Many decisions can end up being made using what I’d call a “reactive” process – something we learn from majoritarian and top-down systems:
- someone makes a proposal: “Whitney should be chairperson.”
- everyone reacts to the proposal (or stays silent)
- the proposal is voted up or down (or expedited by folks with clout)
Reactive processes are a sort of collective contraction – all possibilities are suddenly limited and we find ourselves focused on one, narrowed path to accept or refuse. This focus has its place – such as during a General Meeting when potentially hundreds of folks could be participating at once and we are discussing very specific, significant choices.
But if these are the only avenues for participation, there is little space for exercising our creativity or vulnerability. Healthy conflict is a challenge here, especially if you suddenly find yourself the silent minority. Tension, helplessness, and ambivalence become normalized. In such a situation, one’s agency becomes limited to expressing how you feel about something, and you feel little power to change the thing itself.
Reactive processes are less a collective decision-making process and more a process for vetoing bad ideas. They are a mechanism defending us against our own worst judgments, but do little to create ideas which get the best from all of us and open up possibilities.
A simplified way to think about proactive decision-making processes is that they give everyone the opportunity to ask the group a question and they give everyone the opportunity to answer that question.
Here are some proactive questions:
- “What do you see as qualifications for being a good chairperson and why?”
- “Based on those qualifications we’ve all stated, who would you nominate to be chairperson and why?”
These types of proactive questions invite everyone’s perspective. Everyone gains context and sense of the purpose behind the decision. All gain opportunities to share their side of the story and all benefit from it. As a participant, you likely will even gain perspective on yourself – “Oh! I had no idea Lana thought I would be a good chairperson!”
If we are in a reactive mode, my experience is that you can get into a headspace where you stop asking good people good questions and you feel oddly trapped. By all learning more proactive techniques like the #community-assemblies and more we can explore our best ideas together and create environments of trust, connection, and care.
Proactive processes take more time and effort up front, so when we feel the pressures of time and action we may steer away from them. However, to do so will create extra work on the backend if our decision had been shortsighted or unintentionally steamrolled quieter voices. In the worst case scenario, this work of repair never happens because there is no proactive process created for it.
A proactive process I admire is the role selection process in sociocracy. I believe that such a process ensures that a group knows why they are creating a particular role, why the role exists, and how to humanely explore filling the role together. Here’s a bulletpoint version of the process:
Everyone consents to a facilitator
Everyone consents to a definition of the role and term length
Everyone consents to a list of qualifications for someone who will fulfill the role
Everyone writes down their nomination for who will fulfill the role (you can nominate yourself). This is written down in a common space (chatbox, sheet of paper).
In a round, each person explains whey they think their nominee fits the list of qualifications
Do a second round where each person has an opportunity to stay with their original nominee or switch their nominee. Everyone explains their reasoning for their decision.
The facilitator proposes a candidate and invites objections to whether the candidate fills the role qualifications as agreed upon.
(An objection can also be raised by the candidate, in the case that they do not want the role or feel themselves equipped for the role)
Discuss objections in rounds.
If objection cannot be resolved, Facilitator proposes another candidate and invites objections.
Eventually someone is approved by consent of all parties.
A role retrospective meeting is scheduled for the date that the term expires; everyone agrees to the date and location of the meeting.
Outcome is published transparently in a place everyone has access to. The Outcome states: the folks present for the decision, the role description, the term length, the person approved, and the date and location of the retrospective.