Re: Large group vs. small group meetings
From: Lizette Mill (lizettelizette.fc.hp.com)
Date: Sat, 28 Jan 95 14:25 CST
>I am interested in ideas about where and how to draw boundaries between 
>what is discussed and decided in whole group (large group) meetings and 
>what is discussed and decided in small group (committee or board) 
>meetings.  I am also interested in alternatives to large group meetings 
>for decision making.

Here's an interesting model for one type of decision-making:  the "parameters"
decision-making process (from a series of lectures on decision-making by a
trainer named Roger Dawson).  Dawson describes the model where it applies to
individual decision-making, and I've also seen it practiced successfully at
work when a small team is given responsibility to make a business decision.

Simply put, this type of decision-making establishes certain parameters that
the larger group feels must be met by whatever decision is actually made.  For
example, let's say a small team is to be given responsibility to plan some
landscaping for a particular common area at a cohousing community.  The large
group could discuss the parameters (or criteria) for the plan, say, that the
total cost should not exceed $1000, that xeriscaping principles should be used,
and that members of the community should have to contribute no more than one
afternoon of landscaping work in order to get the project completed.  Then, the
large group agrees to abide by whatever plan is developed within the small
group, so long as the specified parameters are met by the plan.

This type of decision-making is similar to the architectural design step known
as "programming"-- by specifying standards and criteria during programming, the
community members are establishing the parameters within which the design
professionals should remain when making their design decisions.

Another way that this type of decision-making can be used is for the large
group to reduce the amount of time needed for its decision-making by settling
on the first proposal that meets an agreed-upon set of parameters.  For
example, perhaps a community is trying to agree on a way to build more
community spirit.  Again, the larger group can discuss parameters.  Perhaps
these turn out to be that the selected method must focus solely on
community-building and people interactions without the distraction of community
tasks, it should be joyful, it should encourage community members to share
their heart-felt thoughts and perceptions, it should be set up in such a way
that everyone in the community can participate regularly, and it should take no
more than an hour each week.  The initial proposal is that a regular sharing
session be held at the community house each Friday after the community dinner.
However, it turns out that one community member, a part-time musician, often
plays gigs on Friday evenings.  A discussion about nights that could work
reveals that no one night will work for everyone, so the group decides to
alternate between Fridays and Sundays.  At this point, someone proposes that a
small group of people who are good facilitators develop the actual process to
be used in the sharing sessions.  The parameters passed on to this small team
are that the sharing session process should be joyful, it should encourage
community members to share their heart-felt thoughts and perceptions, and it
should require only about an hour per sharing session.  The large group
decision to hold sharing sessions and the decision as to when they will be held
are both completed, and the small group has the parameters it needs to complete
the overall decision process.

Another thing that can help group decision-making is to actually learn about
good decision-making methods together as a group.  Then, when large group
decisions are being made, the large group has various decision-making tools to
choose from and can select a tool that is appropriate to the particular
decision.  Also, it helps the larger group trust when smaller groups are making
decisions, because the larger group knows that everyone in the community has
tools for making good decisions.

Lizette Mill
future resident of Greyrock Commons Cohousing Community

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