Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Facilitative democracy

Facilitation is a way of helping a group of people make decisions. But isn’t this what government is all about: Making decisions that apply to a group of people? In particular, isn’t this what we understand by democratic government: The people makes its own decisions?

Let’s elevate facilitation to a form of government, just as democracy and autocracy are. So, facilitation is not just one of many management techniques, it actually represents a major way of governing people.

As an example, take a small forum, a meeting of 15 people, where all three forms of government can be practiced:

Autocracy: The leader makes all decisions.

(Representative) democracy: Debating as an exchange of opinions, factions or parties, compromises, voting, majority and minority. A chairman maintains formal order (Robert’s rules).

Facilitation like this:
  1. The issue is presented and everyone shares their facts and feelings, without criticism.
  2. Good points are identified and strengthened through synthesis
  3. Sharpening and evaluating points
  4. Making a decision and assigning action responsibility
Or like this (Malene Rix):
  1. Everyone announces their interests
  2. Everyone brainstorms together for solutions that satisfy as many interests as possible
  3. Negotiation: Which combination of solutions can we agree to?
When facilitation works, everyone is happy and feel they share in the decisions made. Is this not democracy? Even if there hasn’t been a single vote taken, no debate, no factions or party lines. Many democratic or quasi-democratic bodies—such as a general assembly, the board of a local government agency, an administrative committee, the governing council of a professional association, the council of a federation of sports clubs, a housing collective—probably wish to see themselves as somewhat democratic, rather than being run by an autocrat. They could all benefit from facilitation.

Facilitation would help overcome one of the most unattractive aspects of modern democracy: the all-too-easy polarization of opinions that occurs during political debates, the tendency for one party to hold views opposite to those of the other party. The essence of facilitation is to make communication more subtle than that.

Of course, facilitation is used in consensus building, principled negotiation, conflict management, mediation and reconciliation; there are dozens of techniques for that.

Don’t just consider them cute tools for handling disagreement in civil society and organizations. Facilitation is maybe really a form of government that may heal some of the problems of modern representative democracy: voter alienation, posturing political debates, the lack of vision, media hype, the single cause that precludes the long run, etc.

Democracy as we know it was excellent 100-200 years ago, when the alternative was paternalistic autocracy, or outright dictatorship (which is still the challenge in many parts of the world today). Being able to speak your mind and hold opinions of your own is dear to any teenager’s heart when you’re trying to break away from an oppressive father. Today there is no patriarch or dictator lurking in the wings in Western democracies, but we’re still acting like teenagers proud of their own distinct opinions and their difference from the other party.

Go to modern organizations and find enlightened leadership. Good leaders know how to act like facilitators. Peter Drucker said: ”Manage your people as if they were volunteers; if you don't, they will leave sooner or later”. This is considerably closer to what was originally sought in democracy that what modern representative democracy actually delivers.

What would a facilitative democracy look like, and how could it supplement or sophisticate representative democracy? Imagine a parliament or a committee of politicians being guided along by an expert facilitator. Imagine politicians who know facilitation and accept it because it produces results. Imagine an electorate who trusts their representatives and abolish the fixed mandate, so that representatives are free to participate in facilitated decision-making.

5 comments:

CalabazaBlog said...
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Jon Jenkins said...

Nice note. I have posted it on the International Association of Facilitators Methods Database News section. I hope you approve.

susanlistening said...

ib-you are the consummate blogger! a fish in water. keep on truckin', baby! ciao & abbracci--susan

Anonymous said...
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