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Legitimacy & Structure

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Joined: 13 Jul 2004
Posts: 1
Location: NYC

PostPosted: Tue Jul 13, 2004 1:48 pm    Post subject: Legitimacy & Structure Reply with quote

How do we create dialogue frameworks that leave room for member priorities to emerge while still offering digestible outcomes to organizers and the decision-maker audience?

The elephant here, I think, is how well a forum can truly "listen" to its members. Too much autonomy and "emergence" can yield chaotic results that lack impact. Too confining a format for participation can fail to capture real people's real needs and, even worse, appear to be a rubber-stamp or rabble-rouse process that serves the organizers and not the participants.

How do we balance structure and autonomy, effectiveness and emergence? Below is a quote from a discussion paper I wrote for Kettering on the same question.

Any attempt to foster democratic deliberation confronts a paradoxical tension between structure and autonomy. How autonomous and self-governing is a citizen who is instructed to participate and then obeys? How compelling can the call to dialogue be before it could be labeled manipulative? When does structure become stricture, turning dialogue outcomes from emergent recommendations to cultivated responses?

Autonomy is a strength in the public commons online, not a danger. As advocates for democratic renewal, we need to keep watch for the constricting habits of community management that by necessity pervade our own work. Effective strategies for online dialogue also incorporate the spirit of empowerment that is their ultimate goal.
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Joined: 06 Jul 2004
Posts: 14
Location: Eugene, OR

PostPosted: Wed Jul 14, 2004 8:41 am    Post subject: Co-creating structures for ourselves Reply with quote

What a great elephant!

One dimension of it is: Where does the structure come from? To what extent are the designers, framers, controllers answerable to the participants (or are the participants)?

A principle of democracy is that we obey those rules which we have collectively created for ourselves. That is the collective dimension of self-governance, as contrasted with the individual dimension.

I see a necessity to constantly negotiate chaos and order (freedom and security, creativity and production, etc.). Too much of either creates an environment unfriendly to life.

I like processes like Dynamic Facilitation and Open Space because they have a minimalist, responsive structure within which participants can continually reframe their inquiry, on the fly, so to speak, following their emerging energies. The dance of order and chaos goes on moment to moment, instead of either one taking over for hours or for the entire meeting or forever. They also have ways that the group can step off that fast-moving train and consciously generate whatever convergence/conclusions they feel are appropriate for that particular moment.
Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute,
The Tao of Democracy
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Michael Briand

Joined: 30 Jun 2004
Posts: 18
Location: Denver, Colorado

PostPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2004 9:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jed poses an important question, and Tom offers a sensible answer. I doubt few folks would disagree that, in general, the answer is "it depends." There probably is no structure/process that is optimal for all purposes and all circumstances and all participants. I therefore suspect (and this is a question that ought to be investigated) that the power of a structure/process to "produce results" varies inversely with the breadth of its applicability.

We all have our preferences, based on our experiences and the kind of work we do. For example, Jed mentions the Kettering Foundation. I believe Kettering would say that the Choicework model it has worked with for twenty-some years is to be preferred for a number of reasons: the necessity of recognizing and making hard choices in the course of public decision-making; the lack of time most people today have to devote to public discussion; and the efficiency that results from enabling people to quickly and competently utilize a well-tested deliberative model. Does this mean that Choicework is the only or best model to work with? Of course not. It depends.

One of the great challenges facing the D&D field currently is to document which structures/processes "work best" for specific kinds of problems/issues in specific circumstances for specific purposes, and with specific kinds of participants. Perhaps one thing we might do is develop an evaluation framework that would enable all D&D practitioners to contribute to a growing body of information that can be analyzed subsequently and shared publicly.
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Joined: 06 Jul 2004
Posts: 14
Location: Eugene, OR

PostPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2004 10:14 am    Post subject: Use the NCDD wiki to compare processes for specific purposes Reply with quote

Hear, Hear, Michael.

Until a few academics or theory-based practitioners tackle this in a major way, we can all contribute to it by participating in the Participatory Practices Analysis wiki at - particularly the Process Functions and Outcomes page at which offers my initial attempts at teasing out factors we can use to evaluate the fitness of specific processes for specific situations.

In my own office, I've been playing with laying these processes and factors out in a grid format, with processes listed down the side and functions and outcomes listed along the top, and then putting no, one, two or three dots in each box to suggest how good each process is at performing that function.

Ideally this would be developed in an interactive wiki-like database online, into which diverse practitioners could put their "votes" regarding any box and the final box display would show the cumulative judgment of practitioners regarding that process for that purpose. (Making it even fancier, you could click on the box and it would take you to stories and notes about the application of that process for that purpose!)

I'm not sure we have the technical capacity right now for any of this, although static displays of a dot-based table (like I described two paragraphs above) could be put up periodically online in the form of pdf files, if someone was willing to do the work.

In the meantime, I'd encourage you, Michael, (and others) to go to the wiki and add some notes about the additional factors you mentioned -- specific kinds of problems/issues, specific kinds of participants, and any other dimensions of "circumstance" or "purpose" that aren't already covered by my "functions" and "outcomes" breakdowns. I'd also encourage you (and others) to add functions and outcomes to my lists, and to take another process or two and run them through the framework I offer in those wikis. It may be a bit clumsy to use, but it is a whole lot better than nothing, and we can all work on it!

I also know there are some other people out there working on frameworks to compare processes. If you are one of them, I invite you to add your notes both here and in the wiki.

This kind of thing, if well participated in, would truly launch us as a collectively intelligent learning community.
Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute,
The Tao of Democracy
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