|What Is "Open"?||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: Sharon Villines (sharonsharonvillines.com)|
|Date: Thu, 4 Feb 2016 09:30:21 -0800 (PST)|
(This is my blog post for the day. I’m sending it to more than one email list and blog so it isn’t meant to address a specific problem. All of them have questions about how to involve more people in community decisions.) When lying awake last night reflecting on various decisions made in cohousing and in my neighborhood community, I explored some questions about what is open and transparent in a world where everyone belongs to several organizations and tries to involve and represent a larger community. What is required to truly inform and solicit information about the needs, desires, or preferences of “the community.” How does a group know when it is being inclusive and transparent? And accountable? OPEN MEETINGS "The meeting was open to everyone” is a common standard. But when the meeting was announced once on a neighborhood email list, scheduled on a week night at a time when single parents can’t attend, some people are not home from work yet, and people also have other meetings is it an open meeting? Then the agenda, if published at all, says, “Spring planting.” 10 people of the 14,000 that the landscape affects, show up and decide to plant Giant Sycamore trees in the middle of Cozy Lane to resolve water drainage problems. Cozy Lane is lined with small historic one-story bungalows. The Giant Sycamores, at replace the traditional rose bushes. Giant Sycamores will absorb more water and provide more shade. They can grow to 90 feet tall. The group, having put much work into researching the water problem and the requirements of Giant Sycamores, moves forward. As representatives of the community, they spend many hours obtaining various permits from the city and funds from foundations. This takes months during which there are no other notices to the community. Is that an open process? Is it wise? Does it invite people to get involved in local governance? Or contribute to building a stronger community? Or to understand and respect the group’s process and decisions? Or when everyone in a cohousing community, resident managed, wakes up on Monday morning to find the laundry closed down for two weeks with no announcement. When the people who use the laundry say, “What?”, they are told that they all consented to the decision to replace the floor 6 months ago. They had to know it was going happen sometime. When a neighborhood street is closed for repairs. Residents wake up to find they can’t get out of their driveways. The city says the signs were put up the day before. Does everyone go out everyday to see if there are any signs on the trees? Or do they come home earlier enough at night to notice that there are signs. Does this build confidence in the department of transportation? WAYS TO COMMUNICATE With all the means of communication — digital, print, telephonic, in person — it seems to be getting worse, not better. People often chose one and pay little attention to other. Face to Face (F2F) is becoming almost impossible on a representative or comprehensive scale, but some still believe it is the only way. The real way. Have a meeting and those who come, decide. Those who do the work decide. Many people commute to work across town, or even in the next town. They belong to 1-2 organizations and work on projects for the common good. Does that mean they by default have no say in a decision by another organization that directly involves them on a daily basis because they couldn’t go to that meeting too? In cohousing there is a tension between those who want to communicate by bulletin board and those who haven’t looked at a bulletin board since email lists became almost universal. Yes, email does give advantage to those who write easily. But F2F and bulletin boards give advantage to extroverts who like the "being there together” and thinking in groups — and those who work at home. Extroverts like gathering around or bumping into each other in front of all the notices and sign up lists. Others come home from work late and tired and want to be able to do things online from where ever they are during the day. Or check a forum or a website. Meetings alone are not, and perhaps never have been, the best and certainly not the only way to communicate with people. Email list,s for example, not everyone is on the neighborhood email list, but hundreds out of 14,000 will be. That is better than 10 in a room together. EVIDENCE OF REPRESENTATION In my neighborhood, creating a dog park required more tangible evidence of support than a decision to bulldoze a stand of beautiful cherry trees in a small neighborhood park. In cohousing everyone is on the main email list, or if they aren’t have a partner who lets them know what is going on. There are still times when people complain of not being informed, but there is far less exclusion. And far less opportunity for one person or a few people to push their own agenda in the name of the community. Or to be accused of doing so. There are many online opportunities for F2F now. Zoom allows 30 people to talk together. There are webinars where one or a group of people can give a presentation and others can submit questions and comments real time typing on a chat forum that everyone can see. This allows people to participate from anywhere. In their cars, at work, in the lobby of the daycare center. Will they? Who knows? Meetings as the only forum for input and decisions is not inclusive and not as open as possible when there are more flexible and accessible means of informing and participating. One other factor of meetings is that they favor people with common views to work together. Those who disagree are likely to cause dissension and not really welcome. Research on groups has found that people who agree with each other like working together, but those who represent diverse points of view make better decisions. One problem with meetings is that they usually confuse the two. When those who like working together (operations) also make the decisions (setting policy or requirements) means the only options are those the people who like working together believe are viable and to be necessary. When a harmonious group prepares all the material and presents all the options for decision, diversity is weeded out before a decision is even close. (I know some believe I am beating a dead horse, but I’m one those people who think a park is never dead and can always be revived in a better form.) Sharon ---- Sharon Villines Sociocracy: A Deeper Democracy http://www.sociocracy.info
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