people.
 • Exhibiting at the right time what are the unwritten rules and procedures to be followed by the group.
 •  Ask to speak to the people less involved, giving the turn when  estimating that is more interesting to listen to others and attending to  the speaker.
 • Mediating the conflicts using humour and relaxation, highlighting the points in which we agree.
 •  Encourage input from the others expressing our agreement or, in the  opposite case, encouraging people to explain better or deepen on the  idea.
 • Proposing new procedures and ideas in times of blockage.
 • Express the views talking in person. Do not use the plural to express what you think.
4.2 Negative attitudes
 • Generalize (“all    …. you are ….”)
 • Embark on eternal theorizations and extra explanations .
 • Overtones (tantrums, “Well then I leave everything and will never come back”, “or you are with me or against me “)
 • Apathy.
 • Assign to another person own feelings or attitudes.
• Loss of contact with reality, identifying our opinions or desires (or those of other/s person/s) with reality itself.
 •  Symbolic violence: use the collective mode to impose particular ideas  of a person, concealing relevant issues, teasing, interrupt, not letting  talk, etc…
 • Strengthen the authority of those who speaks through referring it to a higher authority but indisputable (science, law …)
 •  Use of contradictions and paradoxes to impose on the alternative people  witch always lose (“you’re either in or you’re out”, “Accept it or go”,  “be spontaneous”, “command you to not obey me “…)
 • Use the secret, keeping information.
Documents about assemblies and consensus building
Metodología para hacer que las asambleas y reuniones sean eficaces, participativas y hasta agradables.
Del libro “Asambleas y Reuniones. Metodologías de Auto-organización”
Ana Rosa Lorenzo Vila – Miguel Martínez López

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