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General Assemblies: Participatory Democracy - methods other than consensus.

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Consensus can be a beautiful thing, I came of age in a %100 consensus free 'school' where we had a consensus meeting every week. The first year and a half it'd take us 3.5 hours every time, but after that we had these magical, higher orders of shared intelligence... That was with pretty well the same 35 people every week. Not 350 people with maybe %40 of people knowing the process. I'm sure many of us are sitting around at our General Assembly's watching  3 hour (x350 people = 1050 hours) decisions about buying sleeping bags, wondering if we'll be down to just 35 people who'll stand through the cold to spend an hour on whether to shut the amplification off for the bylaw required 10pm or keep it on until 11pm.

For me it is clear, the real opportunity we have with OccupyTogether is to come up with a new participatory methodology for decision making that can deliver the goods for all of us. Whether it's about neighbourhood daycare, good incomes, or policy on energy technology (so we can survive on this planet), we should inspire the world, that we have the power to make intelligent, uncorrupted decisions. It almost doesn't matter what we start deciding about, just that we have the HOW of participatory deciding, not the what. I am quite certain that many people are implicitly beginning to think that we need a dictator to make coherent decisions for us... That the chaos of all the various self-interests tipping things their way makes 'democracy' impossible.

So I propose that we adopt a truly mass, participatory process, one that can accommodate Occupy numbers of 350 people and beyond to linking up all the Occupies, for decision making on planetary wide issues. Last night when we were talking about what time to turn off the amplification, one of the facilitators was almost pleading with us to recognize the tenters' need to sleep. He was getting us to try and recognize that the group which was calling for 8pm or 10pm cut off time, was more affected, or had greater stake in the issue, because they had kids, and/or sleep to catch up on.

In New York they spent 3 hours discussing buying 10 sleeping bags over two meetings, but it was the people sleeping there, holding down the park that were asking for it. Yet, every Tom, Dick and Johnny Come Lately was able to hold up the decision for a couple of days. So clearly we need to recognize stake holders and give them say proportionate to all at stake. That is to say that maybe the tenters at OccupyVancouver should've had %45 percent of the say in that decision, while those who participated in the 3 GA's and like the efficiency of the amplified mic, should've had %30, and the rest who were there for their 1st GA the remainder %25. So let's say some of the tenters are actually ravers, and they're attracted there originally to party in the middle of the city, we see that the tenters (a stakeholder group) aren't just one voting block necessarily, they hold different views as individuals as well as a stakeholder group. This brings up an issue for say-proportionate-to-stake that I'll address later on in this proposal document.

The normalcy bias of 'one person, one vote', is surely kicking in here for many readers. One person One vote = democracy right!?! Wrong. We see in many examples how this isn’t so, here’s one; a couple of years ago the Conservative minority government held a vote on whether to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board, which is a farmers' monopoly co-operative on grain sales. On the actual prairies, where all farming is pretty well grain farming, over two thirds of farmers want to keep the Wheat Board, but the Conservatives are dead set against it ideologically. So the Conservatives manipulated the stake-holder group by including Ontario farmers in the vote. Ontario farmers who don't grow nearly as much grain as they do in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In this way the Conservatives were able to get a bare majority vote in their favour. We supposedly have one person one vote in our current system, but it's only for an elite representative class to make all our decisions for us. Would Say Proportionate to Stake on each issue, instead of just for a representative class, not be better? Yes, it would,and it would get rid of majority rule over minority interests to boot.

1. How do we know who has what stake? I propose that we take registration, people can take the time to come to the Occupy sitez and talk with someone who takes down a user name (not their real identity) and allows the person to put in a password. The trained interviewer writes down all the stakeholder categories for the person that she can think of. Eventually this gives the interviewers enough of an idea to develop an effective questionnaire which can categorize people into the couple of dozen stakeholder groups they might fall into. If Nelson, B.C. and Seattle Occupations did this, then we could have a regional decision making body.
Identity security: To address the potentiality of people signing up to multiple accounts we could go as far as taking a picture of their right hand, and get software that can confirm whether that hand is in the database already. Or we could just take names and addresses based on id, if we decide we're not that security paranoid.

2.  Determining Level of Stake & Thus Level of Say - i.e., Voting Weight?: Various stakeholder groups inside a debate, would first submit a private ballot, on how much voting weight they think each group should be given, including theirs.
In the case where an issue’s various stakeholder groups are totally discordant on stake allocation amongst them (i.e., everyone was voting for their own stakeholder group to get the most say), we could choose an anonymous and random group of non-stakeholders (Stake Facilitation Council -SFC) to look at it and balance out the stakeholders’ perception of their stake. I’ve gone so far as to write about 15 pages of various considerations and formulas for weighing stake.

OK, so how would this look at an Occupy? Beyond registering and identifying people we'd need discussion, proposal and voting software. We can discuss whether or not face to face workshops are the central venue, which interacts with an online discussion forum. We could also employ software that could take people's  votes via cell phone SMS (texting). This software has been created, so it's not impossible. For people who want to be on-site and don’t have cell phones we'd need some actual voting stations where they could tick a box at the GA. The GA would become an updates and announcements forums where linking groups up to discussions, as well as voting on issues that have earlier been work-shopped and debated by the stakeholders, would take place.

What about people coming late to workshop discussions and bringing up old issues that have already been covered? I think people that have come late to a discussion should first have to read the minutes and discussion forum on the topic, before they can participate and bring up new issues. This might not be much other than them ticking off a, "I have read the discussion" agreement. But it could be as advanced as software that times how long they spent on each page and whether they could've possibly read the threshold of material that should have been predetermined (e.g. if 200 pages - at least %50 of it). The alternative is for them to ask the question while 200 people are in the middle of moving forward, instead 200 people having to spend 30 minutes bringing the newbie up to speed (100 people hours vs. him reading 100 pages at 6 mins per page = 10 hours).

What if there are multiple things I care about going on at once? Prioritizing what policy discussions we're deeply a part of will undoubtedly happen for some. If you love being a part of everything, then it might well be that you have to sacrifice being a part of some topics. But because the workshops are all online, and voted on online as well as at the GA, you have a chance to fill all the hours of your day following the details of as many topics as those hours will allow. Most consensus GAs don't get to even half their agenda items, so this isn't a loss in the trade off.

How do we know what every single stakeholder group is in an issue until we talk about the issue?  Because we left stakeholder percentages from the stake weighting anonymous, no stakeholder group knows how much vote weight it got and there is an opening for more groups to be added and given weight (take away from a few others) as the policy group discussion advances.

Do stakeholders vote as individuals or as a group? The short answer is that both can be done. We can attribute a perfect divisor per individual vote according to the voters' membership in their stakeholder groups. Yes people can be stakeholders in multiple groups. People who straddle multiple stakeholder groups can act to show where interests intertwine.

Voting as a stakeholder group: It might also be that we would like each stakeholder group to discuss amongst themselves. I have figured out formula for that in a chapter in my Transition Plan manuscript called Discourse Ethics and Mechanism.
We might also adopt different kinds of voting within Say Proportionate to Stake decision making; from Range Voting (voter uses values of 0-99), Borda Voting (order of preferences 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th), etc. So that, especially if we have individual vote weighting instead of weighing as a steak holder group, we can see where the greater merging of solutions to the issue is. So none of the proposals might be the ‘right’ one, but it’ll point us to the combination of solutions, that the next round of discussion and voting might be more successful at achieving 2/3rd or concensus  This is also covered in the chapter of my ‘Transition Plan’ manuscript.

The overall point is that participatory ‘direct democracy’ has a whole tool box from which to choose, to make the process more beneficial for all who have something at stake, and expodicious for time and energy. Even if we only ended up with a few people per stakeholder groups discussing directly on an issue, it’d still be direct democracy rather than a few lawyers, doctors, and business people who are our 2,4 and/or 5 year representatives. If they were real stakeholders, they’d still be closer to the average stakeholder on that issue than a representative politician.

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1777 words


  Hi, Greg, You have put a


Hi, Greg,

You have put a lot of work into thinking this through.  We desperately need a new way of making decisions that affect us all, and I appreciate all that you have done.  I just stumbled upon your note in Facebook which moved me to read this.  On first read, I think you have some excellent ideas.

My experience is that everything takes longer than you think it possibly could take.  A lot of people may have read your piece and are trying to assimilate it, compare it with what they are used to, etc.  I have heard it said that something new has to be introduced 5 times before someone can have a well considered opinion of it.  All of the people who already have experience are probably really busy right now!

Keep me posted on Facebook!


As in THE Helen Hughes of

As in THE Helen Hughes of Windsor House?! Know any programmers with some free time?

Not just about tent stakes!

So 'stake' isn't tent stakes in the ground at an Occupy. It's in a given issue. I wrote it in the story above using two examples of topics pertinent to the campers on site at Occupies. But there are plenty of issues where campers might not have much stake at all in an issue being discussed at the GA mere feet from their bed rolls.

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