June 3, 2013 in WHY?
I went to an unconference (Polyglot 2013) the weekend before last and had some thoughts on how the unconference format could be used in the creation of public policy or law. I think many would agree that we currently have a democratic deficit, that governments of the world are insufficiently responding to the demands and needs of the people. I believe that the solution is greater pulblic participation in the setting of policy (and I don’t mean greater voter turnout which is only mariginally consequential). Perhaps unconferences can be employed to help bring this about.
But first, what the heck is an unconference?
Wikipedia has a couple of good articles on unconferences and on the related concept of Open Spaces. In brief, an unconference is a conference held on a particular theme, but it begins without any pre-set agenda or pre-determined presentations. The attendees, themselves, provide the content. The key here is that the attendees are participants and not just an audience.
So here’s how things went down that Saturday. About 200 computer programmers and other techie types congregated in a large auditorium. The organizers then gave some introductory remarks followed by the rules. Unconference rules I’m sure were created to undermine any excuses for inaction such as: whoever comes are the right people; whenever it starts is the right time; whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
Just get on with it.
One of my favorite unconference rules or laws, the Law of Two Feet (or the Law of Mobility), might surprise some with its bluntness:
If you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and go someplace else.
Far from being a statement of rudeness, this law ensures that no one is wasting their time on topics that are unimportant to them, and the session-hosts, or presenters, need not take offence when attendees exercise this rule. Perhaps this is made easier since all the sessions’ attendees are simultaneously participants, so no one has to rely soley on the presenter for the quality of the session. In fact, the organizers encouraged the presenters to take up no more than fifteen minutes out of each session’s forty-minute allotment, the remainder 25 minutes being for discussion.
But the final unconference rule, my favorite, really punctuates the peer and respectful nature of this event: Be excellent to each other.
After reviewing the rules, participants were invited to take the microphone and pitch their idea for a session, just a short description. Their ideas were stuck to a window and after all the pitches were done, attendees voted on their favorites by drawing a small dot next to those ones. Organizers then assigned the sessions to a room and timeslot; those with the most dots got the larger conference rooms.
At that point the conference sessions began. Some session-hosts came prepared with formal presentations. Some had less formal demos. Others just declared that they were interested in spurring conversation and had nothing specifically planned to say.
So how could unconferences be used in democracy? Perhaps elected representatives of some community could sponsor an unconference open to the public. People would show up and pitch their sessions. I want to talk about traffic congestion… about the underfunded hospital… about school yard bullying, etc. Then sessions would commence and citizens would hear from their peers and discuss. At the very least, the elected officials would see which issues are important to the people and perhaps feel compelled to act on them. Today, the dominant parties (whether purposefully or not) keep many issues simply off the agenda.
It is even possible that the participants of these citizen unconferences would devise solutions to their mutual problems right there on the spot. In may cases, citizens would learn to act without relying on government. Bullying in the schools? Here’s what we’re gonna do. Or they might, at the very least, discover how to move forward, of what next steps to take. Traffic congestion? Here’s what we think should happen. The elected officials need to listen to us and act on it.
Regrettably, our democracy is built on the premise that people should be kept safely apart rather than brought together fruitfully. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
May 30, 2013 in Election 2013
Well there you have it, election 2013 is done. We, Chanel and Mike, would like to give a big thanks to the couple hundred supporters who voted for Unparty. And thanks to the encouragement from people all over BC who said they wished we had candidates in their riding because new ideas are needed. A more participatory democracy would be welcomed.
Half the citizens do not vote and the trend is taking that number higher. While the political establishment ponders the reasons for this, I think it is pretty evident. In the internet age, people expect to participate in the decision making. Merely voting does not allow this. You don’t make decisions; you elect the decision makers.
The journey has just begun. Unparty has only really been active for a couple months. Now we have four years to take it further. I look forward to it. But we need your ideas. Any idea that jumps into your head on how we can politically empower regular folk permanently … let us all know! Cheers.
- local consensus-building assemblies,
- politicians who bring the people’s decisions to Victoria,
- an end to government lobbying,
- exceptional openness.
1: LOCAL CONSENSUS ASSEMBLIES
Frequent assemblies are held in each electoral district, open to everyone in that region. These abandon the old formula of speeches, Q&A sessions, and voting. Instead: discussion, deliberation and consensus-building. Every person is each others’ equal. The elected politician can participate as a peer but holds no special status. Experienced group facilitators are used. The residents set the agenda and priorities, and they devise solutions to problems together.
2: THE ROLE OF ELECTED POLITICIANS
Each politician delivers the decisions made in these assemblies to Victoria. They discuss with the other elected members, and work together towards a common good. Consensus techniques are used in parliament too. Through discussion, they cross-pollinate ideas from one district to another. They report back to the assemblies. When the politicians in Victoria reach consensus, and have the agreement from their districts, policy or law is enacted.
3: LOBBYING AND SPECIAL INTERESTS
There would be no benefit to large powerful lobbying organizations from trying to influencing the government. The government exists to implement the wishes of the citizens as expressed through the local assemblies. If business leaders, students, seniors, or any other advocacy group wish to express their views, they do so as citizens in the open consensus assemblies.
4: EXCEPTIONAL OPENNESS
All assemblies are open to the district residents and video recordings of the proceedings are made available to everyone online. All meetings that politicians have are similarly broadcast and published online. Every email a politician writes in relation to governance or policy or law is automatically published online (with few exceptions).
- Unparty embraces the value system of consensus decision-making (equality, participation, collaboration, inclusion, agreement-seeking), not only as some concept for governance, but also in the operation of this party.
- Unparty’s goal is to be the most open party on Earth.
We, Mike & Chanel, are running in Richmond in the upcoming election, May 14. We, personally, take no positions on healthcare, education, etc. Our proposal to you is straightforward and goes like this:
If elected, we will hold frequent local assemblies in Richmond open to the public. Richmond residents will decide which issues to discuss and what positions to take. We will aim for consensus decision-making and will use professional facilitators if necessary.
We, Mike and Chanel, will then take the conclusions from these assemblies and argue them in Victoria. Our own personal views are irrelevant.
We don’t believe that democracy should be a mere vote every four years. You should have meaningful influence whenever you want it.
Furthermore, our combined well-being needs more people to participate. At present, strong people with weak ideas have influence while regular people with strong ideas do not. We need to reverse this.
We hope you can consider agreeing to this proposal and giving us your vote on May 14, Mike Donovan in Steveston and Chanel Donovan in Richmond-Centre.
Chanel and Mike.
(A Georgia Straight article here.)
May 7, 2013 in Election 2013
Last night was the all candidates’ meeting at Kwantlen. For the three minute opening remarks, the other candidates started off with the usual. I was born and raised here, I volunteer at such-and-such a place. My opening was a little less orthodox:
Did you know that ideas have sex? It’s true. If you and I talk, you have an idea, and I have an idea. And maybe those ideas look at each other and start flirting a little. Well, one thing leads to another and they hook up. And what happens is, they produce a third idea, a child that has a little of the DNA of the parents. That’s where ideas come from.
But there is a biological analogy here. Why don’t we let you marry your cousin or your brother? Well, because the child could be–well we don’t want to think about it. The child will be in a bad state.
It is the same with ideas. If you and I are similar, we come from the same backgrounds, perhaps we are both senior members of the same political party, then the child idea can be this unnatural, grotesque thing… like the HST… or the fast ferries.
It isn’t that the people coming up with those ideas aren’t smart. They just aren’t diverse. Their ideas have similar DNA.
Something like that. I didn’t write the words down at any time. Then I went on to explain unparty’s desire for diversity, maximum participation in town hall meetings, etc.
May 4, 2013 in Election 2013
Received an email from the Richmond Arts Coalition. The reply is here. Their email is below.
Actually, Unparty does not take positions on issues per se, but we want a better way for us all to work together in order to take positions. We are advocating regular local and public assemblies where the people of a town/city/district can attend and deliberate and form positions towards the common good. The elected member must then take those decisions to Victoria. His or her personal views are irrelevant. So we see a future where advocacy groups would realize no benefit in lobbying government. Groups such as business associations, unions, seniors, students, artists, etc. would simply speak as individual citizens in these assemblies.
My sense is that when a society adopts dynamic political arrangements, the arts tend to flourish. You can compare the Ancient Greeks to the Ancient Romans. But that is for you and your friends to ponder.
May 2, 2013 in Election 2013