Patterns for Decentralised Organising

The following are excerpts from Richard D. Bartlett’s work in progress book.

Eventually I came to understand “Occupy” as a short chapter in an ongoing movement of movements, a single iteration of a multi-generational evolutionary process. This “ blessed unrest ” mostly proceeds underground, but sometimes comes to the surface with names like the Zapatistas, counter-globalisation movement, the Cutlery Revolution, Arab Spring, 15-M, the Sunflower Movement, Idle No More, the Umbrella Movement, #BlackLivesMatter… 

This is a good frame to keep in mind when a movement like Occupy “fails”.

In fact, it’s better than resilience: our organization is designed to be “ antifragile ” — volatility and shocks make our bonds stronger! These stewarding relationships really kick in when things get difficult. If I’m stuck in a conflict in Loomio, my steward is the first person I’ll talk to. 

Rich is talking about an organization called Loomio which has each team member act as another member’s “steward”. The steward supports their co-worker’s needs. In this sense the bond between co-workers becomes stronger when conflict arise.

We rely heavily on “common sense” when we’re working in groups. We have expectations of each other, and we feel we shouldn’t have to explain all those expectations. The trouble with common sense is that everyone has a different version. We’ve all had different experiences, so we all have different unspoken assumptions. 

This is why making implicit assumptions explicit is so important in groups

Sociologist Miki Kashtan defines power as “the capacity to mobilise resources to attend to needs.” 

Here Rich talks about introducing new technology into a group.

This next step is hugely important, and frequently overlooked: you need to support people to learn how to use the tool, and to develop a new habit. Some people are geeks, they look at software and instantly understand how to use it. Most people take a little time to figure out how to use it. People can feel guilty or ashamed if they’re not comfortable using technology; it is so easy to overcome this with a bit of shared learning time. Just spending an hour together with your laptops can make such a difference. 

In our organization, we use meetings for making meaning together, and we use Loomio for making decisions. The two spaces enhance each other. 

If you are looking for a tool to make decisions Loomio is really quite amazing.

The other ceremony is the ‘demo’. We always do our demo on a Friday afternoon. Everyone is encouraged but not required to get up in front of the team and say ‘this is what I have been working on’. 

I’ve implemented this process in my co-op’s weekly “retrospective” meetings where we look back at the week and discuss what was good, bad, and what can change.

If everyone has been listened to [in a meeting], and everyone supports the high level direction, we don’t need to micro-manage every little decision throughout the quarter. I can trust the engineering people to make good decisions and I don’t need to be convinced every step of the way, so long as I trust that we are all aiming for the same target. This how we balance autonomy with coordination. 

A decision is the threshold we cross from understanding into action. 

“The most important decision to be made collaboratively is the decision about who makes which decisions.” Rosenberg





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